“Enemy at the Gates”: An Analysis on India’s Experiences with the Taliban

Published date01 December 2020
Date01 December 2020
Subject MatterArticles
1 Independent Researcher, Project Fellow, School of Media, Communication and Culture,
Jadavpur University, Kolkata, India.
Corresponding author:
Sourish Ghosh, Independent Researcher, currently Project Fellow at the School of Media,
Communication and Culture, Jadavpur University, Kolkata, West Bengal, India.
E-mail: sourishghosh.ju@gmail.com
“Enemy at the
Gates”: An
Analysis on India’s
Experiences with
the Taliban
Sourish Ghosh1
India’s long history of relations with Afghanistan dates back to the time
of the Mauryans. It became even stronger after India’s independence
in 1947. Since 1947, India has always maintained the policy to support
whosoever comes to power in Kabul, but in 1996, there was a shift
from that policy as the Taliban, a radical Islamist group, captured power.
Pakistan has always been paranoid about India–Afghanistan relations as
it never wanted hostile neighbours on both sides of its borders. Its urge
for a friendly government in Kabul got satiated when the Taliban came
to power, with its support. New Delhi did not recognize the Taliban
government and, instead, shunned all diplomatic relations with Kabul. It
was only after the Taliban regime was ousted through the US interven-
tion that India rejuvenated its relations with Kabul. However, even after
19 years of intervention, the Taliban remained a potent force, and now
as the USA plans to withdraw from Afghanistan, it is trying to negotiate
a peace settlement with the Taliban. Currently, India too is trying to
engage in dialogues with the Taliban, which again marks a shift from its
earlier strategy. This study analyzes India’s experiences with the Taliban
and shift in its policy from the pre-9/11 period (1996–2001) to the post-
9/11 period (2001–early 2019).
Jadavpur Journal of
International Relations
24(2) 152–171, 2020
2020 Jadavpur University
Reprints and permissions:
DOI: 10.1177/0973598420913656
Ghosh 153
Taliban, pre-9/11 period, post-9/11 period, continuity, shifts and
India has a long history of relations with Afghanistan, which dates back
to the time of the Mauryans, and it became stronger after India’s
independence in 1947. India’s engagement with Afghanistan has been
based on three fundamental propositions: first, to counteract and
pressurize Pakistan; second, to maintain strong economic relations with
Afghanistan as it has huge mineral reserves, and third, to use Afghanistan,
following the emergence of the Central Asian states out of the erstwhile
Soviet Union, as a springboard for gaining a foothold in the energy-rich
Central Asian region. Afghanistan, on the other hand, had looked upon
India as a potential counterweight in its relationship with Pakistan
(Bajoria 2009). There are other minor factors like ideology
(non-alignment), culture, history, and religion that had helped in bringing
the two countries together. Jawaharlal Nehru’s profound understanding
of the Afghan society and his cordial personal relations with many
Afghan leaders, including Khan Abdul Ghaffar Khan, helped him in
strengthening the relationship with Afghanistan, and it was under his
tutelage that India and Afghanistan signed the Treaty of Friendship in
1950, which agreed to recognize and respect the independence and rights
of each other (Treaty of Friendship 1950). It was followed by a few other
treaties, including the Treaty of Trade and Commerce (1950), which was
to strengthen the economic cooperation between the two states (Lok
Sabha Debates 1955). Nehru was aware of the strategic importance of
Afghanistan, and these two treaties were in coordination with the first
two fundamental postulates of India’s Afghanistan policy. When Indira
Gandhi became the Prime Minister, she continued to follow the footsteps
of her father and maintained cordial ties with the Kabul government.
Though New Delhi’s approach had been more focused on keeping
Pakistan at bay, it continued unhindered amidst the Cold War politics,
and even after the political upheaval of the Saur Revolution of 1978. The
Saur Revolution changed the dynamics of Afghan politics and established
a pro-Soviet communist regime, compromising the ideals of
non-alignment. But the political ruckus that continued after the Saur,
eventually led to Soviet intervention in 1979. The Charan Singh
government of India unhesitatingly condemned the intervention (Dixit

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