Establishing friendly relations with the Taliban undermines India’s traditional allies in Afghanistan.
Indian media have reported that a senior Taliban leader recently has presented Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi with a copy of the Koran and a package of Afghan frankincense in good faith through liaisons in a third country. That “senior leader” may have been Mullah Hassan Akhund, Mullah Baradar, or Mullah Hibatullah himself. Behind-the-scenes relations between the Taliban and Narendra Modi’s government are said to have been in place since taking office in 2014. That year, the Taliban leadership had sent a message to Modi that he should not consider the Taliban as Pakistan’s proxy game players and soldiers. Taliban has shown green light of interacting with India before and after that year, which indicates a long term behind the screen relations between Taliban and India.
In contracts to their friendly messages, in 2014, on the eve of Narendra Modi’s inauguration, the Taliban attacked the Indian consulate in Herat, and two years later the consulate in Mazar-e-Sharif was pierced with rockets, AKM assault riffles and Taliban suicide attackers. In 2018, seven Indian engineers were abducted by Taliban fighters in Baghlan. One of the bloodiest messages was sent to Delhi in 2008, in which 40 people were killed and more than 100 were injured. A senior diplomat and four other Indian embassy staff were among the victims. In those years, attacks on Indian engineers, Indian-funded projects, and Indian diplomatic missions were an important part of the Taliban’s mission in Afghanistan. In 1990s, the group hijacked an Indian airliner, which was another hat rate message to Indian establishment.
Despite all this, covert and overt contacts between the two sides continued. In Doha, the Taliban and Indian officials were in contact, including Abbas Stanekzai, who met with the Indian ambassador in Doha in late August last year, when the Taliban had just arrived in Kabul. These contacts have been more tactical and out of necessity. The real driver of this tactic is Islamabad. The recent visit of the Indian delegation to Kabul could not have taken place without the guidance and consent of Pakistan. With the Pakistani ambassador busy in Kabul, Afghan businessmen and Taliban officials all visiting him for guidance and consultation, Indian diplomats could not even think of visiting Kabul without Islamabad’s consent. Pakistan uses these tactics as necessary steps to portray an acceptable and credible image of the “Taliban Emirate”, and at the same time, if the relationship between the Taliban and India goes a few steps further, it will lead to suspicion and distance between India and its traditional allies in Afghanistan.
The reason for India’s acceptance and willingness of giving compromise can be viewed in her strategic goals to ensure an effective monitoring of the on ground situation. India pursues two main goals in our country, regardless of who rules the country. The first is that terrorist groups operating in Kashmir and India do not have bases and schools here, or at least New Delhi can monitor the movements of those groups in Afghanistan to make sure Taliban does not enable environment for an intelligence and diplomatic dungeon for such groups. The other reason is that India, the same as Pakistan considers Afghanistan as the gateway to Central Asia and tries not to be deprived of trade in energy and its market through the Amu Darya.
Based on the history of India-Taliban relations, it can be assumed that this tactical game will not last long. After a while, the Taliban will show their blades to India again. A group whose leaders and commanders have been trained in Pakistani radical training camps and schools, grown up with an anti-Indian mind and have complex intellectual, financial, military and even family ties to leaders and members of extremist anti-Indian groups such as Jaish-e-Muhammad and Sepah-e-Sahaba, will not end anonymity to friends of the people of Afghanistan.
Undoubtedly, if the current contacts between the two sides lead to the reopening of the Indian embassy, the anti-Taliban forces will suffer. As a result, relations with the Taliban will end in further isolation of India in Afghanistan. Weakening India’s relationship with anti-Taliban forces at the cost of a packet of frankincense and copy of holy Quran with a bit of diplomacy would be a very lucrative deal for Pakistan.