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Taliban completed its first anniversary in power on Monday, What Devlopements took place


When Taliban fighters overran Kabul in August 2021, forcing the US to end its 20-year-old military campaign and retreat, the development triggered serious concern in India on how the impending challenge in Afghanistan under the extremist regime will affect New Delhi’s interests.

As the Taliban completed its first anniversary in power on Monday, many of the concerns have deepened. But for India, it has also provided the opportunity for beginning an engagement with Kabul and cooperation that can benefit both.

According to External Affairs Minister S. Jaishankar, a team of Indian diplomats, but not the ambassador, are now in Afghanistan to continue the people-to-people relationship that India has historically had with Afghan society.

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India’s development assistance to Afghanistan is over $ 3 billion and it includes projects for constructing roads, dams, electricity transmission lines and substations, schools and hospitals, even the parliament building.

India withdrew most of its diplomats and officials from its embassy in Kabul when the Taliban took over the country.

Reaching out to India

But some months ago, when the Taliban reached out to New Delhi for help to deal with a deteriorating situation in the wake of an acute food and health crisis and a deadly earthquake that killed 1,000 people, India responded.

In June, Delhi dispatched 40,000 tons of wheat, medicine and COVID-19 vaccines to Afghanistan and sent two delegations to assist and oversee the delivery of its food shipment and medical supplies.

During a meeting with Taliban’s acting foreign minister Amir Khan Mottaki, Indian diplomat J. P. Singh, who deals with the Pakistan-Iran-Afghanistan division in the Ministry of External Affairs, was assured that no terrorist groups will be allowed to use Afghan soil to carry out attacks against India and its assets.

In the past, India has been a victim of the Pakistan-Taliban nexus. Terrorist groups operating within Afghanistan carried out several deadly attacks on Indian officials and assets, including an assault on its embassy.

Ethnic tensions

By all accounts, the Taliban is now in control of the country, both at the national and the provincial levels. However, no country has so far recognized a Taliban government although China, Russia and Pakistan all engage with the regime.

Most Taliban leaders are Pashtun and Sunni. But longstanding tensions between the Pashtuns and other ethnic groups like the Tajiks and Uzbeks linger in a source of vulnerability for the Taliban.

The quality of government under the Taliban has been poor and the Afghan economy declined in the past year.

According to the United Nations, 59 percent of the 39 million people in Afghanistan were in need of humanitarian assistance amid crises over food, shelter, medical treatment, water, sanitation and hygiene.

Over 20 million people were facing acute hunger and six million faced emergency-level food insecurity.

Donor funding dries up

The situation has been aggravated by a sharp decline in foreign donor funding that has left Kabul unable to pay for import of food, medicine and other essential items. With many experienced bureaucrats having fled the country, the Taliban, with little experience of governance, have been left to tackle the situation on their own.

The Taliban leadership has now asked India to return and complete its humanitarian projects in Afghanistan and also train Afghans in capacity building and administration as it had done in the past.

India has sent its diplomats and officials to the mission in Kabul to address issues relating to humanitarian assistance, medical supplies, and delivery and distribution of COVID-19 vaccines and to pursue development projects.

But the presence of al Qaeda leader Ayman al-Zawahiri in Kabul and his recent death in a US drone attack has raised serious questions about al Qaeda’s relationship with the Taliban.

The agreement between the US and the Taliban was based on a guarantee that terrorist groups inimical to American interests will not be allowed to operate in Afghanistan.

Terrorist presence

Although there is speculation that al-Zawahiri was killed with the Taliban’s connivence, the presence of a host of terrorist organisations -- Tehrik-e-Taliban-Pakistan, the East Turkestan Islamic Movement and the Islamic movement of Uzbekistan -- has led the international community, particularly the US, to keep the Taliban under sanctions.

For India in particular, the presence of Pakistani groups like the Lashkar-e-Taiba and Jaish-e-Mohammad, remain a serious concern.

In recent months, the Taliban leadership has taken a number of decisions that signaled its ability to look beyond Pakistan.

As Western sanctions continue and the international community and rich donors stay away from Afghanistan because of Kabul’s poor treatment of women and ethnic minorities, maintaining a working relationship with India may be the best option for the Taliban.

But as the disparate groups within the Taliban start getting more restive and the large number of terrorist outfits sheltered in Afghanistan become active, will Kabul remain conciliatory towards New Delhi

That is a question Indian policy planners will continue to ponder over for quite a while.

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