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Very little appetite left with western powers to 'engage' with Afghanistan directly

By Simi Mehta*

The Taliban within a short period has managed to usurp power and make a mockery of institutions of honor. India has made investments in the country’s nation-building process is all but expected to be impacted by the Taliban. What are the choices that India has, how do we categorize them, can the international community step up the pressure to establish a responsible government?
To understand these issues at hand, the Centre for International Relations and Strategic Studies (CIRSS) at Impact and Policy Research Institute (IMPRI), New Delhi, organized an online discussion on ‘Developments in Afghanistan: Implications for India and the Region’ as a part of The State of International Affairs – #DiplomacyDialogue series.
Dr Deep Pal, Visiting Fellow, Asia Program, Carnegie Endowment for International Peace initiated the discussion by stating that he’d be covering four important topics involving the nature of the Taliban and its governance, changes in the lives of Afghanis, the role of new players in the conversation, and conclude with what all of these mean for India.
Dr Pal stated that the Taliban had announced an interim government on September 9 composed of 33-34 members, which immediately raised questions about the political structure, the duration of the interim government, etc.
The interim government consists of 30 members from the Pashtun community living in the southern part of the country with actors who belonged to the former Taliban government, ensuring that there is no infighting, yet rumours about squirmish have surfaced recently.
It is also to be noted that there is no homogeneity between the Taliban leaders as members of the Taliban have different motives and the Doha Taliban are different from the Taliban commanders in the rest of the country.
Dr Pal stated, the Taliban have access to infrastructure and institutions modelled along the lines of a western state but they lack the expertise to utilize them, they can either dismantle it or develop a hybrid model but either way, they need skilled people and that is something the Taliban is also aware of but there is no given path for the Taliban to take to achieve this. Beyond the political-strategic question is the economic aspect as the Afghan state is constantly running out of money.
The other question that has made rounds is the one about minorities, the Hazaras, the Tajiks, the women their representation; the Taliban claimed to have a new perspective and savviness with openness to the west but the lack of conversation around minorities and rise in talks about having their spokesperson at the UNGA clearly indicates their focus.
Human security is an aspect that needs to be talked about, said Dr Pal. The Taliban has unreasonably been arresting, detaining, and flogging people. People have been seen selling their belongings and stealing shops for a loaf of bread. The humanitarian aid has trickled down and they have no redressal for the Taliban care too little.
Talking about international players, Dr Pal stated that Pakistan is the most important player in the conversation. Their support of the Taliban is a double-edged sword as the Taliban have not just gained power in Afghanistan but also in Pakistan, there have been attacks on enemies of the Pakistan state, thus as the Afghan Taliban gain power, the Tehrik-i-Taliban Pakistan (TTP) also gains power indicating that Pakistan will have to use a sizeable chunk of its security infrastructure to tackle that.
China on the other hand is on a wait and watch mode and will wait before it invests. Russia has taken a step back and has urged the international community to talk about the legitimacy issue. India has not been a part of the Doha process but it met the deputy foreign affairs minister and has engaged with other Taliban leaders indicating that there is a definitive policy to engage the Taliban leaders but the extent of this hasn’t been defined yet.
India wants to have a say in this issue given that Afghanistan plays an important role in India’s security environment. India is a major investor with over 400 projects and the Taliban would need these public goods thus it is likely for them to engage.
Dr Jagannath P Panda, Research Fellow & Coordinator, East Asia Centre, Manohar Parrikar Institute for Defence Studies and Analyses (MP-IDSA), New Delhi, stated that the vagaries of Interim Government is known. 
The clarity on the economy of the country and aid is another vagary. Talking about Indian interests and Indian vigilantism he stated that it will be focused on Pakistan, hawking networks, and a model of governance, ruled by sharia or a constitution.
Dr Krzysztof Iwanek, Head, Asia Research Centre, Centre for Security Studies, War Studies University, Warsaw, Poland, indulged in the conversation by questioning the security implications for India and Europe. Aarti Betigeri, an independent multi-platform journalist, Canberra, Australia, asked about the role of the QUAD, its impact on the organization and also encouraged conversation about the LGBTQ+ community in Afghanistan.
Answering the queries, Dr Pal stated that there is very little appetite in the western world to engage with Afghanistan directly. Europe plays a major role in the question of values and human rights, especially that of women and the LGBTQ+ community.
There is no agreement that can hold the Taliban accountable. Alongside there is the threat posed by the ISKP in terms of indoctrination. Addressing the role of QUAD, he stated that one can certainly hope that it engages in the Afghanistan conversation but there is uncertainty surrounding it.
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*CEO, IMPRI. Acknowledgment: Srimedha Bandi, research intern at IMPRI

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