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How India lost Afghanistan to Pakistan?

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India has a mounting diplomatic challenge as the Taliban, which New Delhi has despised, appears to be making a comeback to Kabul’s power corridor. What options does India have?

India has a mounting diplomatic challenge as the Taliban, which New Delhi has despised, appears to be making a comeback to Kabul’s power corridor. It is worth recalling that India was forced to escape Afghanistan after the Taliban assumed power in Kabul on September 26, 1996. After almost a period of five years, in November 2001, a plane carrying a small delegation of Indian diplomats landed in Bagram airbase, north of Kabul.

Sushant Singh, a senior fellow with the Centre for Policy Research in India, in an article for the prestigious Foreign Policy has noted that India is facing the biggest challenge the US plans to withdraw from Afghanistan.

Singh opines that “India doesn’t have many arrows left in its quiver as the United States leaves Afghanistan effectively in Taliban control, reminding New Delhi of the real limits of its power.” “It is,” he maintains, “thus not surprising that India’s Hindu nationalist-led government has opted to engage with the Taliban without publicly acknowledging so.”

He further argues that “as U.S. soldiers move out of Afghanistan, New Delhi has little real power to limit the Taliban’s rise, and it has to prepare for the emerging scenario where the Taliban return to Kabul, either through a civil war or through a peace deal that gives them a major share of power.”

According to a report, India has cultivated a strong relationship with successive Afghan governments, investing heavily in the development and infrastructure of the war-ravaged country, with a total aid of nearly $2bn since 2001, the largest that New Delhi has contributed to any nation.

However, the country was not been active during the Afghan peace talks between the Taliban and the US where Pakistan played a decisive role. Analysts believe India’s policy has not been a success to build a strong, sustainable relationship with Afghanistan.

Kabir Taneja, a security analyst and a fellow at the Observer Research Foundation believes that “New Delhi has backed Afghanistan’s democratic system, and put its weight behind the presidency of Ashraf Ghani. However, even as an expected actor in an event such as talks with the Taliban, New Delhi, unfortunately, built limited capacities over the years for its opinion to be strong enough to be a by definition regional player in helping Afghanistan politically.”

“India’s Afghan outreach, that of developmental aid, people to people contact and so on relied on the security cover provided by the US and its allies. With that gone, the policies of New Delhi will need a serious re-visit,” Taneja pointed out.

Hekmatullah Azamy, deputy director at the Centre for Conflict and Peace Studies in Kabul, said India will have to undoubtedly start a dialogue with the Taliban. “It also needs to be seen if the Taliban will be open to talking to them,” he said.

“Taliban’s relationship with Pakistan and militant groups in the region will have a huge impact on the future of India in Afghanistan,” Azamy said, adding that while Taliban in the 1990s was far more independent of foreign influence, they still leaned towards Pakistan on policies related to India.

“Even in the best of scenarios, it is unlikely that the Taliban would be open to working with India. For instance, the Taliban may not want the army cadets to be trained in India,” Azamy said.