India’s Afghanistan Policy

Spearhead Special Report – 09.01.2019

By Shirin Naseer
Senior Research Analyst, Spearhead Research

As the United States plans its exit from Afghanistan, the international community is widely anticipating the return of the Taliban to Kabul. The Taliban are expected to take the reins, either as part of a weakly enforced coalition supporting an elected government or even perhaps as sole administrators of Afghanistan. Up until recently, there is a sense of urgency in Washington’s overtures towards the Taliban. Earlier in October, US Special Representative to Afghanistan Zalmay Khalilzad met delegates of the “Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan” in Doha. With growing prospects of the Taliban eventually becoming a legitimate party in a future political settlement, the international community is visibly altering its method of engagement with the group.

The November 9 talks on Afghanistan, which also included Taliban representatives, put India’s policy towards the Taliban in question, once again. After much evasiveness over the subject, India sent two ex-diplomats to Moscow to “listen in” on the talks. Any hopes of a policy reversal on Afghanistan were however quickly put to rest when the Indian government subsequently stepped up and repeated its long-held stance, reiterating India “would not be talking with the Taliban”. Members of government further pointed out that India was not represented by officials of the Indian government at these talks; they were “non-official” members, who were actually retired Foreign Service officers and maintained their strict observer-status throughout the duration of their attendance.

Given the emerging ground realities in the Afghan region, New Delhi’s unwillingness to change its Afghanistan policy and alter course on engagement with the group, beyond being confusing, also puts the region’s security-balance at risk. With Washington’s protective blanket soon to vanish and the future of the Afghan region being decided, perhaps it is time for the Indian leadership to re-evaluate India’s long-standing Afghanistan policy.

This paper aims to explore India’s aim in Afghanistan amid the evolving regional realities, in an attempt to build a broader understanding of the Indian stance on Afghanistan and decipher its wider implications.        

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