Friday February 23, 2024

India’s alarming expansion in Afghanistan

March 06, 2023

The burgeoning relationship between the Taliban and India is sure to raise eyebrows in the region, particularly in China and Pakistan, who have heavily invested in Afghanistan’s peace, security and economic development.

For the region as a whole, which has legitimate interests in Afghanistan, this move is likely to have significant ramifications. In mid-2022, India reopened its embassy in Kabul, and Delhi is now looking to further increase its diplomatic influence in Afghanistan. A proposal to open a consulate in Kandahar has been met with approval from the Taliban, and it is anticipated the Indian consulate in Kandahar will open soon after receiving procedural consent from the Taliban. And the announcement is expected anytime.

All of the region’s neighbours, including Pakistan, China, Central Asian States (except Uzbekistan and Tajikistan), Iran and Russia, have Taliban embassies that are currently operational. The Afghan embassy in Delhi is still staffed and controlled by former regime-connected diplomats, and the embassy and its consulates in India are now the top priorities for the Taliban to seize. To this end, they have lobbied Delhi vigorously to recognise Taliban officials as the legitimate representatives of the Afghan government.

The Taliban will accept the Indian consulate in Kandhar in exchange for accepting the Taliban representative in Delhi. Delhi’s acceptance of a Taliban representative will be a step towards the Taliban’s partial recognition. India is also closely monitoring how Iran and Russia have handed over consulates and embassies to Taliban government.

The increasing thaw between the Taliban and Delhi and India’s expanding diplomatic clout in Afghanistan has a direct impact on Pakistan’s security on its western border. The planned opening of the Indian consulate in Kandahar will serve as a reminder of the security challenges that were present during Ashraf Ghani’s era. Balochistan’s instability was directly affected by India’s presence 25km away from Pakistan’s Chaman border.

The launch of the Kandhar consulate is a strategic move by both India and the Taliban, granting them a powerful diplomatic tool. As the relationship between India and the Taliban begins to thaw, the Taliban may use the thaw with India as leverage in their negotiations with Pakistan. This will be especially concerning for Pakistan, as the two countries share a 2,670km long western border.

The re-emergence of India near that border could further exacerbate already strained relations. Pakistan is putting immense pressure on the Taliban. Recently, a high-profile Pakistani delegation, which included Defence Minister Khawaja Asif and ISI DG, Gen.Nadeem Anjum, was dispatched to Kabul to deliver a clear message to the Taliban leadership: Seal off the TTP safe havens. This move is indicative of the growing tension between the two countries.

Following a successful attack on the leadership of TTP in Khost province, Afghanistan, which resulted in the deaths of nearly 50 commanders, Pakistan’s kinetic capabilities in Afghanistan have been demonstrated. Although, Islamabad has not officially acknowledged them, the Army Chief Gen Asim Munir and the DG ISI Gen Nadeem Anjum have shown a zero-tolerance policy towards the TTP terrorism, which is being implemented through Pakistan’s counter-terrorism strategy.

In this context, the new Indian consulate in the region will be used as a hub for Indian intelligence operations, such as providing safe houses as centres for terrorism in Balochistan under the guise of diplomacy, while India focuses on southwest Afghanistan. It has been revealed that the TTP, the BLA and terrorism in Balochistan were all directly funded and handled by the same Indian consulate along the Pakistani border during the former President Ashraf Ghani period.

The planned consulate in Kandahar will have a significant impact on China, as India and China have long-standing adversarial relations. China’s primary concern is the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC), the main project of the One Belt One Road Initiative, which India is likely to attempt to undermine with renewed vigour. With the Gwadar port set to open in the second half of 2023 and be inaugurated by President Xi, the situation is becoming increasingly tense.

For India, this move could be a game-changer in the region, as it grants them a tactical understanding of how to leverage terrorism against Pakistan in Balochistan. The last thing Pakistan needs is for the Afghan Taliban to turn a blind eye to conceivable Indian sponsored kinetic activities in the southwest of Afghanistan while the terrorism in Balochistan gains more momentum.

India has already been utilising Iran’s Chabahar port and has been sponsoring Baloch unrest from there. With the opening of Kandhar consulate, India is one step closer to achieving its strategic goal of encircling Pakistan. This presents a formidable challenge for Pakistani decision-makers, as India’s diplomatic influence in Afghanistan continues to grow along with its intelligence capabilities and operational bases.

For all countries in the region with vested interests in Afghanistan, India’s expanding influence should be a cause for alarm. As India’s presence in the region intensifies, so too does the risk of conflict and instability. This is a situation that must be closely monitored as the repercussions of any unrest could be far-reaching and catastrophic, with its potential to spill over into other areas.

Jan Achakzai is a geopolitical analyst, a Balochistan politician and a former media and strategic communications advisor to GOB. He tweets @jan_Achakzai