Wednesday, Jul 06, 2022

India Needs To Strategically Engage With Taliban: Geopolitics Expert Seshadri Chari

Former editor of the Organiser and an expert in international geopolitics and strategic studies Seshadri Chari speaks to Outlook Magazine on the developments in Afganistan and why the Taliban is not going to get into any confrontation with India.

Taliban takes over Afghanistan AP/PTI

Former editor of the Organiser and an expert in international geopolitics and strategic studies Seshadri Chari says India should strategically engage with the Taliban and is worried that the happenings in Afghanistan may become an issue of internal politics in India. Excerpts from his interview:

What impact will the developments in Afghanistan have on India that has been proactively helping the government in rebuilding the infrastructure?

I don’t think, the unfortunate developments in Afghanistan will have too much of an impact on India.

Do you foresee an increase in possible terror attacks on Indian territory with the Taliban taking control?

I have a feeling the Taliban is not going to get into any confrontation with India. I think they will go a little slow on India. However, there is a possibility that some people will try and build up a narrative where any border clash between India and Pakistan will be attributed to the Taliban. I hope the government doesn’t fall into that trap. 

India has so far not said anything about the situation. Meetings at the top level in the government are on…

We have said that we don’t want any violence on the ground. With India presiding over the United Nations Security Council (UNSC), we have already had the discussion on Afghanistan and passed presidential remarks. But that is not enough as we could have asked for a direct intervention of the UN.

Do you think that the UN needs to play a bigger role in Afghanistan now?

Absolutely, that is the only viable solution now. But there is a big problem as far as the UN is concerned because the bigger question is who will be a part of the UN peacekeeping mission. Since it is India's region, there cannot be an Indian contingent. So it has to be either Bangladesh or the Philippines.

UN Peace Keeping mission has seven-eight countries, including some of the African nations like Somalia, Ethiopia, and Nepal and Sri Lanka. And it is always headed by someone from the Western world like France, Germany or Italy. It would be a good idea if we try for a UN peacekeeping mission. By involving the UN, at least a few Indians can go into Kabul wearing the UN hat and have some say in what is happening there.

Otherwise, today, Pakistan has already moved in. Earlier they were part of the Taliban. Pakistan Taliban and Afghan Taliban -- they are two sides of the same coin.

So you think there is going to be a major geopolitical change in the region with China, Pakistan and Russia already announcing support for the Taliban?

It’s going to be a huge geopolitical change. And my assessment is that the Taliban will not be able to continue for long due to the internal contradictions. The moment the Taliban becomes overwhelmingly powerful, other groups will come in. The Taliban can control only on the basis of their guns but what will happen when the ammunition is over? Taliban’s fighting force is not an army but just mercenaries and once they will want their share in the loot soon enough. 

China has already gone inside because it is aware of the fact that natural resources in Afghanistan are worth three trillion dollars. Russia will not go openly. They may have announced their support but they will have to play their cards carefully. The present Taliban is not very different from the Taliban of 20 years back -- created to punish Russia. So why would they support Russians and why would Russia go and stick its neck out, unless it’s for getting a share in the loot.

Let’s take the example of lithium. Afghanistan is the source of 90 per cent lithium in the world. With the whole world moving towards electric vehicles, demand for lithium is only going to increase. That is one reason for China to move in. Why would the rest of the world keep quiet? The Afghans know it and there is a possibility of clashes among the various tribes – the Taliban does not represent any one particular tribe. The tribal ego and tribal assertion, that will happen soon enough, will start creating problems.

Knowing China, it is likely to fund and aid some of these tribes leading to a direct confrontation with the Taliban. With China will come huge amounts of money. It will be difficult for the Taliban to stand against the money power of China. If China starts pouring into Kabul the kind of money it is pouring into Pakistan, it will strategically try and restrict the Taliban only to Kabul. 

What else can India do as a regional power?

We should constitute a team of half a dozen people who are in a position to send a message to the Taliban – a direct message -- that we are least bothered about what you are doing in your country, and as far as infrastructure and other support base is concerned we are with you. You work with the people of Afghanistan and allow us to work for your country.

We should have a strategic link with the Taliban as we must accept the reality that as long as the Taliban is in Kabul, we should have some relationship. What is the difference between the Taliban and Khamenei’s rule in Iran? What is the difference between the tribal takeover of south Sudan and north Sudan? How did Museveni come to power in Uganda after Idi Amin? It has been like this for a long time. 

Have we derecognised the Chinese for what they are doing in Xinjiang or for that matter what they did in Tibet? What is the difference here? We don’t have to recognise them immediately but build bridges with them, and tell our own point of view.

Do you think, the Taliban takeover can become an issue of internal politics in India?

 Unfortunately, I see that happening with the elections coming in states like Uttar Pradesh. The politicians are likely to use the Taliban to polarise and garner votes in India. The narrative is already being built on social media.