India must retain its traditional and historic interest in Afghanistan and its people
Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s decision to ask the MEA to brief all parliamentary parties on the Government’s actions in Afghanistan comes as questions grow about the Government’s planning for contingencies there, with the Taliban’s takeover. Since August 15, when the Taliban militia entered Kabul, the Government, including the MEA and the Defence Ministry, has been understandably occupied with the challenging evacuation of Indian nationals. In addition, the Government’s decision to evacuate the entire embassy staff and security personnel first has made it more difficult to facilitate those Indians, as well as long-term visa holding Afghan Sikhs and Hindus needing to return. With most of the Indians based in Afghanistan returning home, or expected to soon, the Government must face the larger strategic questions over whether the Indian Embassy was evacuated too early. India had undertaken evacuations during the 1990s too, but then the presence of Indian nationals was not as large and Indian stakes in Afghanistan were not so deeply rooted. In the past 20 years, India has built considerable interests, including major infrastructure projects and ongoing development projects, helped script the Afghan Constitution and conduct of elections, as well as enabled the training and education of the next generation of officials, soldiers and professionals. It seems unfortunate, therefore, that this bank of goodwill came to naught as the Government decided it was safer to pull up stakes, emulating neither the U.S. and European countries who relocated their diplomatic outposts to the Kabul airport, nor Russia, China and Iran, which decided not to vacate their embassies there.
Going forward, the Government must explain how it expects to approach the new regime in Afghanistan once it is formed. It is still unclear whether this will be merely a repeat of the brutal regime seen from 1996-2001, or whether negotiations are under way for a more inclusive coalition, including several former leaders of Afghanistan, will fructify into a transitional government. The rise of Taliban power and that of the group’s Pakistani backers is a particular security concern as groups such as the LeT and the JeM could use Afghanistan as a staging base for terror attacks in India. Finally, the Government must explain how it will approach the Afghan people, especially those whose lives could be in danger, including Embassy staff and associates, those working on Indian projects, minorities, including those Islamic sects such as the Hazaras who have been targeted, as well as women. A more open, liberalised visa policy, and more swift processing of the newly launched special “e-Emergency X-Misc” visas would reassure both Afghans and the international community that India’s exit from Afghanistan is not permanent, and it will retain its traditional and historic interests in the country and its people, despite adverse events there.