India should leave Afghanistan alone and focus on her own internal and external problems, argues security expert and author Ghazala Wahab in the Force.
“In Afghanistan, the Taliban are marching towards Kabul with a measure of inevitability. In India, the government and policy wonks are wringing their hands with a degree of frantic desperation,” writers security expert and author Ghazala Wahab in her piece in the Force.
According her, the following are the reasons why India should stay out of the new great game in Afghanistan:
- After all these years, including the bitter lesson of the 1990s, India interests in Afghanistan remain in the realm of fantasy. “For all the claims of historic ties, we do not understand the Afghan society, much less its politics,” writes Wahab. “Our Afghan-view seems frozen in the images of laughing women in western clothes stepping out after watching a movie in Kabul. Somehow, we continue to mistake a miniscule urban elite for the majority.”
- “Shorn of strategic hyperbole, our interests come down to two acknowledged and one unacknowledged factor,” she says. “Of the former, the first is our traditional ties with the people of Afghanistan and the road it opened for us to Central Asia. It is because of this that India enjoys enormous goodwill among the Afghan people. Curiously, despite this centuries’ old relationship, this goodwill didn’t include a large number of Pashtun people who eventually became, first the Mujahids to fight the Russians, and subsequently the Taliban, who upended the Mujahids.” She further writes: “The second reason is our fear that with Taliban in control of Afghanistan, hardened terrorists will spill over into Kashmir. Worse, Islamic extremism will be exported into mainland India; just as happened with al Qaeda and Islamic State. It seems that unbeknownst to most, Indian Muslims were flocking to join the ranks of both to bring about an Islamic revolution in India. The unacknowledged Indian worry is that the space that non-Taliban Afghanistan gave us to carry out ‘special operations’ will no longer be available.”
- India’s interests in Afghanistan are fantastical and removed from reality. Afghanistan was the next-door neighbour of undivided India, with multiple road connections—from Khyber Pass in the west to Chaman in the south and a few in between. After Partition, India’s physical connection with Afghanistan was through Pakistan. The accessibility of this connection depended upon India-Pakistan ties.
- “For all the claimed goodwill, India’s hand-wringing is not on account of the people or the Afghan women who will be pushed back into medieval times by the Taliban,” she writes. “As an aside, government of India’s concern for the freedom of Afghan women is a bit rich, given that it has been progressively infantilising Indian women, taking away their agency over their lives; telling them what to eat, what to wear and who to marry. For all our progress, honour killing remains a grim reality. Coming back to Afghanistan, the Indian frustration stems from two sources.” These are: One, in the Afghan reconciliation process, India has been left outside the tent (“The fact that India is unable to influence events in its own neighbourhood is a huge comedown. Hence, the frustration”) and two, Afghanistan is still the object of wet dreams of the proponents of ‘Akhand Bharat’ or greater India.
- Coming to India’s acknowledged concern number two—the export of Taliban-inspired terrorism into India. “This concern is even more untenable than the first one and once again has no basis,” Wahab says. “The Taliban, just like the Mujahids before them, are sons of the soil with interest only in Afghanistan. Once they have control over most of the country, including Kabul, their priority will be to consolidate their power. Moreover, Taliban of 2021 are not the same as their 1990s predecessor.”
So, the fear that once in power, Taliban would foment trouble in Kashmir and other parts of India is as unfounded as the presumption that the majority of Afghan people want a liberal society, argues Wahab.
“India’s role in Afghanistan would be to leave it alone,” Wahab urges. “Meanwhile, focus on our own internal and external problems. At the cost of sounding like a stuck record, open talks with Pakistan. Resolve Kashmir honourably; and plug the fountainhead of terrorism. Establish diplomatic relations with the new dispensation in Afghanistan wouldn’t be difficult. Who says that foreign policy needs to be Machiavellian? A magnanimous policy that seeks mutual and honourable cooperation with other is not a sign of weakness. On the contrary, it’s a sign of a self-assured nation.”