As the endgame in Afghanistan draws closer and the chances of the war-torn nation coming under the Taliban control grow stronger, the signs are ominous for India, not just on the diplomatic front but also on the investment. For years, India has been playing a key role in the reconstruction and infrastructure development and expecting a rule-based, democratic and representative set-up in Kabul after the exit of the American and NATO troops. It would be next to impossible to have any meaningful engagement with a radical Islamic outfit like the Taliban. The recent targeted killing of Indian photojournalist Danish Siddiqui reflected the ruthlessness and brutality of the militant organisation. The Taliban’s triumph has put a big question mark over the fate of India’s massive investments in the country. India built vital roads, dams, electricity transmission lines, schools and hospitals and its development assistance is now estimated to be worth over $3 billion. The 2011 India-Afghanistan Strategic Partnership Agreement recommitted Indian assistance to help rebuild Afghanistan’s infrastructure and institutions, provide education and technical assistance for capacity-building in many areas and duty-free access to the Indian market. A rapidly evolving situation suggests that a Pakistan-China grip, with the help of the Taliban, is bound to plunge the country into a deeper vortex of violence. In such a situation, it would be extremely difficult to do business with the Taliban as India cannot forget the blatant collusion between Pakistan and the radical Islamic outfit during horrific incidents like the Kandahar hijack and the Indian embassy bombing in Kabul.
The Taliban’s fellow ideological travellers such as the Haqqani network, Lashkar-e-Taiba and Jaish-e-Mohammed are also waiting in the wings. The re-emergence of the radical Islamic group will test the depth of India’s foreign policy strategists. While the US and China are hopeful that Islamabad would be able to rein in the Taliban, persuade it to tone down its dangerous ideology, and adhere to the accepted norms of international diplomacy, India does not share such optimism. It is a known fact that Pakistan-based terror outfits, intent on destabilising India, are often hand in glove with the Taliban in Afghanistan. However, in the present context, India’s options are limited. It needs to reposition its priorities and reach out to moderate sections within the Taliban to figure out a way to work out at least a functioning relationship with it. Despite an unfavourable turn of events, India must stay engaged in the reconciliation process with the help of some deft diplomatic manoeuvring. After all, realism should dictate foreign policy strategies. India should seek a stable Afghanistan that is not hostile to it and let the people of that country decide the nature of their polity.
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