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India-Taliban first Official Engagement: Is India normalizing ties with the Taliban?

India should continue a realism-based gradual engagement approach with Afghanistan. This week, New Delhi dispatched a delegation to Kabul, marking the country’s first official engagement with the Taliban regime. An examination of India’s hesitancy over the years, as well as how Pakistan’s shadow has influenced its position.

India’s decision to send a diplomatic delegation to Kabul to speak with Taliban officials contrasts sharply with New Delhi’s attitude to Afghanistan under the Sunni Islamist group’s rule in the 1990s. 

India had a policy of disengagement with Kabul at the time, and it backed anti-Taliban forces. However, the domestic situation in Afghanistan and regional politics appear to be different this time, prompting many neighbouring countries to take a more constructive approach to the Taliban administration, despite their disagreements with the group’s extremism. 

India closed its embassy in Kabul in August 2021, only days before the Taliban took over, but maintained contact with them. 

Deepak Mittal, India’s ambassador to Qatar, met with Sher Mohammad Abbas Stanekzai, a high-ranking Taliban official, at the Indian Embassy in Doha in September. 

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At a regional conference on Afghanistan in Moscow in October, Indian officials met with the Taliban’s Deputy Prime Minister, Abdul Salam Hanafi. In this meeting, India joined nine other countries in recognising Afghanistan’s “new reality.” Later, when Afghanistan was suffering near-total economic collapse, New Delhi supplied humanitarian aid to the country, including wheat, COVID-19 vaccines, and winter clothing. 

The meeting between J.P. Singh, Joint Secretary of the Ministry of External Affairs’ Pakistan-Afghanistan-Iran division, and the Taliban’s acting Foreign Minister, Mawlawi Amir Khan Muttaqi, is a natural next step in India’s policy of progressive engagement.

MEA: Coordination for Humanitarian Assistance

According to the MEA, the visit is solely to assist in the coordination of India’s humanitarian assistance to the Afghan people. When it comes to the Taliban’s return to Afghanistan, India has three major worries. 

  • One, in the last 20 years, India has made billions of dollars in investments. It would wish to protect these investments and maintain the trust of the Afghan people. 
  • Two, Afghanistan became a haven for anti-India terrorist groups during the Taliban’s rule in the 1990s. During the Mujahideen-Taliban regimes in Afghanistan, India saw a major increase in violence in Kashmir. New Delhi does not want history to repeat, thus it wants the Taliban to promise that they will not assist anti-India parties. 
  • Three, India’s strategic interests are not served by the Taliban remaining a Pakistani satellite indefinitely. 
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If New Delhi does not interact with the Taliban, it will be unable to achieve any of these goals. However, India is not rushing to grant diplomatic recognition to the Taliban.

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