Taliban leaders addressing a press conference in Kabul

The Taliban has no need to make a large and powerful neighbour like India an enemy. Rather, it is Pakistan that has played a gamble, hoping that the Afghan Taliban will be able to tame TTP (Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan) and make life easy for the Pakistan Army

The post-1947 history and diplomacy of Afghanistan has always been majorly influenced by the India-Pakistan rivalry. Right from Zahir Shah to the present-day Taliban government, either the rulers of Afghanistan found themselves stifled in their regional politics due to this rivalry or were able to take advantage by playing one against the other.

However, these are geopolitical games that every country has the right to play and ensure that its interests are taken care of. The volatility of the Indian subcontinent makes it all the more critical for all the countries here to continue improvising their diplomacy and revisit their stands on various issues. But it seems that with the latest development in Afghanistan, India has reached a sort of impasse as far as defining its foreign policy is concerned.

We have always prided ourselves in the fact that we will never acknowledge or validate the Taliban government, as was the case from 1996-2001. However, the hijacking of IC-814 was a big lesson to us in terms of having at least channels of communications open and having, if not much, some nominal presence. In absence of these institutional engagements, underground networks should be strong enough to compensate for it.

Though the present India is very different from the one of 90s, what remains to be seen is how much edge has our foreign policy developed while dealing with almost the same situation in Afghanistan. While the decade of 90s was marred with struggling economy, peak of Pakistan sponsored militancy in J&K, governments crippled and falling regularly and a bleak international position; today we have a government in its second term with absolute majority and country having achieved phenomenal growth in economy and defence, with India being thought of a major global player and stakeholder. The Taliban knows it just too well also.

Celebrations in Pakistan over Taliban’s takeover, ranging from their Prime Minister making statements to poems being recited by young girls praising Taliban in Lal Masjid in Islamabad, is an overt display of possessiveness by ever insecure Pakistan. Taliban will soon become a mysterious entity with governments across the world struggling to figure out how to deal with them or engage in diplomatic issues. Pakistan wants to exert that influence over the Taliban, having helped them secure this blitzkrieg victory, and signal to the world that we have the controls! Pakistan is trying to be the gateway to Afghanistan and play the role of facilitator, which it has been playing for the last four decades, and frankly speaking, has become the main source of income for the country and its corrupt generals and politicians.

The Imran Khan team and its bosses in Pakistan Army view the Taliban victory as a genie that they have pulled out of the bottle and will now solve their multiple problems. And one of those problems is India. The narratives running around in Pakistan in the media and general public are of gleeful expectation that the Taliban will focus on Kashmir now, and they will be able to do what Pakistan has unsuccessfully tried since 1947. It is not a review of the situation there, but a joyful exalted war cry as a warning to India.

Taliban does not pose any threat to India, period.

Firstly, historically speaking, Taliban has never launched any dedicated attack or made any effort to enter India via Kashmir, even when they were in power. Their policy over Kashmir has been, ‘not my business’, while issuing politically correct statements that they would prefer a peaceful resolution of the Kashmir issue between India and Pakistan. Few Afghans killed in the last three decades by India security forces in Kashmir were Afghan mercenaries who joined Pakistani intruders on contract period and cost. They do not represent any official stand from the Taliban. And this decision from them comes from a sound evaluation of regional politics.

There is no need to make a large and powerful neighbour like India an enemy for an issue that they have no connection with or stakes in. Rather, staying neutral helps Taliban leverage the possibility of alignment with India against Pakistan. Hence, they have made their stand clear and it's unlikely that it will change.

Militarily speaking, Taliban is a minuscule force, predominantly infantry with amazing capabilities to fight in jungles, mountains and built-up areas. But that’s a different kind of war. For this force to fight a massive Indian Army, supported by a very modern and capable Air Force, this is hardly enough to even make a scratch. And that is when hypothetically speaking, they infuse every single man available to them in this fight.

Yes, they have captured the Afghan Air Force. But we have seen clearly that even the Afghan Air Force could not fly their planes effectively due to lack of maintenance teams, ammunition, ATC, command and control etc. Everything vanished the day the US exited Afghanistan and took all its contractors with it, who were critically important in running these operations. Taliban does not have trained pilots either and managing their Air Force would be now handed over to Pakistan too. Hence, a force that does not have the capability of creating a comprehensive war machine stands no chance of ever taking on experienced, trained, organised and equipped modern Armed Forces of India. Everyone can rest easy on that aspect.

The only scenario where we can imagine Taliban’s direct involvement in anti-India action is if Pakistan is able to recruit their fighters as mercenaries to join the terrorists that try to infiltrate India regularly. These could be individuals who maybe would prefer fighting for money once they have no source of income in Afghanistan.

That is again possible only when Taliban strength reaches a point where they have enough not only to control and manage the country but also some fighters languishing unemployed and aimless. That again is a very distant possibility as right now they will need every man possible to enforce their control and take charge. Also, the resistance in Panjshir by Ahmad Massoud and Amarullah Saleh, now supported by thousands of Afghan Army soldiers and other loyalists will be a major fight for Taliban, unless solved diplomatically.

Moreover, it is now that they have achieved what they have been fighting for two decades. They would rather settle down to enjoy the fruits of their labour rather than start fighting again on Pakistan’s behest. Not to forget that Indian borders are now sealed shut, unlike the 90s. The Army is much more experienced, better equipped and deployed at every inch, making mass infiltrations impossible.

Actually, it is not India, but Pakistan that is sitting on a time bomb. It has played a big gamble, hoping that the Afghan Taliban will be able to tame TTP (Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan) and make life easy for the Pakistan Army. The Pak Army has been fighting TTP for a decade plus now and suffered thousands of casualties. However, since no government, including Taliban has ever recognised the Durand line, the Afghan Taliban may very well support and enable TTP in its fight against Pakistan and create ‘Greater Afghanistan’ that includes Pashtunistan.

Also, with its open and tacit support to the Taliban, Pakistan has ensured that every Afghan hates them from the very core of the heart. The anti-Pakistan cries are even louder than the anti-Taliban ones. This is never going to go well for Pakistan. Within a few months, we will see the impact of this, and Pakistan will be left with neither any negotiating space nor an ally.

In its hubris of creating a much criticised and mocked ‘Strategic Depth’ and a control over a larger area, Pakistan has opened its door to a monster it has absolutely no capability to control. And this is one area, where neither the US nor China will come to its aid. It's time for India to sit back and watch, and despite the criticism from decades that we did not do enough in Afghanistan, now is actually the time to not do anything. Sometimes ‘wait and watch’ is the best policy.