By Shahbaz Ali
India had become Afghanistan’s biggest regional donor over the past two decades, having committed about $3 billion toward humanitarian assistance, infrastructure development, and capacity building of various state institutions.
India had a stable relationship with the civilian Afghan government over the last two decades and provided development assistance for different projects in Afghanistan. New Delhi had long been staunchly anti-Taliban, deeming the group to be Pakistan’s proxy.
Over the years, India has helped the Afghan government overcome acute grain shortages, but Ashraf Ghani’s sudden flight from Kabul while the Biden administration was carrying out its military evacuation transformed the entire dynamic. As the Taliban entered Kabul triumphantly blow to India’s strategic interests.
Islamabad has already accused New Delhi of using Afghan soil to fuel unrest in Pakistan through Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP), which orchestrates attacks on Pakistan from inside Afghanistan, as well as Baloch separatist groups that it considers benefit from India’s support.
India has previously supported forces such as Northern Alliance and Ashraf Ghani’s government in Afghanistan. India and Afghanistan have enjoyed close ties since the U.S.-led International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) kicked out the Taliban government in 2001.
Since 2011, around 700 Afghans trained in India every year in institutions such as the National Defence Academy, Indian Military Academy, Officers Training Academy, Infantry School in Mhow and the Counter-Insurgency and Jungle Warfare School in Mizoram.
Dozens of refugees from Afghanistan arrived in neighboring countries like Pakistan and India following the takeover of Taliban by August 2021. After US withdrawal from Afghanistan mostly people thought that India’s investment in Afghanistan will waste. Now, Afghanistan’s economy is on the verge of collapse. Inflation is soaring, and millions of Afghans are on the brink of starvation.
After takeover in Afghanistan, Taliban urged international community to recognized Taliban regime in Afghanistan. India did not recognize openly Taliban regime in Afghanistan but due to his huge investment in Afghanistan and fear from Taliban, India compelled to step forward in back-channel talks with Taliban.
India takes advantage of humanitarian crisis in Afghanistan and send humanitarian assistance to Afghanistan to normalized ties with Taliban’s because India wants to resume his projects in Afghanistan which were under process during former Afghanistan Ashraf Ghani era.
Indian External Affairs Ministry’s Joint Secretary, J.P Singh visited Kabul last week and held talks with senior Afghan officials including acting Foreign Minister, Amir Muttaqi on reopening of Indian diplomatic mission in Afghan capital.
The Afghan government has given permission to the Indian government for reopening of its embassy and after fulfilling formalities, the Indian diplomatic mission is expected to be open soon.
New Delhi cannot continue to engage the Taliban for long without tangible returns. This might include an agreement that the group should not be sending fighters to the Indian-administered Kashmir region the focus of a long-standing territorial dispute with Pakistan to fuel terrorism.
In the past during Ashraf Ghani’s regime, Indian embassy and its consulates in Afghanistan were indulged in planning, training and supporting terrorist activities in Pakistan and Pakistan had given evidences to Ashraf Ghani’s government in Kabul.
India is keeping a low profile so as not to send a signal to the West that it could recognize the Taliban as a legitimate ruler of Afghanistan. India’s outreach to the Taliban stems from a sense that “it can regain its foothold in Afghanistan,” especially in light of Pakistan’s struggles. New Delhi is also positioning itself as a benefactor for Afghanistan at a time when the world’s attention is on the war in Ukraine
When the Taliban grabbed power last year, many also saw it as a win for India’s archrival Pakistan, which was considered to have closer ties with the extremist group. But now it is less clear that Islamabad has the edge in the country, potentially giving India another opportunity to one-up a regional competitor.
Shahbaz Ali is an Islamabad based independent journalist