GS PAPER II EDITORIAL
India must directly engage with Taliban 2.0
Why in News
- With the withdrawal of the United States from Afghanistan in process, New Delhi has decided to ramp down its civilian presence in the wartorn country, bracing for a fullblown civil war.
- India has ‘temporarily’ closed its consulate in Kandahar and evacuated its diplomats and IndoTibetan Border Police (ITBP) personnel stationed there. This follows the decision to suspend operations in the Indian consulates in Jalalabad and Herat.
- As a result, India today is left with its Embassy in Kabul and the consulate in MazareSharif.
The Taliban’s sway
- These developments indicate two things:
- New Delhi’s decision to partially “withdraw” from Afghanistan shows that betting only on the government in Kabul was a big mistake, and that New Delhi realises the threat Taliban poses to Indian assets and presence in Afghanistan.
- Either way, India’s Afghan policy is at a major crossroads; to safeguard its civilian assets there as well as to stay relevant in the unfolding ‘great game’ in and around Afghanistan, New Delhi must fundamentally reset its Afghanistan policy.
- India must, in its own national interest, begin ‘open talks’ with the Taliban before it is too late. The time for hesitant, half embarrassed backchannel parleys is over.
- With over a third of Afghanistan’s more than 400 districts under Taliban control, the talktotheTalibanoption is indeed the best of the many less than perfect options available to India.
- To be fair, New Delhi has been steadily abandoning its puritanical policy towards the Taliban over the past few years.
- In late 2018, when Moscow organised a conference which had the Taliban, members of the Afghan High Peace Council, and other countries from the region in attendance, India sent a ‘nonofficial delegation’ of two retired diplomats to Moscow.
- Thereafter, in September 2020, India’s External Affairs Minister joined the inaugural session of the intraAfghan negotiations in Doha.
- Last month, reports indicated that India has started reaching out to the Taliban which was indirectly confirmed by the Ministry of External Affairs.
- However, such halfhearted, half embarrassed, ideologically hesitant meandering outreach to the Taliban is hardly sufficient to safeguard Indian interests in a rapidly shifting Afghan geopolitical landscape.
- Open dialogue with the Taliban should no longer be a taboo; it is a strategic necessity. Therefore, our outreach must now be direct and unambiguous.
Rationale for indirect talks
- There are at least five possible reasons why New Delhi appears to want to keep the Taliban engagement slow and behind closed doors.
- For one, if New Delhi chooses to engage the Taliban directly, it could make Afghanistan President thus far India’s trusted partner, uneasy.
- This could potentially nudge him to look towards China and the Shanghai Cooperation Organisation (SCO) for national security and personal political survival. So, in New Delhi’s calculation, a bird in the hand is worth two in the bush.
- Two, decision makers in New Delhi are also faced with the dilemma of who to talk to within the Taliban given that it is hardly a monolith. New Delhi may have little access to the members of the Quetta Shura or the fighters on the ground in Afghanistan.
- So, the only option might be the Dohabased Taliban negotiators or leaders such as Abdul Salam Zaeef whose beef with Pakistan is well known.
- Third, given the global opprobrium that Taliban faced in its earlier avatar and the lack of evidence about whether the outfit is a changed lot today, New Delhi might not want to court the Taliban so soon. More so, there is little clarity about what the Taliban’s real intentions are going forward and what they would do after ascending to power in Kabul.
- Finally, it would not be totally unreasonable to consider the possibility of Pakistan acting out against India in Kashmir if India were to establish deeper links with the Taliban. New Delhi’s rationale is not entirely erroneous.
- And yet, there are more compelling reasons why India should engage with the Taliban more proactively and openly.
- For one, whether we like it or not, the Taliban, one way or another, is going to be part of the political scheme of things in Afghanistan, and unlike in 1996, a large number of players in the international community are going to recognise/ negotiate/do business with the Taliban. So, basic statecraft requires that we follow that route as well.
- Making peace with the fait accompli is not always a bad thing especially in the absence of better alternatives.
The Pakistan factors
- Two, the Taliban is looking for regional and global partners for recognition and legitimacy especially in the neighborhood. So, the less proactive the Indian engagement with the Taliban, the stronger PakistanTaliban relations would become.
- Put differently, and bluntly, letting the Pakistani deep state exclusively deal with the Taliban is an inherently bad idea.
- Third, even though the Taliban is widely considered to be propped up by Pakistan, it would be a mistake to think that the Taliban will continue to be Pakistan’s servile followers upon gaining power in Kabul.
- A worldly-wise and internationally exposed Taliban 2.0 would develop its own agency and sovereign claims including perhaps calling into question the legitimacy of the Durand Line separating Pakistan and Afghanistan, something Pakistan was always concerned about.
- More so, contrary to what many analysts assume, a Taliban dominated Afghanistan, next door to its TehreekeTaliban Pakistaninfested tribal areas, may not really end up becoming a happy space for Pakistan.
- In other words, the Taliban would want to hedge their bets on how far to listen to Pakistan. That is precisely when New Delhi should engage the Taliban.
- Four, India needs to court all parties in Afghanistan, including the Taliban, if it wants to ensure its security of its civilian assets there.
