The Debate Over Engaging With Taliban Is Pretentious; Lack Of Land Access Leaves India With Limited Choice

The Debate Over Engaging With Taliban Is Pretentious; Lack Of Land Access Leaves India With Limited Choice Prime Minister Modi, MEA Jaishankar and NSA Ajit Doval
Snapshot
  • The urge to talk to the Taliban is, at best, absurd.

    It is equally irrational to think that India would be able to convince the Taliban to change its mind.

The debate around India’s role in Afghanistan has heated up again.

Following suggestions by the US special representative for Afghanistan, Zalmay Khalilzad, on 7 May that India should talk to the Taliban directly, the foreign policy wonks in Delhi are weighing the pros and cons of such a step.

While a segment prefers not to give legitimacy to the Taliban owing to its historical antipathy to India, others recommend that we should follow the US lead in cultivating the organisation.

The Taliban itself has been blowing hot and cold in its approach towards India.

On 17 May, the Taliban stated that they consider Kashmir to be an internal matter of India and have no designs on it.

Earlier, the deputy of Qatar-based Taliban political office, Mullah Abbas Stanekzai, had alleged that in the last two decades, India has only cooperated and kept ties with those who are corrupt and have been put in power by foreigners and not elected by the Afghan people.

Social media sources, probably located in Pakistan, had also earlier claimed that the Taliban would turn its focus to Kashmir once US troops left Afghanistan and it had secured Kabul.

While the recent positive statement from the Taliban is welcome, India should not read too much into it.

The agreement that the US signed for facilitating its withdrawal from Afghanistan makes it contingent upon the Taliban not to involve itself in activities that would target the US and/or its allies.

Although, India is far from being an American ally, the Taliban would not want to be seen as a jihadi outfit which intends to attack other countries, even before the American troops have left Afghanistan.

Moreover, the Taliban can bring no extra effort in Kashmir. Pakistan has enough cannon fodder and does not require help in continuing to send terrorists to Kashmir.

The truth is that India has no good options in Afghanistan. The US withdrawal from the country means more instability.

The Taliban which already controls a sizeable chunk of territory in Afghanistan would be in ascendancy.

It does not recognise the current Afghan government and has little interest in sharing power.

In fact, attacks on Afghan forces have increased after the US signed its withdrawal agreement in February.

Meek protests from the US have been rebuffed by the Taliban, which has sternly demanded that the US withdraw from Afghanistan as had been agreed.

The US was not going to stay in Afghanistan forever. Neither does it have the power to stabilise an Islamic state or bring democracy to it.

If the powers that be in New Delhi believed any part of “we support democracies” or “we will stay the course” by American politicians, diplomats or generals, then we, common Indians, are completely in a mess.

If the government was aware that one day the Americans would leave, then what has it done to secure its interests in Afghanistan, if anything at all.

What was the point of investing so much energy and effort in the country if it was going to change its course one day?

In fact, India went out of its way to build a route to Afghanistan through the Chabahar Port and the Zaranj Delaram Highway as if it had secured the continuity of a friendly dispensation in the country forever.

If the Taliban takes over Kabul tomorrow, will we be shipping wheat to support them through the ports and roads built with Indian taxpayer’s money?

The short sightedness of the Indian babudom which runs Indian foreign policy is legendary.

This is continuous since India’s policy towards Tibet in the 1950s, the Shimla Accord in 1972 and now the Chabahar Port.

As for the port, it is not fully operational as yet. The biggest joke on the Indian taxpayers would be if the port becomes fully operational at the same time when the Taliban is marching into Kabul.

Perhaps, the advocacy to engage with the Taliban is to avoid this embarrassment.

Because the Taliban is a Pakistani product and Pakistanis unlike Indians are clear-headed about what they want and what they need to do, that is take down India, the urge to talk to the Taliban is, at best, absurd.

The Taliban was reared in Pakistani madrassas. It has a symbiotic relationship with the Pakistani army.

Even at its lowest, the Taliban has maintained that the current Afghan government is illegitimate and the “Islamic emirate of Afghanistan” is the only true representative of the Afghans — the same Islamic emirate, which had played its designated role in the hijacking of IC814.

Moreover, the Taliban is an Islamic theological movement led by mullahs. During its differences with terror organisation Islamic State, the debate between them was about theological appropriateness and not ethics or morality.

Pakistan, in its short history, has managed to sell anti-communism to the US, anti-Indianism, anti-Sovietism and anti-Americanism to the Chinese and pan-Islamism to Saudi Arabia.

To assume that it would not be able to sell Islamism to zealot brothers next door is to day-dream.

On the other hand, moral sermons from New Delhi have convinced no one. Even the bleeding heart liberals of Europe are unconvinced of Indian positions despite India being a plural, secular, democratic state.

If the US has suddenly found love for India, it is to meet the Chinese challenge and not because Indian diplomats have suddenly discovered their latent talent.

So, it is equally irrational to think that a bunch of diplomats from India would be able to convince the Taliban to change its mind.

What India requires in Afghanistan is the same clear headedness that Pakistan possesses.

India needs direct land access to Afghanistan to influence developments there. That is the most important and fundamental factor.

Immature trickery of trying to reach Afghanistan through Iran or Russia are not only short-sighted but outright foolish.

If India cannot bring itself up to do what it takes to open a land route to Afghanistan, one which it can control, it must withdraw from Afghanistan if and when the Taliban reaches Kabul.

Without a secure land route to Afghanistan, India’s claims to influence in the country are pretentious at best.

We can, of course, continue to indulge in an academic debate whether we should talk to this organisation or that person till the cows come home.

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