July 7, 2022
Good morning. In today’s either/view, we discuss whether the Indian government should continue reaching out to the Taliban in Afghanistan. We also look at the official recognition of native Muslims in Assam, among other news.
📰 FEATURE STORY
India’s Taliban Outreach – Should Or Shouldn’t They?
John F Kennedy once said, “the purpose of foreign policy is not to provide an outlet for our own sentiments of hope or indignation; it is to shape real events in a real world”. India’s foreign policy has come in for some criticism lately with its stance on the Russian invasion of Ukraine.
Now, it’s looking closer to home with Afghanistan. Late last month, India reopened its Kabul embassy. It also dispatched a team consisting of diplomats and others to monitor and coordinate the delivery of humanitarian assistance. Should India actively engage with the ruling Taliban regime or back off given their unreliability?
Before we delve into India’s past with Afghanistan, we need to see what’s happened in the country over the past year because it has been eventful. The country has seen conflict far too often. What began as a joint offensive against those responsible for the 9/11 attacks ended with President Biden bringing back all combat troops home.
The first talk of a troop withdrawal from Afghanistan came from President Obama in 2014. He gave a timetable to withdraw US forces by the end of 2016. At the time, some questioned the plan’s rigidity and the resilience of the insurgents. Newly elected President Ashraf Ghani and opponent Abdullah Abdullah signed a power-sharing agreement.
In July 2016, Obama delayed the planned troop withdrawal leaving 8,400 forces on the ground citing the precarious security situation. Once Trump was in office, he signalled a prolonged war in the country. He spoke about an open-ended military commitment to prevent the emergence of “a vacuum for terrorists.” The following year saw an escalation in Taliban attacks. Critics argued that the Ghani government was distracted by local politics to focus on national security.
In 2019, peace talks reached their highest level between US officials and the Taliban. It came as Trump planned to pull out thousands of troops. Later that year, Trump called off the peace talks, despite the Taliban saying they were committed to continuing negotiations. In 2020, both sides signed a deal. US troops would gradually reduce, and the Taliban guaranteed the country won’t be a safe haven for terrorists. As Biden finally withdrew US troops, the country went into chaos. The ruling government quickly fell. The Taliban took over.
In the 1980s, India was the only South Asian country to recognise the Soviet-backed Democratic Republic of Afghanistan. During the Afghan civil war in the 1990s, relations deteriorated. In the wake of the 2001 invasion, India had offered intelligence and other support to the coalition forces. India also proposed Afghanistan join SAARC. In a 2010 Gallup poll, 50% of Afghans approved of India’s performance, and 44% disapproved.
According to UN data, India has about 16,000 Afghan refugees, most of whom live in Delhi. As the Taliban takeover was underway last year, for many refugees who thought they could return home, their hopes were dashed. India has maintained and reiterated its independent foreign policy stance. Will that hold it in good stead when dealing with the Taliban?
VIEW: Vital for regional and economic security
The intent is clear – New Delhi wants direct engagement with the Taliban. Last month, India sent an official delegation for the first time since the Taliban takeover and 9 months since it left Kabul. Indian spokesperson Arindram Bagchi spoke of the two countries’ historical and civilisational ties as the guide to their outreach. Reopening the embassy in Kabul sent a clear message.
Jayant Prasad, a former Indian envoy to Kabul, said India needs to have some kind of contact and can’t afford to isolate them. A meeting doesn’t translate into recognition of the Taliban. It can give some hope to the Afghan people who depend on India for humanitarian needs.
India has a role to play in regional security. For that, there needs to be some form of engagement with the ruling government. It’s what U.S. Special Representative for Afghanistan Reconciliation Zalmay Khalilzad talked about when discussing their Afghan policy. He said direct contact between the two countries would help on an issue like terrorism.
There’s a strategic incentive for India. It’s called Pakistan. As Afghanistan’s economic and humanitarian situation worsened, Pakistan came to its rescue. If India is to deter further Pakistani presence and influence, it should fully exploit its relations with Afghanistan.
COUNTERVIEW: Uneasy alliance
India’s decision to reopen its mission in Kabul and continue engagement with the Taliban isn’t a straightforward win. India has suffered long and hard at the hands of terrorists. So why break bread with another terror group like the Taliban? In May, a UN report stated terror groups like the LeT (Lashkar-e-Taiba) and the JeM (Jaish-e-Mohammed) continue to maintain a presence in Afghanistan. The report said the Taliban controlled 3 of the 8 terror camps of the JeM.
It’s also peculiar the Taliban’s willingness and eagerness to welcome India. There’s a mismatch of messaging here. While India downplayed its first interactions, the Taliban was more than eager to spell out why this was the beginning of an important relationship. But does the Taliban gain and India lose? Being friends with India allows the Taliban to hedge against Pakistan.
