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India-Taliban ties

The return of the Taliban in Afghanistan over two years ago changed the strategic dynamics in the region. India has been at the greatest loss after its investments and years of influence were lost. Afghanistan has now closed its embassy in New Delhi citing the lack of support from Indian authorities. India has not recognized the Taliban government which seized power in Afghanistan in August 2021. It evacuated its own staff ahead of the chaotic US withdrawal from Kabul and no longer has a diplomatic presence there.

To date, the Afghan Embassy in New Delhi has been run by staff appointed by the previous government of ousted Afghan President Ashraf Ghani. The Afghan ambassador has been out of India for several months while several diplomats have sought asylum in other countries.

Last year India sent relief materials including wheat, medicines, COVID-19 vaccines, and winter clothing to Afghanistan to help with shortages. It also sent a staff delegation but has not engaged with the Taliban. India attempted to rebuild its soft image in Afghanistan as the provider of aid by transporting wheat through Iran- bypassing Pakistan. However, this has failed to yield any influence over the Taliban regime.

Unlike other regional countries such as Iran, China, Russia and Pakistan who have shown expressions of engaging with the Taliban regime, India has been evasive. This is not based on any principled stance but rather on the political consequences of engaging with the hardliners. As a result, India has been out of the Moscow Format Consultations and its role in the Afghan situation has been nullified.

It has been documented how India used Afghan soil to carry out pervasive activities in Pakistan during the previous regime. Indian intelligence agencies have carried out terror activities including funding the insurgency in Balochistan from its presence in Afghanistan. The arrival of the Taliban changed the scenario and years of Indian investment have been lost.

The closure of the Afghan embassy in New Delhi is a new low in bilateral relations between the two countries. It has put the future of 25,000 Afghan asylum seekers in India at stake. Since 2021, India has cancelled visas for most Afghan citizens. Thousands of students who study in Indian institutes are in the lurch and their scholarships have been revoked.

India needs to shift its policy towards Afghanistan. While no government has recognized the Taliban regime, it is necessary to continue engagement for the sake of the Afghan people. India needs to get over the fact that its two decades of efforts have been wasted.

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