India’s cordial relations with the people of Afghanistan is traceable in the Vedic times and the hoary past when, according to the antiquarians, the Aryans had left vast Central Asian dried up grasslands and got dispersed in different parts of the old world including Northern India for permanent resettlement.
Afghanistan has a long and chequered history. As it lay on the crossroad to the vast Indian plains, the rugged upland got trampled under the hoofs of the horses of adventurous and warlike hordes from the Steppes of Turkestan. Some of those invading hordes raised empires, kingdoms and satrapies and some remained content with loot and predatory activities. In the course of time Afghanistan, better known as Aryana of Vedic times, became a converging point for warriors and camp followers of various ethnic, cultural and linguistic denominators.
The Afghan nation comprises many tribes with indigenous tribal laws and traditions strictly adhered to by the clansmen who choose their leader and owe allegiance to him. Afghans are fiercely independent. Bravery and intrepidity are the characteristics of the Afghan nation.
Though majority of Afghans contribute to the Sunni faith yet they have been tolerant towards other faiths and factions just because the Afghans refused to be brainwashed and indoctrinated against other faiths. Traditionally, they have been liberal and tolerant to people of other religions like Hindus, Sikhs, Jews, and Parsees etc. Predominantly of Pashtun/Pukhtoon ethnicity, speaking Pashto language (southern dialect) and Pukhtoon (northern region dialect) — a mix of Farsi, Punjabi and Hindi languages— the Pukhtoons never accepted the British-drawn Durand Line which separated the Pukhtoons of Afghanistan from their fraternity in Waziristan and NWFP (North West Frontier Province). Afghans, whether Pashtuns, Hazaras, Tajiks or of other ethnicities, have always resisted the unnatural divide. And they are a warlike people who will not accept what they don’t want to accept. This is one of the irritants between the Afghans and Pakistanis.
Afghanistan has been part of the British colonial map of the sub-continent. But despite covert and overt attempts, the British did not succeed in coercing them into subjugation. However, what the British did during their heyday of power is that they managed to strike a deal with the mainstream tribal leadership of North West Frontier Province including Waziristan by virtue of which the tribal chiefs received annual grants besides retaining their autonomous authority of the region. The tribal chiefs committed no interference with the British administered province of Punjab. But owing to their multi-faceted affinity with the ethnic groups on the other side of the Durand Line, they refused to recognize it. The irritant trickled down to the Pakistanis after the partition of India and creation of the new domain of Pakistan.
Pakistan’s relations with Afghanistan have not always been warm. The reason is that exploiting Afghanistan’s land-locked geography the Pakistani military-civilian combine often aspired to make Afghanistan a vassal state almost like Bangladesh. The Afghans do not accept compromise to their freedom. However, when the Soviets foolishly attacked Afghanistan in 1979, Pakistan found an opportunity of fraternizing Afghans by whipping up religious factor under specific necessity. Nursing their political motives, Pakistan and the US together played a significant role in supplying arms to the Afghan mujahedeen and indoctrinating them with Islamic exclusivity. The latter proved disastrous to the Afghan society.
This development had far-reaching consequences for Afghanistan. A new factor has made deep inroads into the Afghan polity. That is of Pakistan. It is multi-pronged, religious, political, anti-India, pro-China and the lurking agenda of keeping Afghanistan distanced from democracy, modernism and openness. Pakistan would want Taliban-led Afghanistan to be a part of the radicalized Islamic front fighting democracy and modernism as the scourges imported from the west and nursed by an atheistic (kuffar) state like India.
How far will Taliban Afghanistan go along with the Pak ideology is a moot question. Will the Afghan conscience of independence and indigenousness of Afghans find rebirth and re-assertion is what is to be watched.
Pakistan has succeeded in ousting India out of Afghanistan. She used the Haqqani group as the handmaid for that purpose. The question is how far Haqqani network is going to be powerful to run the errand of Pakistan in Kabul. We have already heard about the differences between the Mulla Omar school of thought and the Jamalu’d Din Haqqani network. It may have subsided for the present under the persuasion of the Pakistani ISI chief but nobody can predict what future events may throw up. Pakistan is happy that India has been ousted from Afghanistan but India lives in the heart of every patriotic Afghan. It is so because India has been in Afghanistan for a long time to provide infrastructure to that country as a goodwill gesture. India, unlike Pakistan, has no political aspirations and selfish interests in Afghanistan. All she cares for is a developed, progressive and peaceful Afghanistan. This is the reason why the then Indian PM Indira Gandhi had warned President Brezhnev of the then Soviet Union of dire consequences of marching Red Army into Afghanistan even if the regime in Kabul was favourably disposed.
Soon after the Taliban captured power in Kabul on 15 August and deposed the elected regime of Ashraf Ghani – of course somewhat mysteriously — the question how India should handle the Afghan crisis was hotly discussed in official and non-official circles in New Delhi. Some observers thought that Afghanistan was a closed chapter for India and that India should restructure its Central Asian policy. Others expected India to openly throw her weight on the side of the resistance force in Panjsher in the hope of regaining its friendship with the masses of Afghan people. Their argument was that India had invested more than three billion dollars in building urgently needed infrastructure in Afghanistan and that labour should not go waste but needed to be reiterated.
But India has shown matured statesmanship and astute diplomacy. It is not true that India had stonewalled all contacts with the Taliban for the reason that the Taliban were deficit in the areas of inclusive system of governance, rights of women and children and many other things close to the fundamental principles of democracy. Even when the US had engaged the Taliban for talks in Doha and the Doha Agreement of February 2020 was the outcome, Indian External Affairs Minister had foreseen the possible destination of Doha talks and had got into touch with the Taliban leadership through his Qatar counterpart. India also participated in Moscow meet and again the MEA talked to the Taliban representative on India’s stand on Afghan question.
India had made it clear to the Taliban that their regime in Kabul needed time to stabilise before various governments consented to recognize their regime. India also advised the Taliban to re-assess their position after they had recaptured Kabul. There were no threats or denials and there were also no commitments. It was a friendly and honest piece of advice. Events have shown that the Taliban have been dealing with India with utmost care and consideration not using even a single syllable that would smack of even the minimal expression of hostility. Conversely, the Taliban seniors said they valued and cherished the friendship of India.
The near-bankrupt state of Pakistan, feeling sore at this humanitarian act of New Delhi, lost no time in announcing that she would not allow Indian truck to pass with the humanitarian aid to Kabul over its land. Imagine this was the policy of those who claim to be the champions of Islamic brotherhood and are beating the breast all around the world that “India is oppressing the Muslims in Kashmir”. Only when the foreign minister of Taliban regime in Kabul visited Islamabad and impressed upon the Pakistan authorities that a harsh human existence issue was involved that Pakistani authorities relented and allowed the truckloads of Indian wheat to travel through Pakistan and deliver wheat consignments in Kabul.
The lesson to be drawn from these two instances is that for India everything is not lost in Afghanistan. India should have no hesitation to grant recognition to Taliban regime when New Delhi is convinced that the Taliban have stabilized their hold over entire Afghanistan, and they will not allow Afghan land to be used against the interests of any of her neighbouring countries. By the phrase ‘inclusive government in Kabul’, the observers refer to the representation of women folks and the people of different ethnic identities, cultures and faith in Afghanistan in power sharing and other processes as a matter of inherent right. We think Afghans are capable of running the affairs of their household without the need of called a neighbour to assist them in this regard.
(The opinion expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of News Intervention)