It is now clear that the Taliban will have a say in the future of Afghanistan. With the Donald Trump administration in the US initiating talks with the Pashtun group and the latter engaging in dialogue with prominent Afghan politicians in Moscow recently, it is evident that the future of Afghanistan will have a Taliban component. All of this is precipitated by Trump being keen on bringing back American troops from Afghanistan. There are unconfirmed reports that he wants to reduce the American troop presence in Afghanistan by half by the end of April. Thus, given the way things are shaping up, the Taliban will view these events as victory after resisting foreign forces for close to two decades.

This will also embolden the deep state in neighbouring Pakistan that sees Afghanistan as its strategic depth. Plus, the Taliban’s seeming victory may inspire and embolden Islamist extremists in the region, including those operating in Kashmir. In such a scenario, India needs to prepare to protect its interests in Afghanistan and peace in Kashmir. For, both are threatened by the nexus between the Pakistani-ISI complex and certain elements within the Taliban. In this regard, India must take advantage of the fact that the Taliban is negotiating its way back. This means it can’t expect for things to go back to the way they were in Afghanistan before 2001. It will have to listen to other stakeholders and moderate its own position.

And one of those important stakeholders is Iran. The latter has historical influence over Afghanistan and is open to using that influence – including with the Taliban – for India. In fact, there is sound logic for boosting India-Iran relations here, something that even goes beyond Afghanistan. In a recent interaction organised at the Iran Cultural House here in New Delhi, former Speaker of Iran’s Parliament and currently Special Adviser to Iran’s Supreme Leader Ayatollah Khamenei, Dr Gholam Ali Haddad Adel elaborated on the basis for India-Iran relations today. Some of his key points highlighted the ethnic, cultural and spiritual connections between the two countries. These he said were the foundation for an Indo-Iranian perception of the world.

Plus, given that this year will see the 40th anniversary of the Islamic Revolution of Iran, Dr Adel emphasised that the momentous historical event was driven by the Iranian people’s desire for independence. In fact, he reported that the Iranian people were extremely happy when India achieved its independence from British colonial rule in 1947. And he believed that this common cherishing of independence could be a key pillar of closer Indo-Iranian cooperation today. Additionally, Dr Adel stressed that the world today was missing spirituality and it is here that India and Iran could provide guidance with their deep roots in spirituality. In this context, he also asserted that Iran rejected extremism of all kinds and that radical groups like ISIS – which Iran has fought tooth and nail – had nothing to do with Islam.

There’s no denying that people-to-people and cultural connections between India and Iran run long and deep. But the government-to-government relationship hasn’t lived up to this. This, of course, is because of the long years of US-led sanctions that Iran has had to suffer. And with Trump pulling out of the Iran nuclear deal, hard times are back for Iran and anyone that wants to do business with it. But it is important to highlight how arbitrary and illogical Trump’s withdrawal is. Even by American accounts, Iran has adhered to all the stipulations of the nuclear deal. Yet, trump believes that Iran is creating instability for the region. This couldn’t be any further from the truth. What is happening to Iran is an injustice and it is welcome that Europe has decided not to follow in America’s footsteps.

But India needs to choose carefully here. If it totally buckles under US pressure and drastically severs business ties with Iran, it could end up with less leverage in Afghanistan. And with Trump clear that US shouldn’t be handling Afghanistan from 6,000 miles away, it is India that needs to figure out how to deal with the fallout of Taliban’s return. Dr Adel stressed that the Iranian people are ready to resist all external pressures. He further said that the Chabahar Port project, which India has helped developed, is dedicated to regional development. He also emphasised that Iranian oil and gas could meet India’s growing energy demands.

All of this provides compelling logic for New Delhi to boost ties with Tehran. It is time that the Indian leadership does the strategic calculation and sees for itself the merit in furthering Indo-Iranian cooperation.