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India: Future of Afghanistan cannot be its past


Amidst rapid advances made by the militant group Taliban on towns and border check-posts in various parts of Afghanistan – Indian External Affairs Minister said that the world won’t legitimise a Taliban regime that comes to power in Kabul by force.


GS-II: International Relations (India’s Neighbors, Foreign Policies affecting India’s Interests)

Dimensions of the Article:

  1. Taliban’s advances in Afghanistan
  2. Taliban back to old ways in newly seized Afghan territory
  3. India’s reaction
  4. About Afghan peace process
  5. The US Taliban Agreement
  6. India’s Concerns with the U.S. deal with Taliban
  7. India and Views on communicating with Taliban

Taliban’s advances in Afghanistan

  • In recent weeks, the Taliban militants have made rapid advances across the country, seizing a series of border posts from Afghan forces, including crossings with Iran, Tajikistan and Turkmenistan.
  • The Taliban – a fundamentalist Islamist militia who were pushed out of power by the US invasion nearly 20 years ago – have also seized control of a number of key roads as they seek to cut off supply routes to major cities.
  • Control over the Pakistani crossing (Spin Boldak border crossing) would be a major prize to Taliban as it would give them significant customs revenue from the trade which flows back and forth and would provide direct access to areas in Pakistan (Balochistan province), where Taliban leaders and fighters are known to have been based for many years.
  • The seizure of the border crossing follows days of heavy fighting across Kandahar province, where the government was forced to deploy commando fighters to prevent the fall of the provincial capital even as the insurgents inched closer to taking the frontier.
  • It comes as the US withdraws its forces from Afghanistan ahead of an 11 September deadline set by President Joe Biden.

Taliban back to old ways in newly seized Afghan territory

  • Days after the Taliban captured a remote district in Afghanistan’s north, they issued their first orders in the form of a letter to the local imam which said women can’t go to the bazaar without a male companion, and men should not shave their beards.
  • The insurgents also banned smoking and warned that anybody violating the rules “will be seriously dealt with”.
  • In some areas they are again introducing the harsh interpretation of Islamic rule that earned them notoriety until being overthrown by the U.S.-led invasion that followed the September 11 attacks.

Rules during the 1996-2001 Taliban regime

  • Women were ordered to stay indoors unless accompanied by a male relative, girls were banned from school, and those found guilty of crimes such as adultery were stoned to death.
  • Men had relatively more freedom but were ordered not to shave, would be beaten if they didn’t attend prayers, and were told to only wear traditional clothing.
  • Afghanistan is deeply conservative and some rural pockets of the country adhere to similar rules even without Taliban oversight — but the insurgents have tried to impose these edicts even in more modern centres.

India’s reaction

  • Reflecting the urgency and concern over the developing situation in Afghanistan, India said the world is “against seizure of power by violence and force”, and “peace negotiations in earnest are the only answer” at the meeting of foreign ministers of the Shanghai Cooperation Organisation (SCO).
  • India called for “ceasing violence and terrorist attacks against civilians and state representatives”, settlement of conflict “through political dialogue”, respect towards “interests of all ethnic groups”, and ensuring that “neighbours are not threatened by terrorism, separatism and extremism”.
  • The challenge, the External Affairs Minister said, was to “act seriously and sincerely on these beliefs”, because there are “forces at work with a very different agenda” — in an oblique reference to Pakistan.
  • India has pulled out its officials and staffers from its consulate in Kandahar in the past few days and is monitoring the situation in Mazar-e-Sharif where it has another consulate.

About Afghan peace process

  • The Afghan peace process comprises the proposals and negotiations in a bid to end the ongoing war and conflict involving the Taliban in Afghanistan.
  • In February, 2020, US president has struck a peace deal with the Taliban (see box) on the issues of counterterrorism and the withdrawal of U.S. and international troops. The intra-Afghan talks were part of the deal.
  • Though the deal was to be held in march-April 2020, it got delayed due to disagreement on mutual release of prisoners by both Taliban and Afghan Government.

The US Taliban Agreement

  • Withdrawal of foreign forces: The United States agreed to reduce its number of troops in the country from roughly 12,000 to 8,600 within 135 days.
  • Release of prisoners- The deal also provides for a prisoner swap.
  • Recognition to Taliban- The US will move to the United Nations Security Council to remove Taliban members from the sanctions list.
  • Counter terror measures- The Taliban would prevent any terror group from using Afghanistan to threaten the security of US and its allies.
  • Intra-Afghan Negotiations- will be started among all the stakeholders of the Afghan society and the Taliban would commit towards it.

India’s Concerns with the U.S. deal with Taliban

  • In the Doha agreement, The U.S. appears to submit to the possibility of a Taliban-led government, by extracting promises that the Taliban will not provide “visas, passports, travel documents or asylum” to those threatening the U.S. and its allies.
  • This sidelines the “Intra-Afghan” dialogue, and India’s support for the election process for leadership in Afghanistan.
  • India cannot look at the agreements or the route to Kabul via Washington’s view that the Ghani government (which India has recognised as winner of the 2019 election) will only serve for an interim period.
  • This also raises a big question mark on the future of Afghanistan’s government, and whether it will remain a democracy.
  • India has raised concerns over the future of democracy, human rights, women’s rights and other achievements made in Afghanistan since 2001, when the Taliban regime was last defeated.

India and Views on communicating with Taliban

  • While the MEA did not confirm the talks, which would represent a major shift for Indian policy, it did not deny recent reports that indicated that Indian security officials have exchanged messages with several “nationalist” Taliban factions.
  • MEA said that India is in touch with various stakeholders in pursuance of our long-term commitment towards development and reconstruction of Afghanistan.
  • India has thus far refused to open direct dialogue with the Taliban leadership, which it held responsible for facilitating terror attacks along with groups like the Lashkar-e Taiba and Jaish-e Mohammad on Indian missions in Afghanistan.
  • However, according to experts, India has reconsidered its position in the aftermath of the U.S. announcement that it would pull out all its troops by September 2021.
  • The clarity over the U.S. decision to pull out, which could be as early as September 2021 has added to the sense of urgency for Delhi to make these direct contacts with the stakeholders in Afghanistan.
  • The exercise of India opening these channels and being comfortable with this information being out in the public is a signal to both the policymaking community in India and the interlocutors on the other side that they are serious about the talks with the Taliban.
  • India’s engagement with groups in Afghanistan can be thought of as driven by a desire to “limit damage” to its security interests as a result of the U.S.’s decision to leave and the Taliban gaining military strength in several key provinces.

-Source: The Hindu, Indian Express

December 2023