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India’s Bet On Afghanistan

Al-Etihad, UAE, November 24

Last week an informal Indian team took part in a Russian-sponsored conference titled “The Moscow Formula” on the peace process in Afghanistan, attended by, among others, representatives from the Taliban. The talks, which brought together a variety of governments, including Pakistan and the central Asian republics of the former Soviet Union, might signal a new era in India’s relations with Afghanistan. The informal Indian delegation consisted of its former ambassador to Afghanistan and its former envoy to Pakistan. These retired diplomats are experts in the region, and their presence indicates that India is closely monitoring developments in Afghanistan. In some way, the Indian participation in the conference gives legitimacy to the Taliban and recognizes it as an integral part of any future settlement in Afghanistan. On the other hand, it is clear beyond any doubt that the Taliban is here to stay, so ignoring its existence would not be wise on behalf of the government of India. Anyone who is even remotely aware of Afghani politics knows that a large swath of the Afghani public, especially in the countryside, supports the movement. The Indian government has already invested considerable efforts in rehabilitating Afghanistan, after it funded and carried out several construction projects in the country, including the building of schools, hospitals and a dam. Through this involvement, India is betting heavily on Afghanistan. This is in part in response to repeated demands from the Trump administration to see New Delhi begin to play its part in the region, but also as a direct attempt to undermine Pakistan’s influence. Representatives from Islamabad who attended the talks were unsurprisingly dismayed by India’s growing role in the Afghan peace-building process. Although directly talking with Taliban members represents a major diversion from India’s policy to date, attending the conference enables New Delhi to take an active part in shaping the final outcome of the ceasefire agreement, which may very well bring the Taliban back into the Afghani parliament and political arena. We’ll see what this might spell for the future of India’s relations with its neighbors. –Zaker al-Rahman