Sat. May 18th, 2024

India’s Afghanistan conundrum

India found itself in a complex situation regarding Afghanistan last week. The Afghan embassy in New Delhi announced on social media that they were closing down due to a lack of cooperation from the Indian government. However, India’s representative was present at the fifth meeting of the Moscow Format Consultations where nine countries and four guests of honor engaged with the Taliban leadership.

Since the Taliban takeover in 2021, the Afghan embassy in India has been uncertain about its status. The diplomats and staff appointed by the former Ashraf Ghani government were unsure about their position with the new Taliban administration in Kabul, which had no recognition from any country, including India.

However, within a year of the Taliban’s rise to power, it became evident that India would adopt a different approach towards the regime compared to its stance during the Taliban’s previous rule from 1996 to 2001. In June 2022, India announced the reopening of its embassy in Kabul, indicating a shift in its policy. This decision came after India’s senior diplomat, JP Singh, visited Kabul and met with acting Foreign Minister Amir Khan Mottaqi.

India’s participation in the Moscow Format Consultations

Feeling excluded after the sudden withdrawal of US troops from Afghanistan, India relied heavily on Russia to avoid being isolated in its own region. Russian National Security Advisor Nikolai Patrushev visited India twice in a short span to engage with Indian National Security Adviser Ajit Doval.

India continued to be part of the Moscow Format Consultations on Afghanistan, a six-party discussion that began in 2017 with representatives from Russia, Afghanistan, India, Iran, China, and Pakistan. However, the recent meeting in Kazan, Russia, was the first time a Taliban representative, Foreign Minister Mottaqi, joined the gathering.

The Kazan Declaration

The Kazan Declaration addressed the security situation in Afghanistan and acknowledged the current Afghan authorities’ efforts in combating ISIS. It called on the authorities to take effective measures against all terrorist groups operating in Afghanistan. The declaration also emphasized the need for cooperation to combat terrorism and drug trafficking originating from Afghanistan.

However, the declaration expressed regret over the lack of progress in forming an inclusive government that represents all ethnic and political groups in Afghanistan. The Russian Presidential envoy to Afghanistan, Zamir Kabulov, stated that Moscow expected Kabul to take additional steps towards establishing an inclusive government for official recognition.

Lack of voice for women

While countries are engaging with the Taliban, there has been little pressure on the Taliban to protect women’s rights. The Kazan declaration expressed concern about restrictions on women’s employment and education. It urged the Taliban to promote modern education adhering to international standards. However, the Taliban has consistently denied women basic rights, such as working for the government and attending school.

The “Appalling” Choices

Engaging with the Taliban presents countries with a difficult choice. Not engaging could lead to humanitarian aid to Afghanistan being cut off. On the other hand, engaging with the Taliban without recognition gives them some form of legitimacy, which they are capitalizing on. This conundrum explains the increasing suppression of women and the lack of fair ethnopolitical representation in the Taliban regime.

Shutdown of the Afghanistan Embassy in New Delhi

Amidst this dilemma, when the Afghan Embassy in New Delhi shut down, they accused the Indian government of lacking support. They pointed out that the host government failed to renew diplomats’ visas. Indian government sources countered these claims, stating that some diplomats had left for third countries after being granted asylum, and there were reports of infighting among embassy personnel.

Who are the real Afghans?

These developments raise the question of who the world considers the true representatives of Afghanistan. While geopolitical pragmatism drives engagement with the Taliban, those associated with the former government are now shunned. Despite sending humanitarian aid, there has been no forceful condemnation of the Taliban’s suppression of Afghan women. In this complex situation, it is the ordinary Afghan and perhaps the “real Afghan” who continue to suffer.

(Maha Siddiqui is a journalist specializing in public policy and global affairs.)

Disclaimer: The opinions expressed in this article are solely those of the author.

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