A new geopolitical reality has taken shape on India’s north-western frontier. After two decades, the United States military has fled Bagram Airfield, its largest base in Afghanistan, leaving behind some 3.5 million items including small arms and ammunition which have fallen in the hands of Taliban forces.
President Joe Biden has stated that the US was not in Afghanistan for nation-building purposes, and that it was the responsibility of the Afghan people to decide their future in terms of how they want to run their country.
There are fears the Taliban is an ultraconservative theocratic outfit which curtails the rights of women, the democratic process, and human rights. However, this is a matter for the Afghan people. The Taliban has swiftly advanced and claimed control of about 85 per cent of Afghan territory.
Even traditional anti-Taliban strongholds in north and west Afghanistan have fallen in their control, proving that the Taliban has emerged as a resurgent force to be reckoned with. Taliban forces have already captured the land-locked country’s second busiest entry point in Kandahar, which is the main link between its vast southwest and Pakistani ports.
The reality is that the Taliban will launch an attack with all its might on Kabul, to claim absolute power over all of Afghanistan, and this looks imminent. The Taliban’s past relationships with various countries such as Pakistan, China, Turkey, Iran, and several SCO members have no relevance today.
They needed their support in the past to fight the Kabul government which was supported by the US. In this new titanic power shift, the Taliban aspires to be a regional power. Now they will not be a proxy for anyone else but will pursue independent policies to maintain their independence.
But the Taliban must form new relationships which can strengthen its efforts in this situation. There is a regional conclave of foreign ministers taking place in Dushanbe, under the banner of the Shanghai Co-operation Organisation with the participation of China, Russia, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan, Uzbekistan, Pakistan and India with four observer states ~ Iran, Afghanistan, Mongolia, and Belarus to discuss the future political direction of Afghanistan. However, each country has its own agenda.
China would like the Taliban to break from all terrorist forces, such as AI-Qaida, which backed the Uyghur Muslim militant group. Xinjiang shares approximately an 80 km long border with Afghanistan, and China is seriously concerned about the Uyghur Islamic militancy.
The extension of the China-Pakistan corridor into Afghanistan is not of any economic interest to the Taliban at the present moment. Similarly, there is an inherent contradiction in the interests of the Taliban and Pakistan. The Government in Islamabad considers itself superior and is intent on bringing Afghanistan into its own sphere of influence.
The Pakistani army has invested heavily in the Taliban, and is playing an active role in their offensive strategies. Pakistan will require its pound of flesh while the resurgent Taliban will resist all attempts by Islamabad to interfere in its internal affairs. Pakistan is also concerned that the conflict will spill over to the east of the Durand Line and that hostile groups like the Tehrik-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP) will gain sanctuary in Afghanistan.
Meanwhile, Iran is aware of the religious extremism of the Taliban and its oppressive record in dealing with the Shia community in Afghanistan. Many countries such as Pakistan, China, Iran, and Russia have been in direct engagement with the Taliban to protect their interests.
What more political legitimacy does the Taliban need? The US and EU will be forced to establish a relationship with the Taliban sooner or later. It is in the interest of peace and political stability that all countries recognize the Taliban and provide support to its government. By doing so, the Taliban will establish a secure form of government and will not rely on regional terrorist organisations. India has invested in excess of $3 billion towards the development of Afghanistan and Indians are well respected and accepted in the country. India needs to accept the Taliban government and the fact that it has no right to influence the type of government the Afghans establish. Our foreign minister should be open to engaging with the regime in Kabul. Delhi’s foreign policy not to engage with Taliban would be ill-judged and it would be better to guide rather than dictate on its chosen form of government.
It is imperative for India to engage Afghanistan in a strategic partnership to support the Taliban government on an international platform. India is the only country in the region which will find unconditional acceptance by the Taliban as a strategic partner. This will also strengthen Indian interests in Afghanistan in ensuring terror groups which are influenced by the Taliban will not have any spillover impact in India.
The Taliban will greatly benefit from a strategic partnership with India and this will create a balance between other countries in the region. This opportunity should not be ignored by India, both as an ally and a strong country in the international scenario.
The writer is Chairman, Environment Impact Assessment, Ministry of Environment, Forest and Climate Change, Government of India. He can be reached at [email protected] il.com The views expressed are personal