The situation has been made more complex with the Taliban and the IS competing for Afghan territory

With India increasingly 'looking east', and the Asean-India Commemorative Summit held last month in New Delhi, the growing disquiet in Afghanistan may not have dominated headlines. But it has severe ramifications for India's 'neighbourhood first' policy. 

As it raises its international presence, India is being tested, along with its 'Eurasian strategy'. Afghanistan's stability is as much important for India's security concerns as it is for its Eurasian outreach, which has over the past year got a boost through its membership of the Shanghai Cooperative Organisation (SCO), progress in Iran's Chabahar, the International North-South Transport Corridor (INSTC) and the Eurasian Economic Union. The 21st-century's Great Game in Eurasia is unfolding. And it is in India's interests that Afghanistan remains stable.

Reports of Taliban influence over 70% of Afghanistan may well be exaggerated. But such surveys indicating that the Taliban are being backed by Pakistani generals can't be ignored.

India has been — and will remain — a big obstacle to the Taliban's ideology, right from the time of the hijacking of Indian Airlines Flight 714 in December 1999. So, the attack against Indian assets and India-funded projects in Afghanistan may well increase as the year progresses.

The presence of US troops has disallowed the Pakistan Army to run amok in that country. And yet their failure to have decisive success has emboldened the Taliban. The Pakistan Army, under pressure from US President Donald Trump, appears to have allegedly turned on the heat on the US in Afghanistan through their proxies.

The US should now strengthen Kabul's capacity to fight the Taliban and the Islamic State (IS), and end its strategy of supporting warlords. Trump has announced that he is not prepared to talk to the Taliban and pledged to "finish what we have to finish". But he must walk the talk amid efforts by Rawalpindi to smartly use both the Taliban and the IS in AfPak.

In such a context, India needs to put in place an effective regional approach strategy involving Iran and Central Asian countries, besides Russia, to safeguard its interests, even as it coordinates closely with the US. The visit of Iranian President Hassan Rouhani later this month, provides GoI an opportunity to expand its partnership with Iran on landlocked Afghanistan.

North of Afghanistan, a Moscow format at the behest of Moscow is on the table. Hosted by Russia, this aims to bring Afghanistan, India, China, Iran, Pakistan, Central Asian countries and even the US to the same table.

An India-led regional conference on Afghanistan may also be considered with a robust counter-terror partnership within the SCO, and between New Delhi and Central Asian countries — Uzbekistan and Tajikistan, in particular — to combat terror originating from Afghanistan.

The Heart of Asia and other dialogueprocesses seem to yield little result as far as reconciliation goes. Neitheran only-military approach nor onlydialogue will solve Afghanistan's woes. The infighting in Kabul's ruling establishment is also not helping the cause.

The attacks in Kabul, including the 'ambulance bombing' on January 27, represent a shift in tactics by Taliban.

It appears to now play a long game: waiting for foreign forces to withdraw.

The situation has been made more complex with the Taliban and the IS competing for Afghan territory.

Putting boots on the ground was never considered an option by New Delhi, irrespective of the government in power. Yet, it is critical for India to have a strategic approach towards Afghanistan. Both the IS and the Taliban are a serious threat for India.