Indian Rapprochement towards Afghanistan:Implications for Pakistan

“There are decades where nothing happens, and there are weeks where decades happen.”

 -Vladimir Lenin.

The geopolitical realities are changing in South Asia and new alignments are showing up. Against this context, India is spreading its ties and diplomatic influence in Afghanistan by strengthening relations with the Taliban administration. Unlike 2001, the new version of Taliban is more pragmatic and realistic. As far as bilateral ties with India and Afghanistan are concerned, the Taliban leadership finds it amenable for international recognition of their interim government and for their national interests.

These developments and the changing alignment of the South Asian region can prove to be alarming for Pakistan in the near future. The Indian rapprochement and its influential presence in Kabul can mount security concerns for Islamabad, in the shape of rising activities of Baloch sub-ethno nationalist groups. India will have an available option to re-open the closed doors of Afghanistan for its proxies to resume their activities in Pakistan while using Afghan soil.

The trajectory of India-Afghanistan relations post-August 2021

The Indian delegation previously met with Taliban representatives in Doha, Qatar. India had left its mission in August of last year when the Taliban took control of Kabul. Almost a year later, in June 2022, India resumed their activities and sent a delegation led by J P Singh, the MEA’s Joint Secretary in charge of Pakistan, Afghanistan, and Iran, which paid a visit to Taliban Foreign Minister Amir Khan Mottaqi. This was the first official Indian visit to Kabul since August 2021. Abdul Qahar Balkhi, a spokesperson for the Taliban Foreign Ministry also stated as much in a tweet about the meeting and said that discussion topics included bilateral trade, humanitarian aid, and diplomatic ties between New Delhi and Kabul. On 23rd June, India re-established its presence on Afghan soil under the disguise of diplomatic means along with providing humanitarian assistance and regional security.

Current situation and developments

There are no formal diplomatic links between India and the Taliban administration, but its envoys have met with Taliban leaders in Doha, where the organization has an office. Arindam Bagchi, a spokesperson for the Indian Foreign Ministry, told reporters they were “reading too much into the visit” when they asked if New Delhi now formally recognizes the Taliban government.

Internationally, the Taliban-led government of Afghanistan remains isolated; no country has yet recognized it. In recent weeks, however, Taliban officials have made an increasing number of public overtures to India, a once improbable potential ally. The interest has been somewhat reciprocated. During a regional security forum in Tajikistan at the end of May, Ajit Doval, the Indian National Security Adviser, encouraged Afghanistan’s neighbors to assist in counterterrorism. 

Implications for Pakistan

The Taliban’s embryonic reunion with New Delhi is opposed to Pakistan’s interests. Islamabad’s nearly three-decade-long support of the Taliban was founded on the notion that the Taliban could be relied upon to limit Indian dominance in Afghanistan. This means a huge change in the way things work in the region, as the Taliban-led government in Kabul might eventually move away from Pakistan because of better relations with India.

Currently, Islamabad is facing a resurgence in compounding threats by the Baloch sub-ethno nationalist groups and by their cooperation with banned terrorist outfits like Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan via inter-organizational learning and cooperation. Meanwhile, India’s presence in Kabul has always raised security concerns for Pakistan, particularly in terms of destabilizing its internal security. Because India has always used the soil of Afghanistan for fueling the insurgency in Balochistan, their presence could also jeopardize talks with the TTP.

Another important implication is that India’s presence in Afghanistan would encircle Pakistan. This is clear from the fact that India has had repeated talks and negotiations with the Taliban leadership, and that India’s relationship with Iran is based on cooperation in different areas. This would give India strategic depth in both countries, but it is important to understand their operational manifestations. By approaching Taliban leadership, India would gain a presence with the Taliban ranks; while the chances of using them as a proxy are quite low, leveling the field against Pakistan’s geopolitical advantage would be sufficient for Indian interests. Whereas Indian presence in Iran has been detrimental to Pakistan’s security infrastructure through their cooperative relationship.

In this scenario, Pakistan has more to lose. First, Pakistan’s long-standing relationship with the Taliban leadership would be compromised based on India’s presence. The Taliban’s proximity to India would be detrimental to Pakistan’s geopolitical ambitions and recent shift towards the geo-economics of the region, since India would be keen to block off such initiatives through different schemes, providing more benefits to the Taliban leadership against Pakistan. This encirclement is also detrimental to our long-standing position on regional economics and regional connectivity enhancement policies. Another implication for Pakistan would lie in Balochistan; India could destabilize the vulnerable province by inciting and supporting ethno-nationalist insurgencies, which it already does.

Conclusion

Recent developments in the relationship between the Taliban and India have been on an upward trajectory. There have been talks and visits between both counterparts. The possibility of warm and cordial ties is there between the Afghanistan government and India, but how it is being held is cause for suspicion for Pakistan since India has been going through every possible political option to destabilize Pakistan and establish its own position as a regional hegemon. Since India already has a large presence on our western side, these ties would have long-term effects on Pakistan’s security and foreign policy goals.

Indian Rapprochement towards Afghanistan:Implications for Pakistan

About Mehmood Baloch 2 Articles
Mehmood Baloch is final year student of International Relations at National Defence University Islamabad and a Research Assistant at Institute of Strategic Studies Islamabad (ISSI).

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