Taliban are a reality, but India should still tread carefully while engaging with Islamist militia
New Delhi would be committing a grave blunder if it compromises with its core values to provide legitimacy to an obscurantist outfit like the Taliban
There are reports in the media indicating that India is considering the reopening of its embassy in Kabul. The initiative appears to be driven by an apperception that India’s absence from Kabul is leaving the space free for other countries, including those inimical to India. There is also a perception that it may be feasible for India to create a wedge between the Taliban and its primary sponsor — Pakistan.
However, the price that India will have to pay for reopening the embassy is bound to be huge. The process will inevitably legitimise the Taliban rule and strengthen their hold over Afghanistan, at a time when the regime there is facing a severe economic crisis. More significantly, it will be a betrayal to the components of the previous government, to which most of the Afghan missions abroad owe their allegiance. It needs to be noted that India had signed a Strategic Partnership Agreement with the previous regime and legitimising the Taliban at this juncture, will amount to betrayal. It would project India in the same light as the US, which is now widely perceived to be an unreliable ally. It would also sacrifice India’s principled stance, which talked about the rights of women and children, as well as minorities, ethnic as well as religious and sectarian.
More significantly, the assumption that India will regain the lost ground by merely opening its embassy in Kabul at a time when the ISI is ruling the roost is fallacious. There is no doubt that most Afghans hate Pakistan for interfering in their internal affairs and would not want anything to do with it or its agencies, but the Taliban are too dependent on Pakistan at this moment and significant components of the government are nothing but the ‘veritable arms’ of the ISI.
By merely reopening the Indian Embassy, New Delhi will not be able to reduce this influence. More significantly, this would be a tacit admission that India does not expect any worthwhile opposition to emerge to the oppressive Taliban rule, at a time when discontent against the regime is simmering but has not been able to come out in any organised manner.
Outside Afghanistan, Ahmad Massoud has been meeting exiled Afghan leaders in Iran to strengthen National Resistance Front (NRF), whereas former Vice President and de jure Acting President of Islamic Republic of Afghanistan Amrullah Saleh is trying to seek international support for the NRF and sees the recent denial of Afghan seat to the Taliban at the United Nations by the credentials committee, as a step in the right direction. He expressed joy that the Afghan seat in the UN stayed with the “legitimate and constitutionally mandated representative of the Islamic Republic of Afghanistan”.
Saleh stated that it would heal the massive wounds that have been inflicted on Afghan society by the violent takeover of the country by the Pakistan-sponsored Taliban. At such a crucial juncture, any attempt to provide ‘de facto’ or ‘de jure’ legitimacy to the Taliban will completely derail the process of building a broad-based national resistance to this outfit.
There are sections within Indian policymaking circles that want to promote the Taliban for their own vested business interests and project them as ‘transformed’ and not ‘anti-India’. However, ever since the takeover, the Taliban have not given any indications that they have in any way mellowed down or have given up their extremist ideology.
They do make statements from time to time to gain international recognition, but one must remember that while they have mediated between the Pakistan government and the TTP and have made some promises that they will not allow their territory to be used for attacks against other countries, they have never ever handed over even a single member of any radical organisation to either China or Pakistan. Consequently, any presumption that any anti-India groups operating from Afghanistan will be expelled or eliminated by the Taliban is purely wishful thinking.
More significantly, if Indians were going to start working from Kabul, who would ensure their security? Even if the Taliban give any assurance, how credible would that be? Qari Baryal, the commander of the group that had attacked the Indian Embassy, with links to both ISI and Al Qaeda, has been appointed as the Governor of Kabul. His associate, Mullah Taj Mir Jawal, has been appointed as the Deputy Chief of Intelligence. They used to organise suicide attacks on targets inside Kabul by pooling in terrorists from various radical outfits like Taliban, Al Qaeda, IMU, Islamic Jihad Union, Turkistan Islamic Party and Hizb-e-Islami. ISI will ensure that the Embassy and the diplomats are frequently targeted and the regime will simply pass on the blame to the Islamic State.
Ultimately, New Delhi needs to appreciate that the Taliban is an ideological organisation, whose ultimate goal is the establishment of a global Islamic Emirate. It is ideologically aligned with Al Qaeda and many other extremist organisations across the world that dream of creating an Islamic Emirate under the Amir ul Mumineen. This ideology will eventually pit it against the secular and plural polity of India. New Delhi would, therefore, be committing a grave blunder if it compromises with its core values to provide legitimacy to an obscurantist outfit like the Taliban.
The writer is the director of the India Foundation. The views expressed are his own.
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