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04- October-2023-Special-Article

October 4, 2023 @ 7:30 am - 11:30 pm


(Source: Ministry of External Affairs Website)

Why in the News?

On September 30, Afghanistan announced the closure of the Embassy of Afghanistan in Delhi.

Embassy of Afghanistan blamed multiple factors including lack of cooperation from the Government of India and a lack of resources to operate any further.

A glimpse into the past

India and Afghanistan have a strong relationship based on historical and cultural links. India has played a significant role in the reconstruction and rehabilitation of Afghanistan. We also have a strategic partnership with them since 2011.

Historical Perspective

  1. In the Vedic Age, Gandhara, which forms parts of modern-day Afghanistan, was considered as one of the 16 Mahajanapadas of Vedic India.
  2. The contact between the people of modern-day India and Afghanistan has existed since the days of the Indus Valley Civilization.
  3. During the Soviet intervention (1979-89), India was the only South Asian nation to recognise the Soviet-backed Democratic Republic of Afghanistan.
  4. In 2005, India proposed Afghanistan’s membership in the South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation (SAARC).

Taliban Takeover of Afghanistan

After the takeover of Afghanistan by Taliban, Indian Armed Forces started Operation Devi Shakti to evacuate Indian citizens.

What is the importance of Afghanistan to India?

Afghanistan is important for India for several reasons:

  1. Regional Balance of Power: Afghanistan is tied to India’s vision of being a regional leader and a great power, coupled with its competition with China.
  2. Strategic Location: Afghanistan’s location at the crossroads of South and Central Asia makes it a critical hub for India’s regional and international interests.
  3. Security Concerns: Afghanistan has been a major source of instability and terrorism in the region, and India has a vested interest in ensuring peace and stability in the country.
  4. Energy and Resources: Afghanistan has abundant natural resources such as oil, natural gas, and minerals, and India sees potential for mutually beneficial cooperation in these sectors.
  5. Cultural Ties: India and Afghanistan share a rich cultural heritage, and India sees the promotion of cultural and people-to-people ties as an important aspect of its relationship with Afghanistan.
  6. Regional Cooperation: India sees its relationship with Afghanistan as an important part of its regional cooperation in South Asia, and is committed to supporting Afghanistan’s efforts towards peace, stability, and development.
  7. Connectivity: The most important role of Afghanistan is always considered as India’s gateway to Central Asia.
  8. India and Afghanistan have several areas of engagement, including:

Strategic Partnership Agreement:

Strategic Partnership Agreement (SPA) between the two sides, inter alia, provides for

  1. Assistance to help rebuild Afghanistan’s infrastructure and institutions, education and technical assistance to rebuild indigenous Afghan capacity in different areas,
  2. Encouraging investment in Afghanistan’s natural resources, providing duty free access to the Indian market for Afghanistan’s exports
  3. Support for an Afghan-led, Afghan-owned, broad-based and inclusive process of peace and reconciliation,
  4. Advocating the need for a sustained and long-term commitment to Afghanistan by the international community.

Heart of Asia process:

Heart of Asia process or the Istanbul Process, started in 2011 to provide more assistance to Afghanistan. The process has three main pillars:

Political Consultations

  1. Confidence Building Measures (CBMs)
  2. Cooperation with Regional Organizations

This platform was established to address the shared challenges and interests of Afghanistan and its neighbors and regional partners. The Heart of Asia is comprised of 14 participating countries, 17 supporting countries, and 12 supporting regional and international organizations.

India hosted the Sixth Ministerial conference of Heart of Asia in December 2016 at Amritsar.

India’s contribution in reconstruction efforts of Afghanistan

  1. India has committed over 3 billion US$ for development efforts in Afghanistan.
  2. It has financed and built significant projects such as:
    1. Delaram Zaranj Highway
    2. Parliament Building
  3. India Afghanistan Friendship Dam/Selma Dam, Hari River, Heart Province
  4. Transmission lines to Kabul

Defence cooperation: India delivered three Russia-made Mi-25 attack helicopters to Afghanistan in 2015 and 2016.

People to People ties: As of 2023, there were around 14,000 Afghan students studying in India with scholarship support from different institutions like the Indian Council for Cultural Relations (ICCR).

Military training: Since 2011, around 700 Afghans train in India every year in institutions such as the National Defence Academy, Indian Military Academy.

Multilateral cooperation: Both countries cooperate at international level in various multilateral bodies such as SAARC,

Chabahar port, located in southeastern Iran, serves as a gateway for India to access landlocked Afghanistan and Central Asia, while also providing an alternative trade route to Afghanistan that bypasses Pakistan.

Disaster assistance and emergency relief: In 2022, India has sent 27 tonnes of emergency relief assistance for the people of Afghanistan in the aftermath of the 5.9-magnitude earthquake that killed more than 1,000 people.

Development aid: The Centre in its budget for 2023-24, has set aside Rs 200 crore as assistance.

Line of credit: In order to expand entrepreneurship and business-to-business cooperation, especially between small and medium enterprises of India and Afghanistan, India has offered Afghanistan a 50 million US dollars line of credit facility.

What are the roadblocks in India-Afghanistan relations?

There are several roadblocks in India-Afghanistan relations, including:

Pakistan’s role: Pakistan views India’s growing presence in Afghanistan as a threat to its security and regional influence.

