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Editorial Articles

Issue No 36, 04 December -10 December 2021


Geopolitical Importance of Delhi Regional Security Meet on Afghanistan


Allaying speculations about India's conspicuous absence from international discussions on Afghanistan despite legitimate stakes, New Delhi recently hosted the national security advisor-level regional security meet on Afghanistan. This was seen as a strong effort by New Delhi to fight back the notion that any lasting solution to Afghanistan can be discussed without India in the room. The meet having the participation of Russia, Iran, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan, Turkmenistan and Uzbekistan, also showed how strongly regional countries are stepping up at this critical time to underline the need for stability in the war-torn nation as well as the urgent requirement to combat transnational terrorism. China and Pakistan were also invited to the table, but they chose to stay out. The conference deliberated upon measures to address the relevant security challenges and support required by the people of Afghanistan in promoting peace, and stability.

 Employment News spoke to security analyst Shri Kabir Taneja on the significance of the dialogue and whether it has set the tone for India's policy vis-à-vis the Taliban government in Afghanistan. Shri Kabir Taneja, is an author and Fellow with Strategic Studies Program, Observer Research Foundation. His research focuses on India's relation with West Asia, specifically domestic political dynamics, terrorism, nonstate militant actors and the general security paradigm of the region.

 Question: How do you view the regional security dialogue on Afghanistan hosted by New Delhi recently?

 Kabir Taneja: The Delhi regional security dialogue was a good thing. India has been sort of left out of the entire Afghanistan debate for a while now and it comes from a difficult position that has emerged in Afghanistan with the coming of Taliban in power. So, India is managing to put this forum together, inviting all major stakeholders on regional security coming from Afghanistan fallout is an important debate to happen now. We are late at it. I think it should have been done much earlier. India could have been more nimble on its feet when reacting to what is happening in Kabul, but better late than never. So it is a good initiative. The takeaway is that it has been established that there needs to be much more debate on what to do now? And I think the main concern at the moment should be the humanitarian crisis that is developing in Afghanistan because if that gets out of hand then all other variable such as terrorism, extremism have a large chance of increase in Afghanistan which is not good news for the region in general.

 Question: Taliban have been reiterating their commitment to fair and transparent relationship with all neighbour  countries. Do you see that happening?

 Kabir Taneja: At the moment the Taliban is craving for legitimacy from the international order. If you see as a comparative in 1996 when the Taliban came to power in Afghanistan, they had got legitimacy from Saudi Arabia, UAE and Pakistan. Those three countries offered them legitimacy, but this time they are actually worse off despite having "more moderate position" on how they are planning to govern Afghanistan, they haven't had any country came up straight forward and saying that they legitimately recognize the Taliban regime. So they are looking at the level of acceptance from the international order. And we see that beyond a point they are borderline desperate to gain that sort of legitimacy. Now, who is going to offer it and who is going to take that first step, no one knows. For example, Pakistan has accepted Taliban officials to run the embassy and consulate inside Pakistan. That is a level of legitimacy but that still does not mean that Pakistan has come forward and officially recognized the Taliban regime. So we are going to hear a lot of this in the time to come that the Taliban are saying that they are working towards more moderate sort of political order which is going to be more palatable to the international community. So we have to wait and watch. It is very difficult to say at this point of time, but the Taliban are going to push for the legitimacy from the international order in any way or the other.

 Question: Taliban has been arguing that the current government in Afghanistan is inclusive and that nowhere in the world there is a government where the opposition has equal stake. How do you see this comment considering major powers are insisting the government in Afghanistan be made more inclusive?

 Kabir Taneja: The Taliban can really stand up and say, "Look how many Republicans are there in Democrat government of President Joe Biden?" and "How many Congress leaders are there in BJP government?" I mean it's a valid theoretical argument to make, but really doesn't have much feet to stand on. It sounds great to say in conferences or at public dialogue and something like that. But, what is the political opposition to the Taliban? Is it the Tajiks, Uzbeks or the erstwhile democratically government ousted by the Taliban by force. The argument of opposition doesn't hold merit in the way the Taliban is presenting it. They can even say that we have some people from the Tajiks, the Uzbeks, and the Shia Hazaras as part of our political structure. But they are all periphery. It is a largely Pashtun-led regime that has taken over and even within that it is between the Haqqanis and the Kandaharis for example; take a step back and ask yourself, "where is Mullah Biradar?" He is the Deputy Prime Minister and co-founder of the Taliban movement. But we rarely hear or see him in any shape of form. So it's all well and good to say in those emphatic terms. There are a lot of things which the Taliban can say which will make sense from a theoretical point of view but that is not how the world works. The Taliban, more than anyone else, would know that.

 Question: What are the chances of India inviting the Taliban for the next Delhi Regional Security Dialogue? If yes, what would be the implications?

