With the reestablishment of the Taliban as the new rulers of Afghanistan, we can ask what India’s path should be. India used to enjoy very warm relations with Afghanistan early on, but with the rise of the Taliban, India’s position has been exclusively strategic.
India’s allies in Afghanistan
Before the invasion, India loosely supported the United Islamic Front for the Salvation of Afghanistan or the Northern Alliance.
The Northern Alliance was a loose coalition of militias that fought against the Taliban. Most of the land held by the Northern Alliance before the American invasion of Afghanistan was on the northern and eastern borders.
The Northern Alliance came together in 1996 after the Taliban took over Kabul and established themselves as the rulers of Afghanistan. Before the takeover, many of them were at war with each other. They came together to fight a common enemy.
The Northern Alliance was composed mostly of ethnic minorities, notably Tajiks and Uzbeks. While estimates vary, the Northern Alliance controlled less than a tenth of the country before the American invasion.
How other countries fight their wars in Afghanistan
Afghanistan was a site of cold wars between many powers. India and Pakistan, Iran and Saudi Arabia, Russia, and the United States indirectly played out battles in Afghanistan until 2001, when the United States declared war on the Taliban and took over.
Americans poured money in support of the Northern Alliance and began to paint them as freedom fighters who have been resisting the Taliban from the beginning.
The Northern alliance had support from India, Iran, and Russia, during its war with the Taliban. Some of its members had been particularly close. For example, their Foreign Minister, Abdullah Abdullah, who studied in India had close relations with many Indian officials. Aid from India helped the Northern Alliance in fighting the Taliban in the late 90s.
India was able to capitalize on these relationships after the American invasion of Afghanistan. The Northern Alliance worked with the American government. Its members were rewarded with high positions in the new government.
When the new government was formed, members of the Northern alliance gained powerful positions. The Northern Alliance may have been as brutal as the Taliban, and while they may not have been as fundamentalist, they were accused of many war crimes against the civilian population.
Working with them makes any country partially culpable in the violence against the people, and results in more support for the Taliban.
Withdrawal of America and India’s response
Remnants of the Northern alliance are now regrouping and might bring Afghanistan back to the state of Civil War. At the very least, the resurgence of the Northern Alliance will lead to continued violence.
India’s experience in supporting the Northern Alliance should show how short-sided this strategy is.
Even though India gained temporarily during the American occupation, the support was short. Now the people of Afghanistan are likely to associate India with the support of the occupation and as enemies of their government.
India had closed-door talks with delegations of the Taliban in June 2021 in Doha. This marked the first channel of communication India has had with the Taliban since the American invasion.
The details of the meeting are not known. Since taking over, the Taliban-led government will be cutting trade, and India will be withdrawing its embassy in Kabul.
India sees a Taliban-led Afghanistan as an ally for Pakistan, and a training ground for terrorism. The position of the state is not motivated by a concern for human rights or fear of fundamentalism, but by how Afghanistan influences the geopolitical military situation and what trade relations India will share with it.
To those concerns, India should work towards building a genuine global alliance to ensure multilateral cooperation in the region and ensure peace and mutually beneficial. Proxy-wars and regional militarization will be counter-productive.
India’s international foreign policy has long been to respect the sovereignty of foreign countries. If India would want to go beyond that to combat religious fundamentalism and safeguard human rights, building a multilateral global alliance would be key. In the short run, India should expect a Taliban-led Afghanistan to be an ally of Pakistan.
How should Foreign powers respond
Afghanistan has been in the crossfires of proxy wars for decades. As in countless other cases, proxy wars can crush progressive movements. If the United Nations were to have any positive role to play in Afghanistan, it is first to protect the people of Afghanistan from foreign-sponsored violence.
The international justice system also should be prepared to intervene on issues of human rights abuses. Unlike Nazi Germany, Apartheid South Africa, and many other cases, an international hearing on war crimes was never heard in Afghanistan.
The occupation and proxy wars in Afghanistan has increased support for the Taliban among the Afghan people. When caught within a war the people are forced to take sides, rather than drive their fates. The wars have been driven by the international community, and it is the international community that is responsible for holding it back.
The Iraq experience has brought cynicism to the world, showing that such international tribunals are a sham, serving the interests of powerful nation-states.
The lack of international commitment to stand up against war crimes and protect the people of Afghanistan from invaders is a recipe for disaster, not just for Afghanistan, but for the world.
While these efforts in the past have been rife with criticism and double standards. They are the best hope for the people of Afghanistan.
Relations with the outside world should be monitored to prevent proxy wars and to encourage progressive movements, rather than military alliances within the fractured country.