Tuesday, 5 July, 2022
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Afghanistan’s new Taliban govt has a clear Pakistan stamp and that’s bad news for India

With the Haqqani Network assuming a prominent role, it could be a challenge for India to even maintain people-to-people linkages or complete the pending evacuation exercise.

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New Delhi: The new caretaker government of Afghanistan under the Taliban dispensation is expected to be less friendly to India than its predecessors, and take the country away from New Delhi. The situation, thus, is more challenging for the Narendra Modi government, which has decided not to recognise the Taliban government, according to multiple sources.

The Taliban government is a big jolt to PM Modi’s ‘Neighbourhood First’ policy, as it has now become clear that Pakistan will play a much larger role there, while India’s role is expected to diminish.

According to sources, while the Indian government was prudent enough to shut down its embassy in Kabul and the four consulates in Kandahar, Mazar-i-Sharif, Herat and Jalalabad, maintaining people-to-people linkages will also become “extremely challenging”.

The Taliban announced the caretaker government Tuesday, three weeks after taking over Kabul. The new cabinet ministers have been actively involved in terror activities and were thus sanctioned by the UN, while the rest were on FBI’s ‘Most Wanted’ list.

The interim prime minister, Mohammad Hassan Akhund, was one of the main aides to Taliban founder Mullah Omar. Akhund, 71-year-old, a co-founder of the Taliban, has been sanctioned by the UN.

The two deputy prime ministers, Abdul Ghani Baradar and Abdul Salam Hanafi, are also veteran Taliban fighters, and both are on the UN blacklist.

Furthermore, the Taliban have brought in three main figures from the dreaded Haqqani Network into their new team. This has caused much concern to the Modi government, which believes that such a move might even jeopardise India’s evacuation exercise, sources said.

Also read: Pakistan and China are preparing for a Taliban govt they don’t trust. So should India

India concerned over its ‘next steps’ in Afghanistan

According to sources, India is now concerned over its “next steps” in Afghanistan, after it heavily invested in the government of Ashraf Ghani, the former president of Afghanistan who fled the country after the Taliban marched into Kabul on 15 August.

These issues, and how the Modi government will deal with Afghanistan going forward, were discussed during a meeting Wednesday between National Security Advisor Ajit Doval and his Russian counterpart Nikolai Patrushev.

Sources said during the meeting, Doval raised concerns regarding Pakistan’s increasing role in Afghanistan, and how that country can once again become a major hub for international terrorist networks.

Russia said the talks took place in the light of what was discussed between PM Modi and President Vladimir Putin, when they held a telephonic conversation on 24 August, which centred around Afghanistan.

‘New cabinet a slap to international community’

According to experts, the composition of the new Taliban cabinet clearly shows how heavily it is influenced by Pakistan, which is why ISI head Faiz Hameed was seen in Kabul last week.

“The new cabinet is a slap on the face of the entire international community, since 17 of them are on the UN sanctions list. This is a cabinet made in Pakistan and for Pakistan, and has little to do with Afghanistan or governance. This appears more like a parade on the ramp of a terror show,” Amar Sinha, former secretary at the Ministry of External Affairs and India’s former ambassador to Afghanistan, told ThePrint.

“DG ISI came to bless it and ensure that ‘their boys’ got all that they wanted. It must be a serious compromise for ISI to not see Sirajuddin Haqqani as the head of government or head of state,” Sinha said, adding that India should be deeply concerned at this normalisation of terror and terrorists in its neighbourhood.

“Clearly, rules to govern terrorist organisations, whether in the UN or of individual states like the US etc., have proven to be just scraps of paper. The message is clear — each one for themselves. This development will also encourage many to use the fissures within the Taliban to create more proxies,” he said.

Sinha also pointed out that the reason why the Taliban have appointed an interim
government is because, according to the Afghan constitution, ministers are appointed in an ‘acting’ capacity, who then have to be approved by the parliament. But in the Taliban’s case, there is no parliament, and thus they will need international legitimacy for the appointments.

Meanwhile, the US State Department Wednesday expressed its concern at the new Taliban caretaker government due to the “affiliations and track records” of those who have been named as key ministers.

According to India’s former foreign secretary Kanwal Sibal, the new government in Afghanistan will ensure that the “door to that country remains tightly shut for India”.

“The Taliban are going to have a big problem in Afghanistan. They are again relying on Pakistan and will again descend into turmoil and internal conflicts, and by this, eventually, ISIS will gain a stronger foothold,” Sibal said.

‘Engagement is not endorsement’

However, according to Commodore C. Uday Bhaskar, Director of the Society for Policy Studies, India should engage with the new administration in Afghanistan.

“The composition of the interim government in Kabul is clearly more oriented towards Pakistan, so it will be less empathetic apropos India and its core interests. Even within the context of the domestic politics of Afghanistan, this interim team is heavily Pashtun dominated, and is not as inclusive, which is contrary to what the Taliban had committed to the international community,” Bhaskar said.

“Even within the Taliban, the dominant ministries have been given to the more inflexible and anti-Western factions that were nurtured in Kandahar, than those which were represented in Doha. So, there are multiple layers to this government. The real litmus test will be how they will govern the Afghan population, and how the citizens, especially women, will either accept or resist the Taliban and their ideology,” he added.

“From India’s perspective, I believe engagement is necessary. Engagement is not endorsement. Afghanistan is a test for India to demonstrate its acumen to manage regional challenges, and thereby burnish its claim to be at the high table. The BRICS summit is an opportunity for PM Modi to shape a consensual Afghanistan strategy — with Russia and China — and ensure that the southern Asian region is not adversely impacted by the Taliban and the ecosystem they create.”

(Edited by Shreyas Sharma)

Also read: Taliban will face same economic challenges as previous regime but under sanctions


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