Stringer Asia Logo
Share on Google+
news of the day
in depth
Afghanistan: India and the Taliban
  • India and Afghanistan
    India and Afghanistan
The second anniversary of the Taliban's return to power is approaching: marked, a few days ago, by a U.S. State Department report sharply criticizing the 'chaotic retreat' from Kabul by NATO forces, and by Pakistan's growing concerns about yet another creature rebelling against its creator along the evergreen Dr. Frankenstein model. Having installed a de facto government in Kabul in the hands of the Haqqanis, who had been fed, vexed and used for years by Islamabad to carry out a whole range of dirty jobs, the Pakistani generals were convinced that they could finally solve a number of thorny issues: consolidate the Durand Line separating the two countries, contain and neutralize the Tehrik Taliban-e-Pakistan, the so-called 'Pakistani Taliban' fighting Islamabad, and finally counter once and for all India's growing influence over Afghanistan. Two years later, Islamabad appears to have failed across the board. In fact, Afghan Defense Minister Mullah Mohammad Yaqoob has taken an unusually hard line on the Durand Line, proving even more decisive than his predecessors in refusing to accept it as a permanent border between the two countries. And even on the TTP front, things have certainly not gone as Islamabad hoped: having failed in yet another 'peace talks,' the TTP carried out nearly 170 attacks in Pakistan in 2023. The real sore point, however, for Islamabad, is the unexpected relations between the Taliban leadership and India. In a deft diplomatic move, India has established a direct link with the Taliban, who seem to have welcomed the resumption of New Delhi's historic role as a large-scale aid provider and the restart of several humanitarian and development projects. Indeed, in the past, since the ouster of the Taliban in 200, India has been the main regional source of development assistance to Afghanistan after the United States: and to India, it seems, the Taliban have turned for humanitarian assistance. In June last year, New Delhi decided to deploy a "technical team" to the Indian Embassy in Kabul to re-establish its diplomatic presence in Afghanistan. India provided 40,000 metric tons of wheat in February 2022 and another 20,000 tons through the Iranian port of Chabahar in March 2023, to be distributed through the United Nations World Food Program (WFP), as well as 45 tons of medicines in October 2022, 500,000 doses of COVID-19 vaccines, winter clothing and tons of disaster relief materials. In addition, the Indian Union budget for 2023-24 included a special provision for a $25 million development aid package for Afghanistan, which was welcomed by Kabul. And the Taliban reportedly asked India to complete about 20 infrastructure development projects throughout the country. A classic example, according to many analysts, of India's famous pragmatism in foreign policy. Despite the underlying lack of trust in a regime that is still tied hand in glove to Islamabad, a regime that has kept almost none of the commitments it made to the Americans in Doha, the old saying about keeping enemies even closer than friends makes sense for India. Ensuring some limited form of diplomatic exchange and providing development assistance in fact allows New Delhi to demand a couple of things in return: ensuring, for example, that Afghan territory is not used to launch terrorist attacks. And so far, although training camps on Afghan territory are still in operation, there have been no major attacks against New Delhi. On the other hand, India, in maintaining some force presence in Afghanistan also has other broader geopolitical goals. In fact, the Taliban regime is also eagerly courting other regional powers, such as China, Russia and Iran. And unlike India, which plays a substantially limited role in the region, China is expanding its diplomatic and economic presence in the country. Beijing has recently exerted further pressure on the Taliban to make Afghanistan a part of the Belt and Road Initiative (BRI) and thus increase investment in the crisis-hit country, while also pressuring Kabul to uphold its regional and international commitments to counter terrorism. In January this year, China signed a 25-year contract to extract oil from Afghanistan's Amu Darya Basin and is negotiating other trade agreements. But despite Beijing's fretting that: "China respects the Afghan people's choice of independence and respects Afghanistan's religious beliefs and national customs" and that "China has never interfered in Afghanistan's internal affairs and has never sought vested interests for so-called spheres of influence in Afghanistan" no one believes them, least of all the Taliban. That to play on different tables they have learned, and well, from their spiritual father: Pakistan. Thus, for some time now the Chinese have been beginning to get hit in Afghanistan as well, given their treatment of the local populations, while New Delhi's star seems to be rising in the country while remaining critical India in the con fronts of the regime. Beijing seems to have made no small blunder if it hoped, as it did, to run Afghanistan through the now compromised and unstable, economically and politically, Pakistan. And it seems poised to become yet another victim of Afghan 'tomb of empires' and Indian 'realpolitik'.
Francesca Marino