Engaging Talibans: Is it an Option for India?

Since independence India has not been in a better position to hold a friendly dialogue with a 'genuine' Afghan government. Taliban or its derivative is a reality, which will govern Afghanistan in foreseeable future. Taking lead in engaging with them might be a better option than waiting.

Engaging Talibans: Is it an Option for India?

One of the most often quoted strategic statement made by Lord Palmerstone in very few words has never been more relevant than in currently evolving situation in Afghanistan. The quote reads;

“There are no permanent enemy or friend; there are permanent interests.”

Afghanistan has been ravaged for over 40 years, almost continuously by nations, which had no interest whatsoever in developing the region. Their ignominious departure was invariably due to their inability to govern by way of installing puppet governments. Afghans are proud and wise people. Excellent example of their maturity has been absence of bloodshed so far after US exit.

Afghan Military voluntarily did not fire a single shot against Talibans, who took over nearly entire country in less than two weeks. An Afghan did not want to shed another Afghans blood on Afghan soil. Pseudo military strategists have termed this as capitulation of Afghan Military and FAILURE OF US TRAINING. A myopic and jaundiced view aimed at denigrating Afghan valour on one hand and US incompetence to train a fighting force on the other.

There is no doubt that fringe groups In Afghanistan will be active and attempt to create violence, ISIS-K in particular. Pakistan has always hoped for an unstable Afghanistan. It has helped Pakis to get weapons from the west, USA in particular, which they have used against India. A stable and powerful Afghanistan will never allow Pak terror outfits resting in the sanctuaries of Pak- Afghan border. Most of these terror outfits are anti Indian.

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Initial indications of Taliban 2.0 (read Afghan) approach towards governance is at variance with Taliban 1.0. Two statements made by Taliban spokesperson during the first press conference exude ray of hope and 'hopefully' convey Taliban's promise of not resorting to barbarism, as happened during their earlier regime. Significant statements are;

  • Interests of women will be looked after.
  • Indians are welcome in Afghanistan and can/rather should continue with their development work. Mr Shaheen further stressed that their safety is guaranteed.

To many, above statements of a 'government not yet in control' might be of no consequence. It is exactly for this reason that these statements are of enormous significance. There was no need to make these statements in the first place. Keeping in view the fact that India has been kept out of all peace talks planned by Russia, Iran, Pakistan, Turkey and western countries, it is of extreme significance that Taliban spokesperson chose to make a mention of India byname.

A close look at Afghanistan would indicate that at best of times the 'puppet' governments rarely controlled just about one half of Afghanistan. Out of 325 districts nearly 35% districts were not in 'Puppet' government control at all and control/governance of about 15% districts was influx. Hence the current Taliban 'government' will also face same/similar situation.

A stabilized Afghanistan is at least 12 months away provided no foreign intervention takes place. Biggest threat to Afghanistan is from within in form of TTP and ISIS-K. Taliban will have to find the solution themselves through negotiation/elimination of anti-Taliban factions.

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Pakistan has always viewed Afghan territory as strategic depth when viewed in Indian context. Over past few decades one aspect of Pak-Afghan relations has become extremely clear. Afghanistan will never offer blind support to Pakistan in the name of religion. Pak-Afghan relations are at breaking point. Afghanistan ambassador Saikal made some scathing comments on Pakistan during a webinar held under the auspices of India International Centre a few days back.

Coincidentally during past 30 turbulent days India was heading UNSC. Statement of UNSC (read India) is pasted below;

“Permanent Representative of India at the UN, T S Tirumurti, issued a statement on behalf of the UNSC, which included this para: “The members of the Security Council reaffirmed the importance of combating terrorism in Afghanistan to ensure the territory of Afghanistan should not be used to threaten or attack any country, and that neither the Taliban nor any other Afghan group or individual should support terrorists operating on the territory of any other country.”

UNSC (read India) has not termed Talibans as terrorist. A huge change in our position from the past. Will it be viewed in same context by Taliban? It will become clear with Taliban approach towards India in coming days. Indian initiative to include Taliban as part of international community is a welcome sign that Taliban are no longer considered as global outcast.

MEA led by a professional Foreign Minister and NSA might be in a huddle to decide India's next course of action in such unpredictable and fluid situation. An invite to a Taliban delegation to visit India might break the ice of frosty relations. In the worst case scenario, Taliban may decline the invitation or even if the visit took place there may not be a substantive outcome. In both cases the outcome will not be any worse if we continued with our policy of 'wait and watch', which has been renamed as 'strategic patience'.

Since independence India has not been in a better position to hold a friendly dialogue with a 'genuine' Afghan government. Taliban or its derivative is a reality, which will govern Afghanistan in foreseeable future. Taking lead in engaging with them might be a better option than waiting.

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Taliban may reject the offer. But what is of greater concern is how Indian 'Jehadis' will react to such an offer?

India will lose nothing in both cases. But if talks succeed with Taliban (M), India stands to gain a lot.„M‟stands for„Moderate‟.

Successful talks will/may lead to following;

  • Modern weapons viz Black Hawk Helicopter, HUMVEES etc will not fall into Pak/Chinese hands.
  • Will prevent China from exercising financial muscle and trap Afghanistan in 'debt trap diplomacy'.

In the event the talks are successful, Indian options might be;

  • Speeding up of completion of ongoing civil works.
  • Undertaking fresh development projects viz building of medical and educational institutions.
  • Sending a Military Training Team of Army and Air Force personnel to rebuild/recover military infrastructure.

To many above might seem to be a dream. Could anyone have predicted 'ABRAHAM ACCORD' and developing Arab-Israeli bonhomie?

About the Author

Gp Capt. Tej Prakash Srivastava has served in Iraq and is a graduate of both DSSC and AWC. He was Directing Staff at DSSC and Chief Instructor at College of Air Warfare. He Served at Air HQ, commanded a MiG-21 Sqn and headed the IAF establishment of Strike Corps during 'Operation Parakram'. He has authored a book titled 'Profligate Governance – Implications for National Security'. He has written extensively on international and strategic affairs and Defence Procurement Procedures. The IAF officer graduated from the NDA in June 1970 and trained at AFA with 107th Pilots Course. He can be reached at Email: [email protected]

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