In several ways, the Taliban takeover of Afghanistan can be a gamechanger in India’s worldview and policymaking strategies. New Delhi wants to play a role in shaping the future of that country, but no one sees any role, even a secondary one, for India. Irrespective of India’s likes and dislikes, the neighbouring countries—Pakistan, Iran, China and the Central Asian republics of Tajikistan, Uzbekistan, and Turkmenistan— will be mainly involved in Afghanistan and its future trajectory. Any Indian role in Afghanistan will have to be approved and coordinated with one of these countries. We can rule out Pakistan and China as potential conduits; just as India is not comfortable working with them, both will not want a role for New Delhi, at least not until they are sucked into an Afghan quagmire.
The great power game over Afghanistan exposed the faultlines of India’s engagements with the world, but it can also be an opportunity if the nation learns from this. First and foremost, statecraft is not a monastery where moral righteousness prevails over all other considerations. How many nations will be ready to confront Iran over the treatment of Baha’is, Myanmar over Rohingyas or China of Uyghur Muslims? Moral high ground is good but is a costly and painful road for states. At the same time, can one ignore the challenges of inclusivity, peaceful transition, and gender and minority rights in the Taliban-ruled Afghanistan? Exclusive reliance on realism will make states greedy and unethical players who enjoy, benefit and, in the process, perpetuate the miseries of others.
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