Mulling the Contours of India’s Taliban Policy: Past, Present and Future Prospects

AuthorGitika Commuri
Published date01 December 2022
Date01 December 2022
Subject MatterResearch Articles
Research Article
Mulling the Contours of
India’s Taliban Policy:
Past, Present and Future
Gitika Commuri1
India is faced with a conundrum—how to engage with an Afghanistan that is once
again led by the Taliban. The question is less about whether to engage and more
about how to engage. To understand this turn of events that is both surprising and
yet seemingly inevitable, this article examines India’s policies vis-à-vis the Taliban
since its early rise to power in 1990. It examines this relationship in four phases
which correlate with the fortunes of the Taliban as an opposition and a governing
regime, contending that these phases are characterised; by a potential discourse
of engagement that does not translate into policy outcomes; distancing and
opposition; gradual indirect acquiesce to its growing presence; and finally, détente
of sorts without formal recognition. These policy transitions are a consequence
of regional and global power play as well as domestic preoccupations of India.
They span India’s secular and Hindutva-driven domestic narratives of self. The
significance of this article lies in casting a broad overview of the existing literature
and identifying patterns of engagement.
India, Taliban, Afghanistan, foreign policy
Taliban’s unsurprising resurgence in 2021 and its capacity to withstand all odds
and return to the helm of power in Afghanistan requires strategic rethinking on the
part of regional and global states in the international system. This rethinking is
necessitated in part because many states have spent more than two decades trying
Journal of Asian Security
and International Affairs
9(3) 475–492, 2022
© The Author(s) 2022
Reprints and permissions:
DOI: 10.1177/23477970221129907
1 Department of Political Science, California State University, Bakersfield, California, USA
Corresponding author:
Gitika Commuri, Department of Political Science, California State University, Bakersfield, CA 93311,
476 Journal of Asian Security and International Affairs 9(3)
to crush the Taliban by supporting other seemingly more moderate regimes,
engaging in full-scale war against the Taliban pushing it to the brink of extinction
and eventually making cautious accommodations with it. Recent actions
(agreements and discussions) indicate that the Taliban’s presence has come to be
accepted as inevitable, even if there is a formal lack of recognition of it as the
legitimate representative of Afghanistan. Its legitimacy, while challenged, has not
prevented it from negotiating with powers, such as the United States, China,
Russia, European Union, Iran and India, as well as other regional states. Taliban
is here to stay; how long, how stably, that only the oracles can tell. Its existence as
a political regime may be in question, though its capacity to survive on the fringes
and beyond is remarkable. This is the reality. For now, an Afghanistan led by the
Taliban, and surrounding regional and global powers are in the unenviable
situation of having to negotiate and contend with each other to re-establish the
boundaries of engagement. And negotiate they must for reasons that may be
specific to the states or the region, though these will include security, balancing,
terrorism, narcotics trade, humanitarian crisis, discontents of civil war and
commercial engagement (D’Souza, 2013).
It is in this context that this article seeks to understand India’s engagement or
lack of with the Taliban. Some editorial commentary suggests that India’s current
strategy of cautious engagement with the Taliban as exemplified by diplomatic
interactions in Doha and Moscow is a ‘game changer’ (Kapur, 2021). Such claims
are inevitably reflective of comparison with previous Indian stance and policy on
the Taliban when it was the governing regime during 1996–2001 and as a
formidable opposition group. Two questions arise; whether Indian diplomatic
manoeuvring is indeed a ‘game-changer’ and whether it is best explained by the
savviness of the governing political elite, the Bharatiya Janata Party, or is it a
consequence of the changing international, regional and domestic environment.
The purpose of this article then is to lay out the pattern of interaction between
India and a Jihadi movement/governing regime Taliban and to understand its
nature. The article’s focus is not so much Indo-Afghan relations, rather it is the
relationship, or its absence, between a state and non-state/governing regime actor
that occupies the nebulous space of being the state (in so far as political elites are
representatives of the state) and existing as a violent challenger to it. This becomes
the key to understanding current Indo-Afghan relations. What we are dealing with
here is the interaction between the Indian state and a quasi-governing and insurgent
entity, the Taliban.
Afghanistan is a quagmire of nightmarish proportions. Its fate in the last
several decades has been one of incessant war compelling one to wonder how
Afghans survive on an everyday basis. This never-ending conflict is not only the
consequence of internal warring factions with religious/tribal/ethnic linkages
and divisions but great power interventions (SU/Russia, US, EU via NATO), as
well as meddling by quasi-failed states like Pakistan. On the fringes are states,
such as Iran, Saudi Arabia, UAE and Qatar that have long stoked the religious
embers of various mujahideen groups or have been involved in the politics of
the region in one form or the other. Peering into these complex interactions are
other neighbours like China and India, global and regional powers with their

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