India and Afghanistan neither shares border nor have a direct rail and road links between the two countries but due to Afghanistan’s fluctuating relations with Pakistan, India has long been an active player in Afghanistan.
In the previous Taliban rule (1997-2001) the relation between the two countries were uneasy and India’s ties with the Northern Alliance were not only close but India has supported Northern Alliance forces in Afghanistan. Now at this point of time India wants to keep open, a channel of communication with the Taliban government in order to safeguard its interests.
As economic and humanitarian crisis is worsening in Afghanistan, Pakistan in not only providing humanitarian and economic assistance to Afghanistan but also urging the world to help Afghanistan to save the humanitarian disaster. In this regard Pakistan allows India to send its humanitarian assistant like wheat, medicine and other life saving items to Afghanistan via Pakistan at a time when the relations between Pakistan and India are at the lowest point.
During the two decades long US presence in Afghanistan, India was not the only key player in Afghanistan but was a direct beneficiary of a two decades long US presence in Afghanistan. India was another big factor that uses Afghan soil against Pakistan. There was a time when dozens of Indian consulates were working in Afghanistan against Pakistan to create instability in the country. The arrest of Indian spy Kulboshan Jadhav unmasked the Indian involvement against Pakistan by using Afghan soil.
After the fall of Kabul on 15 August 2021, and US withdrawal from Afghanistan India’s role in Afghanistan is zero. Now India is searching for its new role in Afghanistan, last week India has reopened its embassy in Kabul after nearly ten months of closer.
If India succeeds in getting its new role in Afghanistan then India will fully exploit the situation as exploited in the past. This thing will deteriorate the relationship between Pakistan and the Taliban government. India wants to derail China Pakistan Economic Corridor by providing assistance to anti-Pakistan elements like Baluch Liberation Army and Tehreek-i-Taliban Pakistan to create law and order situation in the country.
Now India is revising its Afghanistan strategy by engaging with Taliban regime informally and continuing people to people exchanges. It also hopes to increase its engagements with the Taliban in the coming months. For this purpose in November 2021 India has conducted the “third Regional Security Dialogue on Afghanistan,” followed by the India-Central Asia dialogue in December 2021, at a time when Pakistan was hosting conference of Foreign Ministers of Organization of Islamic Countries (OIC) in Islamabad over Afghan crisis.
A recent visit of Indian delegation led by JP Singh to Afghanistan first time since the Taliban take over is a clear indication that India is searching for its role in Afghanistan. In the past JP Singh has also met with Taliban delegation in Doha. India cited the visit as discussion on humanitarian and economic assistance, but the Taliban statement relating to the visit suggested that meeting went beyond humanitarian concerns. A Taliban Taliban tweeted that Singh’s meeting with acting foreign minister Amir Khan Muttaqi focused on diplomatic relations, bilateral trade and humanitarian aid. Muttaqi described the first visit from the Indian side to Kabul as a “good beginning in ties between the two countries”.
For strengthening bilateral relation with the Taliban government and getting its new role in Afghanistan, India can provide more military training to Afghan security forces as it did in the past and can invest in long term capacity building programs. It can actively support in security affairs by providing training and sharing intelligence with Taliban gov’t.
Pakistan does not have any problem with India and Afghan relations, if Taliban does not allow India to use Afghan soil against Pakistan, but India’s past conduct of using Afghan soil against Pakistan is definitely a cause of serious concerns for Pakistan’s national security. As Pakistan Foreign Office spokesperson declaring “we would not like to see anyone playing a role that is negative in any sense, or the role of a spoiler”.
Mansoor Ahmed is Islamabad based Researcher and Freelancer