India’s Strategic Need to Return to Afghanistan

By Ali Sajjad Moulai

When the Taliban first came to power in 1995, India supported the Northern Front. In 2001, New Delhi had become one of Kabul’s strategic partners, and since then India has made large investments to help stabilize Afghanistan’s democratic government, knowing that if the Taliban regained power, India’s relationship, interests, and goodwill with Afghanistan would be damaged. To maintain its close ties with Kabul, India has supported any democratic forces inside and outside Afghanistan for the past 20 years, avoiding any interaction with the Taliban and distancing itself from the peace process. Only at the end of this process did India begin negotiations, initiating talks with Taliban leaders in Qatar.

India’s strategic failure in the fall of democratic forces and the Taliban takeover on August 15th has left regional enemies like Pakistan and China as the most powerful and influential countries in South Asia. In response, New Delhi has been attempting to re-establish and strengthen its ties with the Taliban. In July 2022, a group of Indian diplomats visited Kabul to meet with Amir Khan Muttagi, the Taliban’s foreign minister. Reports indicate that after this meeting, the Indian embassy is now partially functioning in Afghanistan, with the Indian government citing the purpose of monitoring humanitarian aid. This article will analyze India’s strategic plan for its return to the Afghanistan game.

1- India’s Failure

For the past twenty years, India has invested a great deal of money and effort into the Afghan government and creating its democratic image, only to suffer a huge failure in Afghanistan’s political game. This shift in South Asia has put India’s national security and interests at risk, as it has lost its strategic ally and been unable to defeat its two rivals, China and Pakistan. India is now planning to return to Afghanistan for two main reasons. First, India valued the previous government in Afghanistan and needed the cooperation of a neighboring country to defeat its regional enemies, making this the best option. Second, India had invested in several development projects throughout Afghanistan to connect with Central Asia through the Chah Bahar port, and the failure in Afghanistan has wasted these investments in developing India’s dynamic economy.

2- Establishing a Relationship with the Taliban (Against Pakistan)

India, having suffered a great loss, needed to rebuild and re-establish its relationship with Afghanistan in order to avoid the repercussions of its absence. To do this, it must find a place at the table in Taliban politics. Despite its slim chances, India is attempting to find and interact with the Taliban leaders who are either against Pakistan or at least not as favorable towards it. It is believed that the Taliban branch in Kandahar does not have a good relationship with the Pakistani army and government. The imprisonment of Abdul Ghani Baradar in Pakistan and the hardline stance of Taliban Defense Minister Mullah Yaqoob against Pakistan may have pushed India to rely on this branch. Alternatively, it could be because Mullah Yaqoob said in an interview with News 18 that if diplomatic relations with India were to begin, the Taliban would send their military forces to India for training.

3- Fear of Fundamentalism

India is currently facing a major issue with the growth of extremism in the area. The Taliban’s success in Afghanistan has become an example for other militant organizations such as Al Qaeda, Jaish-e-Muhammad, Lashkar-e-Taiba, Lashkar-e-Jhangvi, and Sipah-e-Sahaba, who all provided support to the Taliban during their fight against the Afghan government. This has now given each of these groups a safe haven. Rahmatullah Nabil, the former head of Afghanistan’s national security, stated in an interview with the Hindu newspaper that the Taliban are helping Lashkar-e-Taiba and Jaish-ul-Mohammad to achieve their objectives. Both of these groups are attempting to separate Jammu and Kashmir from India. Furthermore, a branch of Al Qaeda has been established in the Indian subcontinent, posing a threat to India.

4- The Presence of China

Indian policymakers have stated that if India is not present in the region, China will take control. This has been proven in the past, and India does not want to give China another opportunity. Therefore, India is looking for ways to become involved in Afghanistan’s politics, as its absence gives China the chance to take over.

Conclusion

The Indians are aware that they cannot maintain the same relationship with Kabul as before, but they still want to be involved in the process. They are attempting to strengthen their ties with the Taliban in order to reduce the risk of fundamentalist groups and China’s influence. The Taliban are also open to expanding their relations with India, as this would help them to manage their connections with Pakistan. Therefore, they are planning to send Abdul Qahar Balkhi, the foreign ministry spokesman. Abdul Qahar Balkhi is a citizen of New Zealand and has been working with the Taliban since 2010, but currently, he is traveling with an Afghan passport under the name of Hassan.