Terrorist groups: Continued presence of terrorist groups like Al-Qaeda in Afghanistan is a major concern for India.

Economic and infrastructure challenges: Afghanistan is one of the poorest and least developed countries in the world, and India’s efforts to build infrastructure such as Salma Dam and Parliament Building and invest in the country have been hampered by security issues, corruption, and other challenges.

China factor: China has been increasingly active in Afghanistan in recent years, and this has led to concerns in India about China’s growing influence and engagements with Taliban in the region.

Drug trafficking: Afghanistan is the world’s largest producer of opium, and the drug trade has contributed to instability and violence in the region.

What are India’s concerns after the withdrawal of US forces?

There are several concerns for India after the withdrawal of US forces from Afghanistan, including:

Limitations of India’s existing approach: India has always supported “an Afghan-led, Afghan-owned and Afghan-controlled” process for enduring peace and reconciliation in Afghanistan.

Revival of terrorism: India faces threat from terrorist factions such as the Haqqani group, which is among the United Nations’ designated entities as a terror group.

Threat to financial and strategic investments: Over the past years, India has invested an estimated $3 billion in projects across Afghanistan.

Increasing influence of China and Pakistan: The nexus between the Taliban and the Inter-Services Intelligence of Pakistan raises concerns about Pakistan’s increasing influence within the country.

How should India reorient its ties with the Taliban-led Afghanistan?

India has reopened its embassy in Kabul after nearly ten months of Taliban takeover of Afghanistan. Thus, India should deal with Taliban-led Afghanistan through:

Rising International Engagements: India has so far focused only on the isolating Taliban. However, beyond a point, this option will yield diminishing returns, as many other countries are now starting to engage the Taliban and India is an important stakeholder in Afghanistan.

National Security: Taliban has ties with the Lashkar-e-Taiba and Jaish-e Mohammed. An engagement with the Taliban would give an opportunity to convey Indian concerns regarding terrorist activities in India.

Mutually beneficial: Taliban encouraged India to reopen its mission in Kabul, resumed direct flights to the country and also accept Afghan military trainees.

Is this a turning point for Afghanistan-India relations?

In effect, the embassy of Afghanistan was performing a ceremonial or a symbolic role, helping out Afghan citizens and travellers in India deal with the difficulties they have been facing because of the lack of diplomatic relations between the two countries.

The mission had stopped representing an active state since August 2021 and was working as a coordinating agency.

Will the move affect travel and trade between Afghanistan and India?

Afghanistan has traditionally maintained an embassy in Delhi and two consulates in Hyderabad and Mumbai. The consulates in Hyderabad and Mumbai have not shut down and the consulate will continue to function as part of a “solemn commitment” towards thousands of Afghan students, refugees and traders.

Does this mean that India and Afghanistan have no relations?

Despite the closure of the embassy in Delhi, India and Afghanistan are continuing engagement with each other in a curious way. India has been maintaining a “technical team” in Kabul where the staff provides visas to Afghan traders and travellers to India. India uses the flights while sending humanitarian assistance to the Afghan people. That apart, some Indian goods are also entering Afghanistan through other countries like Iran and the UAE.

However, these are indicative of the informal nature of the relationship as formal diplomatic ties are unable to take off, because India refuses to recognise Taliban citing human rights abuses by the regime.

Moscow Format

The term ‘Moscow Format’ was coined in 2017 and, in November 2018, Russia hosted representatives from the Taliban’s political office.

The talks were held under the pretext of establishing peace and creating conditions for the process of national reconciliation in Afghanistan. Till then, the Taliban were not invited to any international forum.

Talks under this Moscow Format continued despite the United States and its Western allies relatively distanced themselves from the Taliban.

There is no doubt that the Moscow Format has served well for Russia as it ensures relative peace gestures from a country infested with hosts of terrorist organizations.

After all, considering Soviet-Afghan history, the Kremlin can’t afford to keep its eye off Kabul. The current crisis in Afghanistan has only exacerbated its significance.

Will India and the Taliban ever establish formal ties?

India has not recognised Taliban formally, but Indian diplomats have been engaged with the Taliban since the immediate aftermath of the fall of Kabul in August 2021.

Indian diplomats have met the Taliban’s representatives in multiple locations under multilateral initiatives like the recent Moscow format dialogue.

On September 29, India sent a representative to Kazan, Tatarstan in Russia to engage with the Taliban under the Moscow format dialogue.

Taliban is quickly gaining international recognition from rival powers like China which sent a new ambassador to Kabul in September.

With Iran, Pakistan, the UAE, Russia, Qatar and China warming ties with the Taliban, there is obvious pressure on India to reconsider its position on the Taliban.

The Taliban has been urging India to support it with its economic revitalisation through projects like electricity generation and road building works.

India, however, has not yet indicated that it will review its position on the Taliban.


India needs a long-term strategic approach towards Afghanistan that weaves political, economic, military and diplomatic dimensions into a coherent whole within the framework of a grand strategy.

India’s Afghan policy must be based on a clear-cut understanding of India’s strategic goals in the region, and the regional and global strategic environment.

It is necessary for both sides i.e. India and Taliban to take into account each other’s concerns and improve diplomatic and economic relations.

India should increase its investment in Afghanistan, particularly in areas such as infrastructure development, agriculture, and energy.


October 4, 2023
7:30 am - 11:30 pm
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