The Taliban has defeated the United States and the government propped up by it in Afghanistan after a 20-year-long guerrilla war. Most analysts had predicted the Taliban’s victory after American withdrawal but have been stunned by the speed with which it occurred. This is the Taliban’s second taste at power after their stint in 1996-2001. Here is how this time might be different from the first and what it means for India:
How will the Taliban’s rule be different from their first stint in power?
In 1996, the Taliban was more or less isolated on the world stage, with only Pakistan, Saudi Arabia and the UAE recognising it. This time, it’s different. After dislodging Ashraf Ghani’s government, the Taliban is claiming legitimacy for return to power. While Pakistan and China are clearly ready to recognise a Taliban government in Afghanistan, Russia, too, indicated that the militant organisation’s return to power in Kabul is a reality it will have to work with. The US and Europe, too, appear to be reluctantly reconciling with this reality. This gives the Taliban an advantage it lacked the last time around, with access to relations and funding that would enable it to run the country. On the other hand, the world has changed since 1996. Afghans have access to social media, the internet and have tasted some elements of freedoms – women’s rights, for example – that would make it hard for the Taliban to return to the most brutal form of Islamic rule. Finally, the Taliban is aware that disrespecting human rights would lead to a denial of aid and expertise it sorely needs to run the country.
What has been India’s role in Afghanistan?
India invested around $3 billion in developmental works such as building roads, schools and dams in Afghanistan in the last 20 years. It also funded the Afghan parliament building and consequently built a lot of leverage with the Ghani government. The objectives of the investment were access to the Balochistan province of Pakistan, developing land routes to the Chabahar port in Iran and containing Pakistan’s influence in the region. Now all those objectives are in danger. On the other hand, these gestures have endeared India to the Afghan people, vis-a-vis Pakistan which has backed the brutal Taliban. This gives India a continued advantage among the population.
What has India done since the US withdrawal?
India has been slow to engage with the Taliban and has shown little willingness to either talk to or recognise Taliban’s de facto rule. Even when every country, including the US, legitimised the Taliban politically by openly talking to them, Indian policymakers were still hesitant up until the last minute. This is because it was difficult for New Delhi to go for full- fledged engagement with the Taliban and publicly acknowledge it, as it is after all, a Pakistani project against India. Now, however, India has little choice but to engage with the Taliban as they are in control of the country.
What does the Taliban victory mean for India?
The Taliban’s victory, at least on the face of it, is a major triumph for Pakistan and a major setback for India. Pakistan’s Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI) has backed the Taliban since the group’s origin in the mid-1990s, and the Taliban has links with the Lashkar-e-Taiba, which carried out the 2008 Mumbai attacks. But this time may be different. While still highly dependent on Pakistan, the Taliban this time around has been able to secure acceptance within the international community and has thus gained a certain degree of independence. Its foreign policy may also show a similar degree of independence given that it may require Indian and foreign aid and reconstruction assistance. This may prevent the LeT and Jaish-e-Mohammed (JeM) from using Afghanistan as a staging ground to launch attacks in Kashmir.