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India’s options while dealing with Afghanistan

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India Afghanistan Relations2 1

A brief history of relations

Kabuliwallah – the name still echoes in the corridors of Shantiniketan. A story about the life of an Afghan migrant in erstwhile Bengal, Kabuliwallah is one of the most praised works of Tagore and is a mere drop in the ocean that shows how Afghan history has been always a part of Indian History.

The relationship between India and Afghanistan dates back to the Indus valley civilization. Unlike most bilateral contacts between nations that pause over course of time, India and Afghanistan have been two inseparable entities who have shared familiarity from the Bronze age to the modern age. Harappans, Kushans, Scythians, Abdali, and British acted as a link between the two countries.

The modern relationship began when two countries signed the Afghanistan Treaty of friendship in 1950. The treaty paved way for diplomatic ties. Later India took advantage of the difference between Pakistan and Afghanistan regarding the Durand line and expanded its ties with Afghanistan.

Post-Cold War, under the Narasimha Rao government, India took a non-aligning diplomatic decision by asserting that it would engage with all factions within Afghanistan.

After the political reconstruction of Afghanistan under the Democratic government in 2003, India took a series of humanitarian and development measures to aid the ailing afghan. India was one of the first countries to come to the rescue of Afghan post the invasion of the US despite its bitter relationship with the Taliban.

Since 2011, India has been officially supporting the Afghan-led reconciliation with the Taliban. India concluded a strategic partnership agreement with Afghanistan in 2011. Post-2014, India has been efficiently forming policies to establish its credentials as a regional leader in Afghanistan.

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Present status of relations

Diplomatic Relations

Since the formation of the Quadrilateral Coordination Group in 2016, which had the US, Afghanistan, Pakistan, and China, India has been emphasizing that the peace process in the war-torn country should be Afghan-led, Afghan-owned, Afghan-controlled. Despite being kept out of the US- Taliban deal 2020, both the Afghan Government and the Taliban have reached out to India for assistance in negotiation. India’s usage of soft power diplomacy in Afghanistan has an advantage over Pakistan.

Strategic Relations

An important provision of the US-Afghan deal is cutting ties with the terrorist organization. But India is still wary of the revival of Al-Qaeda and its impact in Kashmir in case the Taliban comes to power. Apart from this, India has a good strategic relationship with the elected government of Afghanistan. Delivery of Mi-24 helicopters and new development projects to the tune of $1 billion under the Strategic Partnership Agreement are a few examples. 

Commercial Relations

Till 2017, Afghanistan Pakistan Transit Trade Agreement was restricting India’s full-fledged trade relation with Afghanistan. The inauguration of the Dedicated Air Corridor between Kandahar, Kabul and Delhi gave a fresh impetus in the bilateral trade. The Chabahar port, connecting India, Iran, Afghanistan, and Central Asia, will promote bilateral connectivity, investment, and trade between India and Afghanistan. Being a solar-rich country, Afghanistan has a huge role to play in the International Solar Alliance, the brainchild of India

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Various possible outcomes of the present situation

There are three possible outcomes of the present situation. 

1. Continuation of the Civil War

2. Emirate or Republic of Afghanistan

3. Ending of the Civil War

Continuation of Civil War

Without prior consultation with the Kabul government or other countries, the US administration has unilaterally signed the peace treaty with the Taliban. This has created apprehensions amongst the Ghani government. as well as international players. It is perceived that the Taliban does not possess the organizational discipline to implement such an agreement. Even after the deal, the Taliban has violated the ceasefire pacts and has attacked several officials of the Kabul administration. Hence, the Afghan government has been cautious. Withdrawal of US forces from the war-torn country may end up giving an upper hand to the Taliban in their zest for the formation of Islamic Emirate. With no options left, the elected Afghan government will be forced to fight the Taliban, again pushing the already struggling country into open civil war. The continuation of the Civil war will pose major challenges for India’s foreign policy in Afghanistan. Instead of trade and strategic investments, India will be forced to balance its foreign policy between the Taliban and the elected government.

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Emirate or Republic of Afghanistan

The Taliban remains staunchly committed to establishing an Islamic Emirate in Afghanistan. Over the years, Pakistan has forged close ties with the Taliban, so the Taliban coming to power in Kabul would favour Pakistan big time. A Taliban led Government in Kabul will make it difficult for India to foster its strategic and economic interest. Going by the current trend, while there is only a minuscule chance for the formation of the Republic of Afghanistan, a democratic government will efficiently engage in the reconciliation of Afghanistan. It will be much easier for India to develop its relationship with a democratically elected Government. The People’s Government can also keep a check on Pakistan influence on the internal politics of Afghanistan and the Taliban

Ending of the Civil War

The ending of the civil war in Afghanistan is likely to trigger a new civil war. When neither party can establish control over Kabul, several warlords, the tribal chief, ethnic groups and political leaders opposed to the Taliban may coalesce around the cause of defeating a common enemy. This will lead to an intense civil war. While the US may stay out of this, other international players would be drawn into the conflict. A new civil war might bring unforeseen consequences for India’s relation with Afghanistan.

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 Different options for India

India faces a complex dilemma in Afghanistan. 

1. India must engage with all the regional players involved. 

2. India can adopt the old diplomatic stance of recognising a regime without approving its conduct.

3. India can open a direct channel of communication with the Taliban without sabotaging its relationship with the current afghan political dispensation.

4. If the Taliban renegades the peace deal and develops ties with Al-Qaeda, India could double down its support for the Afghan government and shun the Taliban.

Regardless of who India chooses to collaborate with, India should make sure it has a presence in Afghanistan both strategically and economically. Afghanistan is of immense importance to India and it should work for its stability and growth.

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