The Platform

Afghan refugees in India. (Pierre Prakash/EU/ECHO)

India’s fortunes in Afghanistan have always relied heavily on regional politico-economic dynamics. First, India’s policies towards Afghanistan have been subjected to the policies of the U.S. that are mostly against China to cope with Beijing’s influence in the region. Second, enmity towards Pakistan has shaped India’s policies in Afghanistan.

The recent events unfolding in Afghanistan are proving to be alarming for India. Diving into history, India was a part of the Non-Aligned Movement but became the first South Asian country to recognize the Soviet-backed Afghanistan government in the 1980s. Afterward, India aided in the overthrow of the Taliban and developed strong ties with Kabul.

In 2017, Shaida Mohammad Abdali, Afghanistan’s former ambassador to India, pointed out that “India is the biggest regional donor to Afghanistan and fifth-largest donor globally with over $3 billion in assistance.” Relations between Afghanistan and India received a major boost in 2011 with the signing of a strategic partnership. India helped Afghanistan in the construction of the Salma Dam that has the potential of generating 42 megawatts of energy. India has also constructed a new parliament complex for the Afghan government. During Narendra Modi’s state visit, the new parliament was inaugurated alongside former Afghan President Ashraf Ghani. Besides this, India has already poured $10.8 billion into Afghanistan as of 2012.

Moreover, India has built over 200 public and private schools, sponsored over 1,000 scholarships, and hosted over 16,000 Afghan students. Also, since 2001, around 700 Afghans have received military training in India every year. India was also set to transport goods to Afghanistan through the Chabahar Port and has invested more than $100 million in the expansion of the Chabahar Port in southeastern Iran which would have served as a hub for the transportation of goods. India was also set to invest in other sectors as well such as setting up mines, a steel plant, an 800-megawatt power plant, transmission lines, and roads. However, all of these investments seem to have vanished once the Taliban assumed control of Kabul.

However, a major shift in India’s position on the Taliban was reported by a top Qatari official in June, revealing that an Indian delegation covertly met with the Taliban in Doha. As India is an opportunistic nation that keeps on changing sides, it considered that having peace with the Taliban would save some of its investments in Afghanistan.

Afghanistan was a major pillar of Indo-U.S. strategic cooperation. With the U.S. gone, it would not be easy for India to advance its interests in Afghanistan. In addition, now India seems to be in a defensive position in terms of dealing with the rising strategic clout of Pakistan and China in Afghanistan.

China is increasingly concerned with changing political landscapes in Kabul and what that unrest could mean for its own domestic stability. With China’s mounting stakes in Afghanistan and its improving relations with the Taliban, it would be nearly impossible for India to form an amicable relationship with the Taliban.

Pakistan, on the other hand, has proven its mettle by maintaining its clout over the Taliban. A case in point is the release of Abdul Ghani Baradar, the co-founder of the Taliban.

India had maintained cordial relations with the Northern Alliance. During the 1990s, the Northern Alliance, led by Ahmad Shah Massoud, held the Taliban at bay in northern Afghanistan. The group has regrouped and again is pledging to hold the Taliban at bay. In an ironic twist, Ahmad Shah Massoud’s son, Ahmad Massoud, is leading the now rebranded National Resistance Forces.

Another alarming issue looming for India is the release of Taliban militants who operated out of Jammu and Kashmir. It would be increasingly difficult for India to normalize relations with the Taliban knowing that its militants could potentially cause more headaches for it in Kashmir. The Modi government will certainly have to face some awkward questions from within India if an agreement is signed with the Taliban.

India must bear the brunt of its decision to work both sides in Afghanistan. India’s investment is lingering in the air and relations with the fleeing regime are faltering. As the saying goes, “change is the only permanent thing,” only time will reveal whether India and the Taliban can see eye to eye in the near future.

Ali Haider is currently a Customs Inspector with Pakistan Customs. Ali has a keen interest in global affairs.