Dr Huma Baqai

07th Aug, 2022. 11:48 am

The Afghan paradox

TTP, founded in 2007, has emerged as the most influential, violent, and anti-Pakistan outfit in South Asia. The ongoing talks between the Tehrik-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP) and Pakistan government that began in October 2021 seek a political solution to the issue, however they are not making any progress, in fact, they have reached a stalemate. The talks were held at the request of the Afghan Taliban and had resulted in a ceasefire in November 2021. The truce is under extreme stress. The first demand by TTP was to release prisoners involved in terror attacks. The outlawed group despite assurances and accommodation on this and other accounts, refused to give in on its demand for the reversal of the merger of erstwhile Federally Administrative Tribal Area (FATA) with the Khyber Pakhtunkhwa province. TTP also refuses to disarm in case of a peace deal. There is almost a deadlock. Analysts are of the opinion that the prospects of a peace deal are dim.

One year down the lane, the dynamics of the relations between Afghan Taliban and India and Pakistan have undergone a paradigm shift. In one of my previous articles on 3rd July 2022 titled “The honeymoon is over”, I had elucidated upon the shift with Pakistan, and in this article, I will dwell on Taliban’s relations with India. There seems to be a change of heart in India as to how to deal with the new government in Afghanistan. The situation on the ground at the exit of the US was anything but in favour of India because the forces it had supported in Afghanistan for decades that were squarely against the Taliban were evaporating. The US was negotiating their exit with the Taliban, which allowed the latter to consolidate its power in Afghanistan and emerge as the face of the government.

India is now coming to terms with the new ground realities; it has started taking the first few tentative steps, which include reopening its embassy in Kabul on June 23rd to coordinate humanitarian aid. The series of public moves by both India and the Taliban to cultivate each other are seen by many as a stunning development, considering the fact that Pakistan is both blamed for and is at the receiving end of punitive diplomacy because of its allied status with the Taliban.

India has cleverly put its foot in at the time when post the initial euphoria Taliban’s position on several issues is contrary to Pakistan’s expectations which includes the Durand Line. Taliban are also openly protecting and sheltering TTP and close their eyes to continued attacks on Pakistan from Afghanistan. These fault lines between the two neighbours are now conveniently being exploited by Indian policymakers to explore relations with the Taliban. This is also premised on at least two facts: India has recognized and come to terms with the new ground reality in Afghanistan and now it does not see Taliban just as a mere proxy of Pakistan, a perception the Afghan Taliban are also very eager to shed.

Another major triggering factor for this convergence is the economic struggle of the Taliban; any help from anywhere is more than welcome. India pre Taliban had invested up to $3 billion in Afghanistan, it was engaged in a development partnership with strategic implications with the country. This partnership was spread over 500 projects and 34 provinces of the country, in critical areas of power, water supply, road connectivity, health care, education, agriculture, and capacity building. These investments were initiated after the first Taliban regime was toppled by the US in 2001.


Aparna Pande, the Director of Hudson Institute Initiative of the Future of India and South Asia said, “Indian investment in Afghanistan will not disappear just because the Taliban have taken over”. India’s relationship with Afghanistan was largely built around its support for the anti-Taliban resistance when the group was in power in the country between 1996 and 2001. After the Taliban collapsed, New Delhi went all out to increase its influence in the country and subsequently constantly used its strategic inroads in Afghanistan against Pakistan. Similarly, the generous financial assistance had many political and strategic strings attached.

India and Afghanistan had also signed a strategic partnership agreement in 2011, under which India also assisted the Afghan military. India is once again gearing up to cultivate Afghanistan even if it means engaging with an entity it has opposed for decades. Asfandyar Mir, an expert in international relations and counterterrorism at US Institute of Peace, while explaining the dynamics between India and the Afghan Taliban, said it appears that now the Indian government has gone to the Taliban. He further stated, “Look, if you want a relationship with us, we have to talk about these terrorism concerns.” So, the Taliban for their part have reciprocated with guarantees similar to what they have provided to the United States government and Pakistan that they will not allow Afghan territory to be used against India. The Taliban are also telling the Indians they are even ready to take action on any intelligence that the Indians might provide.

An anonymous Pakistani diplomat familiar with these developments was quoted saying that “Delhi’s ties with the Taliban have become possible because of the latter’s willingness to protect India’s interests, including taking steps against anti-Indian groups such as Lashkar-e-Taiba add Jaish-e-Mohammad.”

It is interesting that both India and Taliban are now showing pragmatism in their new quest for better relations. However, the ideological differences between the two and the ability of the Taliban to follow up and deliver on their promises with India are issues that need serious reflection. Ayman Al-Zawahiri’s presence in Kabul and subsequent US action to eliminate him is self-explanatory.

On more than one occasion Pakistan has said that they now see, perceive, and conduct their relations with Afghanistan on independent footing as long as the sensitivities and sensibilities of Pakistan are not compromised. International observers are of the view that despite the pledges made, the Afghan Taliban could once again transform Afghanistan into a safe haven for international terrorist organisations. Both India and Pakistan dread this along with several peripheral powers. Nobody in Pakistan is averse to Taliban engaging with India or any other country for that matter, as long as the relationship is not used to exploit Pakistan’s vulnerabilities.

On Saturday 31st July 2022 when Al Qaeda leader Zawahiri was killed in a ‘precision’ strike in the centre of Kabul, this was the first drone strike by US since its withdrawal in August 2021. Once again, the fear is that Pakistan will bear the cost of this strike. It also revives the long simmering debates about the decision to withdraw US forces from Afghanistan and how should the Taliban regime be approached.



The writer is Rector MiTE