India’s Ignored Role in Afghanistan

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After the Taliban forces entered Kabul on 15 August 2021, and the United States of America (USA) completed the withdrawal process from Afghanistan on 31 August 2021, the world has been on the brink of a new geopolitical fluctuation. This fluctuation opened the door to many options from regional cooperation opportunities to the possibility of deepening conflicts.   

Considering the possibility of deepening of the conflicts, the first scenario that comes to mind is that the terrorist groups that are already in the region and that may emerge, starting from inside of Afghanistan; create an instability environment that will involve states such as Central Asian countries, China, Russia, India and Iran, and damage the economic, social and political structure of the region. Also, it can be stated that the immigration problem arising from the environment of insecurity will also harm Turkey and European countries.

Contrary to the this thesis, which asserts that the South Asia-Central Asia line will gradually become unstable and turn into a field of activity for terrorist groups, there are also opinions, which defend that the cooperation that will occur in the region will initiate a new geopolitical and geoeconomic process. Undoubtedly, the possibility of actualization of both views depends on the steps to be taken and the policies to be implemented.

At this point, states that are close to Afghanistan are at the forefront of the states that want the region to be cleared of terrorist groups and conflicts and achieve peace and stability. The fact that the states of the region that are distant to the USA creates an unnamed alliance ground. Actors such as China, Russia, Pakistan, and Iran are trying to take more initiative in order to maintain order in the region after Washington’s decision to withdraw from Afghanistan. However, when looking at the progress, it is seen that the diplomatic traffic between the countries that desire peace ignores India, which is a critical actor in the region and has the potential to contribute to the solution.  

The rise of Asia has attracted attention in recent years. Undoubtedly, one of the countries that pioneer this rise is India. Considering the economic growth rate, population, and production capacity; India’s responsibility regarding the stability of the region will be one of the most vital steps to be taken to ensure regional stability.

As can be forecasted, Afghanistan-India relations entered a new phase after the Taliban dominated the country. Over the past two decades, India has developed good relations with the Afghan governments. In this process, New Delhi made infrastructure and superstructure investments to Afghanistan and tried to support the weak Afghanistan economy. There is no doubt that; in the aforementioned period, India’s most visible assistance was the Afghan Parliament, which was made in 2015 and fully financed by India. In addition to those assistance, there was a rapid increase in commercial relations. Between 2019-2020, the trade volume between the two countries reached its highest level by reaching approximately 1.5 billion dollars.[1]

Considering the latest events, it is understood that the Taliban is one of the most critical power centers in Afghanistan and cannot be ignored. Likewise, it is undeniable that India is one of the most powerful actors in the region. In this respect, India can make positive contributions to the region and the new reality in Afghanistan.

The geographical location of India offers great opportunities for the countries of the region, especially Central Asia. It is known that; Central Asian countries and Afghanistan are countries that do not have access to the sea, which is called “landlock countries”. For this reason, these countries are looking for a way out to the sea to increase and diversify their trade and to reach different geographies. Therefore, among the potential possibilities, extending one foot of the peace and multinational economic initiatives that are desired in the area in the post-USA period to India is the most reasonable and plausible options.

Reaching Afghanistan via Central Asia, then Pakistan, and finally India; the economic, diplomatic, and cultural line is very significant at the point of establishing peace. In fact, considering the inclusion of Russia, which has been pursuing a policy of landing in the warm seas for centuries, to this line is not a far possibility to produce a new route with a North-South axis. At the same time, a trade line starting from India, following Pakistan, Afghanistan, Turkmenistan, and then extending over the Caspian Sea to Azerbaijan, Nakhchivan, Turkey, and from there to Europe can contribute to formation of a new geographical definition on the East-West axis and the development of the region. The Turkmenistan-Afghanistan-Pakistan-India natural gas pipeline project (TAPI) is a remarkable step that was taken in this direction.

Considering that the aforementioned North-South and East-West lines are active, it is not difficult to predict that increasing prosperity, wealth, and peace will come to the region. Undoubtedly, the fact that one foot of these projects extends to India reveals how critical actor New Delhi is and that it cannot be excluded from the developing processes in the region.

As it is known, India has comprehensive alliance relations with the West. Many Western countries, especially the USA, want to deepen their economic relations with India take advantage of this country’s geographical advantage and organize military exercises in the Indian Ocean. For this reason, India has great influence in the eye of the West. Undoubtedly, the new structure to be established in Afghanistan will seek out legitimacy. In this sense, India’s support to the government to be established in Afghanistan will reduce the tension in the region and open the door to the solution of the problems that have been going on for years. Likewise, mentioning the region with economic development and prosperity rather than conflicts is an approach that India also desires.  

For this reason, the exclusion of India from the region also means that a rational solution cannot be formed. Even if it is possible to say that some actors such as Russia realized the importance of New Delhi, based on the Vladimir Putin-Narendra Modi phone call, dated 24 August 2021, when looking at the general tendency of the regional states, it is seen that the role of India is pushed into the background. However, the Taliban, which will establish the new government of Afghanistan, also have positive steps at this point. Indeed, on 31 August 2021, Ambassador of India to Qatar, Deepak Mittal, met Sher Mohammad Abbas Stanekzai, the head of the Taliban’s political office in Doha. The meeting took place at the Embassy of India, Doha, on the request of the Taliban side, the ministry said in a statement. During the meeting, the Indian ambassador stated that “raised India’s concern that Afghanistan’s soil should not be used for anti-Indian activities and terrorism in any manner.” And responding The Taliban representative “assured the ambassador that these issues would be positively addressed.” was regarded a good start.[2] The meeting in question is the most substantial evidence that both actors keep the channels of diplomacy open.

As a result, India’s involvement in the process and being open diplomatic channels with the Taliban will not be a “win-win” scenario that only benefits both sides; at the same time, it will also point to new geopolitics in which all the countries of the region will win.

[1] “India-Afghanistan Commercial Brief”, Embassy of India Kabul, Afghanistan,, (Access date: 1.09.2021).

[2] “Indian Ambassador Meets Head of Taliban’s Political Office in Doha”, The Asia Today,, (Access date: 1.09.2021).

Mustafa Cem KOYUNCU
Mustafa Cem Koyuncu, Karabük Üniversitesinde Uluslararası İlişkiler bölümünde Master öğrencisi olup Hint-Pasifik Bölgesi, ABD-Çin Rekabeti, uluslararası güvenlik, jeopolitik ve stratejik araştırmalar alanları üzerinde çalışmalar yapmaktadır. Karabük Üniversitesi’nde eğitimine başlamadan önce, Boğaziçi Üniversitesinde Lisans eğitimini tamamlamıştır. Özel sektörde yöneticilik tecrübesi kazanmasının ardından Cem, kariyerine ANKASAM’da devam etmektedir. Cem ileri seviyede İngilizce bilmektedir.