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Ministry of External Affairs hints at talks with Taliban

Context:

India is in contact with “various stakeholders” in Afghanistan, the Ministry of External Affairs (MEA) said, in response to specific questions about whether the government has opened direct talks with the Taliban.

Relevance:

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

Dimensions of the Article:

  1. India and Views on communicating with Taliban
  2. India’s Concerns with the U.S. deal with Taliban
  3. Afghanistan–India relations
  4. India’s Interests in Afghanistan

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.

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.

Afghanistan–India relations

  • Bilateral relations between Afghanistan and India have remained strong and friendly over the decades, tracing back to the Indus Valley Civilisation.
  • Between the 10th century to the mid-18th century, northern India has been invaded by a number of invaders based in what today is Afghanistan. Among them were the Ghaznavids, Ghurids, Khaljis, Suris, Mughals and Durranis.
  • The Republic of India was the only South Asian country to recognize the Soviet-backed Democratic Republic of Afghanistan in the 1980s.
  • India-Afghanistan relations were diminished during the 1990s Afghan civil war and the Taliban government.
  • India aided the overthrow of the Taliban and became the largest regional provider of humanitarian and reconstruction aid to the present day Islamic Republic of Afghanistan.
  • India shares border with Pakistan and there is the Durand Line conflict between Pakistan and Afghanistan.

India’s Interests in Afghanistan

  • Economic and Strategic Interest: Afghanistan is a gateway to the oil and mineral-rich Central Asian republics.
  • Afghanistan’s main advantage is its geography, as anyone who is in power in Afghanistan controls the land routes connecting India with Central Asia (via Afghanistan).
  • Developmental Projects: The massive reconstruction plans for the country to offer a lot of opportunities for Indian companies.
  • Three major projects: the Afghan Parliament, the Zaranj-Delaram Highway, and the Afghanistan-India Friendship Dam (Salma Dam), along with India’s assistance of more than $3 billion in projects, hundreds of small development projects (of schools, hospitals and water projects) have cemented India’s position in Afghanistan.
  • Security Interest: India has been the victim of state-sponsored terrorism emanating from Pakistan supported terrorist group operating in the region (e.g., Haqqani network).

INSTC

  • The International North–South Transport Corridor (INSTC) is a multi-modal connectivity project to establish transport networks (ship, rail, and road route) for moving freight between India, Russia, Iran, Europe and Central Asia.
  • It links Indian Ocean and Persian Gulf to the Caspian Sea via Iran, and then onwards to northern Europe via St. Petersburg in Russia.
  • The route primarily involves moving freight from India, Iran, Azerbaijan and Russia via ship, rail and road.
  • The objective of the corridor is to increase trade connectivity between major cities such as Mumbai, Moscow, Tehran, Baku, Bandar Abbas, Astrakhan, Bandar Anzali and etc.
  • The current members are India, Iran, Russia, Azerbaijan, Kazakhstan, Armenia, Belarus, Tajikistan, Kyrgyzstan, Oman, Syria, Turkey, Ukraine, and Bulgaria (observer).
  • Turkmenistan currently is not a formal member but is likely to have road connectivity to the corridor, after being formally invited by Prime Minister Narendra Modi.

Chabahar Port

  • This port is Located on the Gulf of Oman and is the only oceanic port of the country.
  • With this, India can bypass Pakistan in transporting goods to Afghanistan.
  • It will also boost India’s access to Iran, the key gateway to the International North-South Transport Corridor that has sea, rail and road routes between India, Russia, Iran, Europe and Central Asia.
  • It also helps India counter Chinese presence in the Arabian Seawhich China is trying to ensure by helping Pakistan develop the Gwadar port. Gwadar port is less than 400 km from Chabahar by road and 100 km by sea.
  • With Chabahar port being developed and operated by India, Iran also becomes a military ally to India. Chabahar could be used in case China decides to flex its navy muscles by stationing ships in Gwadar port to reckon its upper hand in the Indian Ocean, Persian Gulf and Middle East.
  • Trade benefits: With Chabahar port becoming functional, there will be a significant boost in the import of iron ore, sugar and rice to India. The import cost of oil to India will also see a considerable decline. India has already increased its crude purchase from Iran since the West imposed ban on Iran was lifted.
  • From a diplomatic perspective, Chabahar port could be used as a point from where humanitarian operations could be coordinated.

TAPI

  • The Turkmenistan–Afghanistan–Pakistan–India Pipeline (TAPI), also known as Trans-Afghanistan Pipeline, is a natural gas pipeline being developed by the Galkynysh – TAPI Pipeline Company Limited.
  • The pipeline will transport natural gas from the Galkynysh Gas Field in Turkmenistan through Afghanistan into Pakistan and then to India.
  • The pipeline will begin pumping natural gas by the beginning of 2020 and supply life is expected to last for 30 years.
  • The TAPI Project is considered as an important initiative of these four countries to connect energy rich Central Asia with energy starved South Asia.
  • It will provide an alternative supply source of gas with dependable reserves leading to enhanced energy security.
  • It will further diversify the fuel basket to the benefit of Indian economy as it would be used mainly in power, fertilizer and city gas sectors.

-Source: The Hindu

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