There’s also the issue of trust. While the Taliban tries to rebrand itself, the situation on the ground tells a different story. The Taliban isn’t formally recognised as the Afghan government. During peace negotiations in Doha, the group made many promises but failed to deliver as soon as it seized power. Its promises for inclusive government and promoting women’s education have gone out the window. It hasn’t even compromised with its allies like China and Pakistan.
India has a lot at stake. Among them are investments worth billions of dollars made over the past 20 years. When the Taliban were dominant in the 1990s, Kashmir saw a sharp rise in violence during the Mujahideen-Taliban reigns. There’s a possibility of history repeating itself. India shouldn’t hurry to offer diplomatic recognition to the Taliban’s predominantly Pashtun, men-only regime. If engagement is to happen, baby steps should be the approach.
What’s your opinion on this?
(Only subscribers can participate in polls)
a) India should actively engage with the Taliban government in Afghanistan.
b) India should not engage with the Taliban government in Afghanistan.
🕵️ BEYOND ECHO CHAMBERS
For the Right:
How Shiv Sena Deviated From Bal Thackeray’s Hardcore Hindutva Agenda And Paid A Heavy Price
For the Left:
What Sword Fails To Do, Soulful Qawwali Does: How Sufism Works In Tandem With Wahhabism
🇮🇳 STATE OF THE STATES
ODOP goes global (Uttar Pradesh) – The state government’s One District, One Product scheme is now going global. ODOP gifts from the state were presented to the heads of state by Prime Minister Narendra Modi at the recent G-7 meeting. The scheme was launched four years ago under the Vocal for Local mantra. For special occasions, special guests of the government are given ODOP products. The Chief Minister gifts ODOP products to special guests who call on him.
Why it matters: Previously, on the inauguration of the Kushinagar International Airport, ODOP products from Siddharthanagar, considered to be the Prasad of Lord Buddha, were given to guests from Buddhist countries. The scheme was launched by Chief Minister Yogi Adityanath on the first foundation day in 2018. Its objective is to create local employment and preserve traditional arts and cultural heritage.
New-age ration shops (Kerala) – Some ration shops could be in for a makeover as they could soon become a micro-ATM and a mini-supermarket. Items can be bought without payment through cashless transactions. Money can be withdrawn from the electronic point of sale (ePoS) machine using the Aadhaar-enabled smart ration cards. More than 800 ration shops from across the state are slated to join the project.
Why it matters: The Centre proposed the conversion of ration shops across the country in 2015. Kerala will be the first state to offer the services in ration shops. The state government will introduce Kerala Stores (K-Stores) under the State Civil Supplies Corporation, with five ration shops in each district as a pilot. The aim is to move towards cashless transactions in rations shops across the country.
Red Ant chutney seeking recognition (Odisha) – In Odisha’s Mayurbhanj, red ants are considered a delicacy and are consumed in the form of a chutney called ‘Kai’. Now, it’s likely to get a Geographical Indications (GI) tag. Scientists are beginning their research for a presentation for the GI registry. The Ayush Ministry will decide on the recognition. The red weaver ants are indigenous to Mayurbhanj and are abundant in the jungles.
Why it matters: The savoury item is said to be rich in nutrients, proteins, calcium, zinc, vitamin B-12, and iron. It’s widely consumed among the tribals in Odisha’s Mayurbhanj. They also earn a living by selling it. The ants are also sometimes included in other foods given to people suffering from the common cold, jaundice, and joint pains.
Congress strategy (Gujarat) – The Central Congress leadership asked its Gujarat unit not to make any personal attacks on Prime Minister Narendra Modi. Instead, it wants state leaders and cadre to target the BJP’s policies in the run-up to the Assembly elections later this year. Calling Gujarat leaders, the Congress task force wants the party to be united for the polls. It’ll highlight the state government’s failure in handling the pandemic.
Why it matters: The party has seen some recent high-profile exits, including Hardik Patel, who joined the BJP. It also suffered defeats in the local body elections. In the last assembly elections, the party won 77 seats. Since then, many MLAs switched sides. Congress also has to deal with the AAP seeking to play spoilsport.
Recognising Assamese Muslims (Assam) – The state cabinet recognised about 40 lakh Assamese-speaking Muslims of the state. They’re now recognised as indigenous Assamese Muslims and a greater native Assamese community sub-group. The Assam Minorities Development Board proposed new nomenclature to recognise the ethnicity of the Assamese-speaking Muslims in 2020. There was no official definition of who is an indigenous Assamese.
Why it matters: Previously, they were collectively known as indigenous Muslims but didn’t have official recognition. There’s now a clear distinction between native Muslims and the Bangladesh-origin Bengal-speaking immigrant Muslims. The state has the second-largest group of Muslims after Jammu & Kashmir. According to the 2011 census, the Muslim population in the state is more than 34%.
🔢 KEY NUMBER
$12 billion – The amount the Indian government will receive on taxes imposed on domestic crude oil and fuel exports, according to Moody’s Investors Service. The additional revenue will help offset the negative impact of the reduction in excise duties for petrol and diesel.