The Taliban won the war in Afghanistan and an economic crisis may be their prize. They have been cut off from the international banking system and from the country’s previous funding sources, like the International Monetary Fund, the World Bank and the U.S. government. (Image: AFP)
India shares a border with Afghanistan, now under the Taliban. That border is not controlled by India. It is controlled by Pakistan (through Pakistani-controlled Gilgit-Baltistan in Kashmir).
Kashmir is still the silent cauldron of terror waiting to explode. This brutal geographical and geopolitical tyranny is giving the security establishment in India sleepless nights. As former United States President Barack Obama once said in a different context, “reality has a way of asserting itself.”
Perhaps the most significant development since the onset of COVID-19, the fall of Kabul at the 20-year-old dust-laden boots of the Taliban, which did not face an iota of resistance from the Afghan Army, is emblematic of Afghanistan — the graveyard of empires.
What does the Taliban want now that the capital Kabul and the entire country is at its disposal, not to speak of awe-inspiring natural and technological resources. It is keen to win legitimacy and recognition by consolidating power and popular support. The last time the Taliban was in power in Afghanistan, from 1996-2001, only three countries — Saudi Arabia, Pakistan, and the United Arab Emirates — recognised its legitimacy.
The Taliban is a collective of Afghan tribal groups representing multiple and, at times, conflicting interests. Of the groups, the Haqqani Network controls Kabul, a listed terrorist organisation. The internal factionalism and power play apart, a Taliban government has emerged in Kabul actively seeking support for the inauguration.
Meanwhile, Taliban leader Sher Mohammed Stanekzai has reached out to India. The powers that be approached India with one objective: to gain legitimacy. For India has been a proponent of tough measures against the Haqqani Network and continues to regard the Taliban officially as a terrorist organisation.
However, statements made at the United Nations Security Council and the United Nations Human Rights Council in the recent months by India have been cautious enough to avoid directly mentioning the Taliban. The Taliban, on its part, ‘expects’ the relationship with India will continue like before as it was with the former government in Kabul.
A staunch and dedicated nation fighting terror, India is the conscience-keeper of the world when it comes to opposing terror and in the fight against terrorism. The Taliban, by engaging India, may want to enhance its chances of delisting the Haqqani Network from the list of global terrorist organisations. Given this, if there is one nation that should not lend legitimacy to the Taliban’s reign of terror, it is India.
How will India manage to do this? How will it reconcile the reality in Afghanistan with its valid and mammoth security concerns?
India’s current strategy appears to be two-pronged. Engage the Taliban to the point that it does not turn a blind eye to India’s security interests. Given its strategic investments in Afghanistan, worth billions of dollars, India cannot turn its back on the Taliban either. But at the same time, India can keep the Quad option live to meet exigencies.
The Quadrilateral Security Dialogue (Quad) is a strategic forum with the US, Japan, Australia and India as its members; all of them heavily invested in Afghanistan in terms of blood and sweat. The Quad does more than talking. Many observers have dubbed it Nato’s equivalent in Asia with the Malabar exercise spectacle featuring the navies of all four Quad countries unfurling off Guam.
Recently, Defence Minister Rajnath Singh addressing the Defence Services Staff College, Wellington, said, “The changing equations in Afghanistan are a recent and important example of this (alignment and realignment of global powers). These circumstances have forced every country to think on its strategy today. Quad has been constituted keeping these things in mind.”
Perhaps for the first time, Afghanistan and the Quad are mentioned in the same paragraph, and in relational terms broadening the scope of the grouping. That it has been done without much fanfare and the corresponding words uttered by one of the most powerful members of the Quad is testimony to the fact that it carries significant gravity.
Also, the words send out a strong signal to all the stakeholders in Afghanistan, including Pakistan and China, that there shall be bigger, greater powers at play in the region if matters spiral out of hand. Surgical strikes, precision bombing, drone strikes, strategic space command and information warfare…the options of force projection are endless. The terrorists and their camps still need to fear for their security wherever they are.
After all, the war in the 21st century is not all and always about boots-on-the-ground.
Rakesh Neelakandan is a current affairs analyst.
Views are personal and do not represent the stand of this publication.