India is taking tentative steps to improve its relations with the Taliban with an eye on the geopolitical reality of countering Pakistan and dissuading the Taliban from interfering in Kashmir.
India’s pragmatism in dealing with the Taliban
Since the Taliban seized power in Afghanistan in August 2021, India has been cautiously treading the path to forge a working relationship with it despite historically India and the Taliban do not see eye to eye with each other. But with the geo-political interest to circumvent Pakistan’s nefarious intentions, India is slowly taking steps to mend ties with the Taliban.
In February the Indian budget for 2023 allocated Rs 200 crore in aid to Afghanistan. This is indicative of India’s growing engagement with the Taliban despite the fact that India is yet to officially recognize the regime in Kabul.
At that time Suhail Shaheen, Taliban spokesperson welcomed India’s assistance and assured of all possible help to India in completing pending projects in Afghanistan.
India’s dilemma in approving Taliban backed ambassador in New Delhi
Taliban has been making efforts to get international recognition. Taliban has taken control of over dozen embassies abroad but India is yet to approve a Taliban ambassador in New Delhi. The Taliban-appointed diplomats are now in charge of Afghan embassies in Pakistan, China, Russia, Iran, Turkey, Kazakhstan, and some other Arab and African countries.
India is also caught in the dilemma of giving recognition to the Taliban or not. Recently internal division was visible in the Afghan embassy as the Taliban sought to appoint new chargé d’affaires (acting ambassador) in New Delhi. Meanwhile, India has asked both sides to settle their differences on their own. It is worth noting that the visa of Qadir Shah, the person appointed by the Afghan Taliban as chargé d’affaires in New Delhi, had expired. India is in a catch-22 situation as extending his visa would be construed as India’s willingness to accept a Taliban-appointed diplomat.
India and Taliban
When the Taliban first seized power in Afghanistan in 1996 India maintained its distance from it and did not have a diplomatic mission in the country from 1996 to 2001. New Delhi instead chose to support the anti-Taliban resistance in Afghanistan.
India lent its support to rebuilding Afghanistan after the Taliban regime was overthrown by the US in 2001. But since 2003 after the Taliban reorganized the Indian projects came under increasing attack.
The diminishing influence of the US in Afghanistan has forced India to abandon its reluctance to engage the Taliban. Under the new geo-political situation India has to deal with the Taliban to pursue its national interest.
In May last year, National Security Advisor Ajit Doval said India’s Afghanistan strategy would be determined by its unique history of cooperation with the Afghan people.
India reopens embassy in Afghanistan
On June 23 India reopened its embassy in Afghanistan after a meeting with Taliban commanders in Kabul. India became the 15th country to open its embassy in Afghanistan under the Taliban to coordinate humanitarian relief.
In August, Abdul Qahar Balkhi, the Taliban’s foreign ministry spokesman, wrote on Twitter: “The Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan welcomes India’s step to upgrade its diplomatic representation in Kabul. Besides ensuring security, we will pay close attention to the immunity of the diplomats and cooperate well in endeavors.”
India has a keen interest in ensuring stability in Afghanistan to prevent spillover into Kashmir. India is relying on pragmatic partnerships to engage the Taliban. India seeks to engage the Taliban on its terms with an eye on ensuring the security of ethnic minorities and women. India though will be cautious that it does not signal in any way the diplomatic embrace of the Taliban’s governance model.