 Kabir Taneja: I think India should engage with the Taliban and they have been doing so. But I do believe that the better positioning to do so is going to be in Doha itself. I don't think there is requirement for India at this point of time to invite the Taliban at the regional security dialogue. Of course the dynamics may change now that the dialogue has happened. We still have to wait and watch the way political order by Taliban is ultimately going to cement. You have to remember the current government in Afghanistan is an interim government in Taliban owns words. So, there has to be a permanent sort of political structure that has to come into play. And we will see that it will come into play over the next couple of months that is if the Taliban will be able to maintain the momentum around themselves, they are able to carry the Afghan people but they are also able to carry the Taliban cadre itself into a more mundane political system where there is no fighting hopefully and where everyone is doing the kind of work they are handed to do as "public servants". It is very difficult to say right now unless a proper political order comes into shape which as inclusive and acceptable to international order, I really don't think there is a requirement for Taliban to be invited to New Delhi. Because if the Taliban is invited to New Delhi, India cannot pick and choose who comes. The Taliban may say there are coming with Khalil Haqqani because he is a part of their cabinet and then if India says no, automatically the whole deal is not going to happen. So, I think the best thing is to keep the Taliban engaged through an open channel - the Doha process which already exists. We have also seen that the American interests are going to be represented in Kabul through the Qatari embassy. I think Qatar is a good mediator or continuing to be a decent mediator when it comes to these kind of issues. Having said that, I don't think there is anything wrong if the Indians are sitting on the same table as the Taliban on other forums such as in Moscow or Tehran.

 Question: Is being seen close to the US affecting India's image regionally?

 Kabir Taneja: It is going to have some repercussions…not repercussions per se but a sort of after taste for others such as Russia and Iran specifically for example. But, on the other hand, they also know that India's closeness with the US is largely coming from the Indo-Pacific front which doesn't have to a lot to do with Afghanistan or almost has nothing to do with Afghanistan. There have been analysts who have been propagating that the Indo-Pacific framework should also apply to the security situation of Afghan. But I think this is a very dangerous line to walk on. Indo-Pacific is geographically defined region and issue. I don't think the QUAD framework, for example, would have much to do with Afghanistan. Of course, they can have debates and discussions on the extended security implications of the Afghanistan issue. But, when it comes to more regional or bilateral takes on the Taliban, or talks with the Taliban, or talks amongst regional stakeholders and the Taliban, I don't think the Indo-US bonhomie is going to be much of an issue.

 Question: How do you suggest India should go about managing its ties with China now, given that it's affecting New Delhi's foreign policy elsewhere, including in Afghanistan?

 Kabir Taneja: When it comes to China, India has to be realistic about what it is. China is second largest economy, and second largest military in the world. China is not in competition with India. China is in competition with the US. We have to be very clear about that. You know India is in competition with China but China is not necessarily in competition with India. Even when comes to issues like border skirmishes and what happened in Galwan. So, it will be engagement and containment at the same time. We cannot sever relations with China. Even through the pandemic, India-China trade has only gone up, specifically after the economies opened up a little bit. But having said that, side by side India is doing some correct measures. There is an increase in the self-reliance debates and policies. There is an increased tendency of trying to make sure of at least a certain level of India's defense procurement is indigenous. That also is very difficult to do overnight. It is a long process but at least there is some beginning towards that goal. China is a reality and we have to deal with the nuance and not bravado and I think the government knows that. China is a $15 trillion economy and we are $3 trillion economy. We have much more to lose when comes to large scale conflict with an entity like China than the Chinese do at this point of time. But this of course does not mean that you lower your guard down; you have to keep the pressure on the Chinese as well.

Question: How important is Afghanistan for India in the changed circumstances? How should India proceed to deal with the Taliban government?

 Kabir Taneja: Afghanistan is important by its geography and its cultural and historical ties with India. Afghanistan is also very important as far as security is concerned. If Afghanistan becomes a hub for international terrorism, radicalization, extremism and is going to be have direct implications for India's security. We already have tremendous pressure from our borders when it comes to Pakistan and China and even Myanmar these days. So we have hot fronts on almost all our borders. So, complete fallout in Afghanistan which is not mitigated will have severe security implications for India. It gives Pakistan a lot of headroom to operate anti-India activities with the kind of geographic, strategic depth and gives countries like China much stronger foothold in the region when it comes to economic and political activities. As I said earlier, India has been very late to the game and it is time for India now to put the money where the mouth is. Hopefully we receive some concrete policy measures how to deal with the Afghanistan and Taliban in the coming months and that of course depends on what kind of ecosystem the Taliban develops. So while the wait and watch policy is fine now, but there is need to take much more realistic take on how to deal with Afghanistan if the Taliban do manage to hold power for considerable period of time.

(Interviewed by EN team)

Views expressed are personal