Written by: Treissha Sethi
On August 31st 2021, the United States of America completed the withdrawal of its troops from Afghanistan, effectively ending the United States’ longest war. The repercussions of this move threaten the political stability as well as the security of India, which is what this article will discuss.
India’s history with terrorism
The Taliban taking control of Afghanistan has provided a safe haven to notable terrorist groups including Jaish-e-Mohammed (JeM) and Lashkar-e-Taiba. These are anti-Indian terrorist organisations that will likely wreak havoc in Kashmir which is already the site of a long-running insurgency. Jaish-e-Mohammed is a part of the terror network in Pakistan and has been designated as a terrorist organization by India, US, the UK and the UN. It was formed in 2000 by Masood Azhar following his release from Indian custody in exchange for the 150 hostages who were on the hijacked Indian Airlines flight diverted to Afghanistan. The main objective of this group is to unite Kashmir with Pakistan. Another organisation that India has had a turbulent history with is the Lakshar-e-Taiba who were responsible for the deadly attacks in Mumbai, India on 26 November 2011. They are considered to be Pakistan’s most reliable proxy against India. The Taliban seem to have reached a mutually beneficial agreement with the JeM. While the JeM will assist the Taliban in the violent takeover of Afghanistan, the Taliban will back them in their operation in Kashmir. Last month, the leader of the Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf party was quoted saying that “Taliban have said that they are with us and they will help us in [liberating] Kashmir,” on national television. In response to this statement, India is expected to raise security in the war-torn state. During a meeting chaired by Home Minister Amit Shah, the need to upgrade weaponry was also discussed.
What India stands to lose
The collapse of the Afghan democracy is a setback for India because, in the last two years, India had become one of Afghanistan’s most significant donors, spending approximately 3 billion dollars to improve the infrastructure as well as the education system. Due to its stance on talk and terror, India is in a difficult position in the future because holding talks with the Taliban would be regarded as hypocritical, and if India were to negotiate with Pakistan, it would be contrary to its policy of not dealing with terrorists.
Security concerns aside, India’s domestic politics are also predicted to be adversely affected by the Taliban Takeover. The BJP, which is the ruling party in India, has taken advantage of the situation and has used it against the Indian Muslims who complain about economic conditions at home. A BJP leader was recently quoted telling a journalist to “go to Afghanistan” when questioned about the high fuel prices in India. It is also a weapon to be deployed by them in domestic political debates.
As for the legal implications of this takeover, it has triggered the controversial Citizenship Amendment Act (CAA) passed in December 2019 as a result of the immigrants fleeing from Afghanistan to India seeking refuge. This act paves the way for migrants from three neighbouring countries, that is Pakistan, Bangladesh and Afghanistan, to become Indian citizens – but only if they are not Muslim. This law has been protested against by hundreds of thousands of people because it undermines India’s secularity and recognition of equality for all its citizens. Speaking on this topic, Justice Richard Goldstone, Honorary President of the International Bar Association’s Human Rights Institute, says that ‘the CAA is a serious blemish on the hitherto proud record of democracy in India’. The leaders of the majority ruling party in India are using the situation as a means to further their agenda of implementing the CAA by saying that the takeover of Afghanistan has exhibited the importance of the CAA in India. However, there is a fundamental flaw in the understanding of the CAA. It does not seek to provide asylum to refugees; it simply provides citizenship to the people already residing in India. The country has no refugee policy and is under no such obligation to provide visas to the refugees. The CAA and the Afghan crisis have given India a reason to formulate a comprehensive immigration policy.
Considering all these concerns, India is left with four choices, none of them without their negative outcomes. India could either choose to back the democratic government in Kabul or it could also go to further lengths by providing military support to the country, though this choice has been out ruled since a Taliban spokesperson threatened fatalistic ramifications for India if it did so. The third option, an unlikely one, would be to accelerate contacts with the Taliban. Its last resort would be to wait it out until the dust settles and a winning side emerges.
Acceptance of the Taliban as Afghanistan’s government
The question that arises now is whether or not India accepts the Taliban as the legitimate government and the implications of its decision. Questions of recognition do not normally arise when political power has been changed through constitutional means. In this case, however, since it is unconstitutional, countries are facing the dilemma of recognising the Taliban.
China and Russia seem to approve of Taliban-led Afghanistan while Canada vehemently opposes it. The test used in international law to determine legitimacy is the test of ‘effectiveness’ which states that a government can be declared as legitimate if it has effective control over the state, its national population, banking and its national institutions. Since there is hardly any doubt that the Taliban now effectively controls Afghanistan, per this test, it would be recognised as Afghanistan’s government under international law. Given the Taliban’s brutal past, its extremist ideology, and profound absence of democratic legitimacy, India is within its right to withhold de jure recognition of the Taliban regime. Nonetheless, given India’s investments in Afghanistan and stakes in South Asia, it will have to find a way to engage with the Taliban. India should adopt a clear policy that it will deal with the Taliban simply because it is the de facto government, not because it is a legitimate one. This diplomatic approach, however, will require India to forgo its aversion to officially talking to the Afghan Taliban.
This situation is a ticking time bomb and the Indian government needs to decide its course of action while making the peace and security of the country the highest priority. This decision will affect not only India-Afghanistan relations in the future but also India’s relations with China which have already been fraught with tension as a result of their border disputes. Despite Afghanistan's desire for China to play a more extensive role in the country, China had remained cautious before the withdrawal took place. It is uncertain how China will proceed but it will have a substantial impact on India.
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