The months of July and August saw massive developments in the Indian subcontinent as a result of the Taliban takeover. The US withdrew its troops from Afghanistan, stating that it believed the Afghan army was well equipped to deal with the Taliban by themselves. India, and many other democracies that stood for human rights and liberties, hoped that this would be true. Unfortunately, however, Kabul fell to the Taliban very quickly, and global fears of a new terrorist lead state came true.
India has had a troubled history with the Taliban. In 1999, when the Indian airline IC814 was hijacked from domestic airspace, it was taken to a then Taliban ruled Kandahar in Afghanistan. The Taliban was instrumental in the hijacking – their militants encircled the aircraft to prevent any Indian military intervention. The new Taliban ‘government’ bears a complete ideological mismatch with the Indian State, which stands for religious freedom and equality. Such circumstances make a positive alliance between the two sides look extremely unlikely. On the other hand, India’s direct rivals in South Asian Geopolitics – Pakistan and China – have been quick to recognize the Taliban government and extend their support to them. All of this, from a general viewpoint, seems like bad news for Indian international interests.
The immediate repercussion of the Taliban coup was the need for evacuation of Indian Nationals stuck in Afghanistan. Since the news of Kabul falling came out, the Indian government has constantly been working on a solution to airlift these people back into India. According to a recent statement by the Ministry of External Affairs, 550 people have been evacuated on 6 different flights – 260 of whom were Indians. India is now working on bringing back the remaining Indians from Afghanistan, focusing on the stranded Afghan Sikh and Hindu minorities. The situation has also created a refugee crisis in the Indian subcontinent. There is a need for countries to volunteer to take in refugees at a time like this, and India might have to face pressure to do the same. Afghan refugees in India have been protesting for over a week, demanding official refugee status from the Indian government. India does not have a separate statute for refugees and usually deals with refugees on a step-by-step basis. For Afghan refugees, India has introduced a new category of e-visa to fast-track their applications for entry into the country. As of now, these visas will only be valid for six months, and the long-term future of these refugees is uncertain.
Another fear stemming from the Taliban takeover was that of Indian projects in Afghanistan stalling. India has invested very heavily in developmental projects in Afghanistan – from Salma Dam to Afghanistan’s Parliament, schools, vital roads, hospitals and more. With the arrival of the new Taliban regime, there was a pessimistic view that these investments would amount to nothing, as the Taliban would probably have their idea of development, stalling the Indian projects in favour of other priorities. Fortunately, the Taliban has acknowledged these investments – stating that they are thankful for India’s developmental projects which are beneficial to the people of Afghanistan, and will not intervene in them.
The Taliban has also stated that it will not let any other country or institution use their land for attacks on other Nations. This is positive news for India, for there was a very real fear of Pakistan potentially striking a deal with the Taliban over strategic points to launch a covert offensive.
Pakistan is a source of real concern at this time – on the surface, the Taliban regime means nothing but good news for them, and the implications of a Pakistan – Taliban alliance can be very detrimental to Indian national interest and security. The IC814 flight hijacking was a striking example of how such a union could negatively affect India, as the Taliban was consistently supported in its operation by the ISI, Pakistan’s intelligence agency. According to India’s National Security Advisor Ajit Doval, the hijacking would not be successful, and Indian forces would have foiled the plan if it wasn’t for ISI’s support. Such experiences and Pakistan’s constant harbouring and safeguarding of terrorists within its borders have led many pessimists to believe that we could soon be facing threat from a united, metaphorical ‘Terroristan’ – with the forces of Taliban and Pakistan uniting against India for terror attacks. However, Pakistan has zero ability economically, diplomatically, geostrategically or militarily to create such an organization. Without American support in the region, which Pakistan was so heavily reliant on for most of its history, it has no ability to threaten India through Afghanistan.
History has led us to fear the worst for Kashmir’s security in light of the events in Afghanistan – when the Soviet Union pulled out of Afghanistan, Kashmir witnessed a surge in foreign fighters between 1988-89. The worry is that Taliban rule will cause similar circumstances. When the Taliban was fighting the US in Afghan lands, a large number of mercenaries, that were not under the ambit of the Taliban, were hired specifically to fight the American forces. Now that these mercenaries are unemployed and without a purpose, it is feared that they could be employed by Pakistan to create instability in Kashmir through a third party. The silver lining for India in such a situation would be that 2021 is not like 1989 – the world has changed a lot since the historical period that this fear stems from. First of all, many new security organizations have been fighting such terrorists, like the FATF. Secondly, in the current global scenario, there is greater global scrutiny on the actions of states than there was back in 1989. It is, therefore, hard for Pakistan to resort to its terror employing tactics from the past, without facing harsh repercussions from the global community for its actions.
India will be aided by Hamid Karzai and Dr Abdullah Abdullah, Afghani Indian allies who are part of the council that was made responsible to discuss the transfer of power in the new Afghan leadership setup. It is an example of India’s greatest strength in navigating through this crisis – the majority of the Afghan population is supportive of India and its initiatives. The government has to make sure that whatever steps it takes in this conflict do not risk reversing this positive relationship built over a long period. With Pakistan and China quick to chase profits out of the situation, India has to tread carefully. While it cannot let China and Pakistan make strategic gains that they could use against them in the future, India must also make sure not to go overboard with either its support or opposition to the Taliban. Strong opposition could mean inviting unnecessary terror threats and foreign animosity to its door, whereas unwavering support would mean defying everything the country stands for – not only antagonizing itself in the eyes of the global community but also those of the Afghan people. India must maintain a hold in Afghanistan with caution, but also with vigil.
Desk, E. (2021, August 27). Explained: Which countries are taking in refugees from Afghanistan? The Indian Express. https://www.google.com/amp/s/indianexpress.com/article/explained/explained-which-countries-are-taking-in-afghan-refugees-7464594/lite/
Gupta, S. (2021, August 21). Why India should forget Afghanistan, Pakistan, ‘Terroristan’ & shift strategic gaze to the seas. ThePrint. https://www.google.com/amp/s/theprint.in/national-interest/why-india-should-forget-afghanistan-pakistan-terroristan-shift-strategic-gaze-to-the-seas/719567/%3famp
H. (2021, August 27). Over 550 people, including over 260 Indians, evacuated from Afghanistan: Govt. Hindustan Times. https://www.hindustantimes.com/india-news/over-550-people-including-over-260-indians-evacuated-from-afghanistan-govt-101630064820414.html
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