Dealing with the Devil Requires Caution

India’s reopening of its embassy in Afghanistan amidst the earthquake relief operation by an Indian Air Force team is being read by the Taliban as its implicit diplomatic recognition by New Delhi. The situation calls for caution

By Pranay Kumar Shome

Foreign Affairs

Realism – a school of thought in international relations – articulates that for the purpose of fulfilling one’s national interests dealing with the most terrible of regimes is essential. That is exactly what seems to be happening with India. A few days ago, a powerful earthquake of 5.9 magnitude hit Afghanistan causing ubiquitous devastation. The earthquake has so far claimed the lives of over a thousand people with scores more injured. The United Nations has predicted that the death toll is likely to rise.

As a concerned neighbour and a true ally of the Afghan people, India promptly dispatched relief materials and a technical team to Kabul to aid in the relief and rescue operation. However, no situation in international affairs is shorn of politics. This situation is also not an aberration. India announced limited opening of its embassy in the Afghan capital with limited capacity to function. This is not unusual. Earlier this month, a high-level delegation was sent by the Ministry of External Affairs led by Joint Secretary J.P Singh, which met with important Taliban officials to discuss common issues of mutual interests and Indian aid to the Afghan people.

Recognising Taliban?

This outreach followed by the relief operations is being read in strategic circles of Afghanistan, particularly the Taliban, that India is softening its stance on the hardline Islamist group-cum-movement and is trying to become the first nation-state to recognise the regime albeit implicitly.

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India may get potential benefits by recognising the Taliban regime, but it needs to be mindful of the pitfalls. Giving explicit recognition to the Taliban regime is a foreign policy step fraught with potentially substantial headaches

While some policymakers and foreign policy experts have called for following a pragmatic and realist policy vis-a-vis the Taliban, recognising the Taliban may be tantamount to dealing with the devil undoubtedly. The Taliban has made no secret of its anti-India approach, in the years of the Karzai and Ghani governments, they followed a somewhat cold approach with regard to the Indian question.

Recognising the Taliban could, however, prove advantageous to India in that it will blunt Pakistan’s attempt to gain strategic depth in the country and would also allow India to secure its economic and commercial interests in the country.

Realists will argue that sometimes for the purpose of promoting one’s national interest it is essential to deal with discomfiture in dealing with pariah regimes. But the situation is more complicated than it appears.

Exercising caution

Notwithstanding the potential benefits that India may get by recognising the Taliban regime, it also needs to be mindful of the pitfalls. To put it bluntly, giving explicit recognition to the Taliban regime is a foreign policy step fraught with potentially substantial headaches.

First, the Taliban draws its legitimacy and support from a hardline and iconoclastic interpretation of Islam, which is anti-ethical to the very soft and inclusive cosmopolitan spirit of India. It will end up upending centuries of peaceful co-existence that India has maintained with its Indic and non-Indic religions.

Keeping in mind the larger interests of the Indian people as well as the well-being of the Afghan people, India must be ready to try and circumvent the Taliban to reach out to them directly

Secondly, there is no denying the fact that the Taliban still harbours ambitions like the ISIS of developing a global caliphate comprising the Islamic ummah, so recognising the Taliban would accentuate terrorist activities in India and would see anti-India terror groups such as the Lashkar-e-Taiba, Jaish-e-Muhammed, and Haqqani network using Afghan soil to attack Indian citizens and interests not just in Afghanistan but also in India.

Thirdly, the Pakistani ISI is the ideological and military godfather of the Taliban and once India gives diplomatic recognition to the Taliban the former would be able to try and sponsor attacks against India. As the Pakistani military establishment has demonstrated in its actions over the years, it would use Afghanistan to endanger Indian political, cultural, and economic interests with regard to Afghanistan in general and India in particular.

Fourthly, the Indian version of Islam, which is characterised by Sufism, will end up becoming the victim of the Islamists’ hardline Wahhabi Islam, it will end up radicalising the Muslim populace in India, which doesn’t augur well for India and its delicate secular fabric.

Conclusion

This is quite a tricky situation that will test the diplomatic acumen of the Modi government’s top foreign policymakers. However, keeping in mind the larger interests of the Indian people as well as the well-being of the Afghan people India must be ready to try and circumvent the Taliban to reach out to them directly, but then again it is easier said than done.

– The writer is currently working as a Research Associate at Defence Research and Studies (dras.in) and is a columnist. The views expressed are personal and do not necessarily reflect the views of Raksha Anirveda

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