- It makes neither strategic nor economic sense to withdraw from Afghanistan after spending over $3 billion, something the Government seems to be prepared to do.
- Withdrawing from Afghanistan now because the Taliban is on the rise (and we do not want to have relations with them) will go on to highlight how weak our strategic resolve is.
- Five, India’s outreach to the Taliban should have started years ago before the Taliban had many suitors as they do today. So, if India is not proactive in Afghanistan at least now, late as it is, Russia, Iran, Pakistan and China will emerge as the shapers of Afghanistan’s political and geopolitical destiny, which for sure will be detrimental to Indian interests there.
Open the congested frontier
- Finally, and perhaps most importantly, opening up the congested northwestern frontier is key to bringing India’s continental grand strategy on an even keel, a process New Delhi has already started.
- Backchannel talks with Pakistan and a consequent ceasefire on the Line of Control, political dialogue with the mainstream Kashmiri leadership, secret parleys with Taliban all indicate that New Delhi is opening up its congested northwestern frontier.
- Proactive engagement of the Taliban will provide this effort with more strategic heft. Consider this. Except for the strategic foray into the IndoPacific, India today is strategically boxed in the region and it must break out of it.
- Afghanistan could provide, if not immediately, India with such a way out.
- India’s engagement with the Taliban may or may not achieve much, but nonengagement will definitely hurt Indian interests. In an ideal world, the Taliban, given its bloody past, should not have been anywhere near governing Afghanistan, but it is neither an ideal situation nor is the Taliban stoppable from gaining power in Kabul.
- So New Delhi must exorcise the demons of IC814 (the December 1999 hijacking) from its collective memory and engage with the Taliban 2.0 — there is no need to be secretive or embarrassed about it.
- And yet, open engagement of the Taliban is neither tolerating nor accepting the condemnable atrocities committed by the Taliban.
GS PAPER II
A compromise amid uncertainty
Why in News
- For now, the risk has receded that the United Arab Emirates (UAE), said to hold the world’s largest untapped crude reserves, might quit the Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries (OPEC).
- The end to the UAE’s weekslong impasse with Saudi Arabia, one of the world’s biggest crude exporters, and Russia, a non-OPEC state, was brought about by Sunday’s deal.
- Under its terms, the UAE’s demand for an increase in its oil output quotas, in recognition of its higher production capacity, has been conceded.
- The baselines have also been raised for Saudi Arabia, Russia, Iraq and Kuwait.
- The bloc will now step-up crude production by 400,000 barrels a day starting in August. The deal will extend until the end of 2022.
- The output boost is in response to rising oil prices in the wake of the rebound in economic activity following the easing of lockdown restrictions and increased COVID19 vaccinations in different parts of the world.
- Sunday’s deal has also extended until the end of next year the broad terms of the unprecedented production cuts the bloc enforced in April 2020.
- The cartel cut oil production by 9.7 million barrels a day (mbd) as oil demand fell from 100 mbd to 91.1 mbd and prices plummeted from $70 in January 2020 to around $20 in April.
- The bloc has since gradually rolled back these steep cuts and hopes to return production to prepandemic levels by the end of 2022.
- The UAE has played hard ball during the bloc’s attempts to deal with the pandemic induced price volatility. In December, when OPEC+ tried to ease production cuts, the UAE insisted that members who diluted the original output reductions should compensate through even steeper cuts, following its own example.
- Thus, while the internal rift has been resolved for now, the danger cannot be ruled out of an increasingly economically and politically assertive UAE flexing its muscle.
- Any potential break with the bloc would undoubtedly prove far more consequential for the OPEC than the 2019 exit of Qatar.
- Bilateral relations between the traditional allies, Saudi Arabia and the UAE, have been especially strained since the UAE established diplomatic ties with Israel last year and withdrew troops from the Saudispearheaded war in Yemen the year before.
- A more recent arena of tension is the tariffs Riyadh has imposed on imports from the sixnation Gulf Cooperation Council. Saudi Arabia will now exclude from the GCC tariff agreement goods made by companies with a workforce of less than 25% of locals and industrial products with less than 40% of added value after their transformation process.
- Home to a predominantly migrant population, the move could hit the UAE especially hard.
Peak in oil demand
- The latest OPEC compromise echoes growing recognition of the delicate balance between competing domestic and global priorities.
- Foremost is their eagerness to maximise the returns on their substantial hydrocarbon resources, amid growing speculation of a peak in oil demand within sight.
- The OPEC, echoing other assessments, forecast in 2016 that a strict implementation of the Paris climate accord could see the demand for oil peak by 2030, owing to the proliferation of alternative fuels and electric cars.
- Conversely, its report last year pins hope on population growth and expansion of the middle class for continued increase in oil demand. The International Energy Agency (IEA), which in 2016 forecast a continued rise in oil consumption until the 2040s, has more recently hinted at about 5% rise or fall relative to the demand before the pandemic within a decade.
- The OPEC’s other concerns are the stabilisation of world oil prices without jeopardizing national expenditure programmes, and the diversification of economies in anticipation of the unfolding global energy transition. Unity would be of the essence amid this uncertainty.