India on Sunday said it has “temporarily” brought back officials from its consulate in Kandahar, a major city in southern Afghanistan, as Taliban fighters continue to gain control amid the withdrawal of international forces. However, sources said New Delhi is also delivering ammunition to the beleaguered Kabul administration and has recently sent two cargo planes to Kabul and Kandahar, full of artillery shells. The same planes were used to evacuate Indian officials from the two cities.
These reports clearly expose the double game being played by the Indian government, where it is engaging with the Taliban in Doha and is at the same time providing ammunition to be used against them. This development only further vindicates Pakistan’s concerns about India acting as a spoiler in Afghanistan. It is imperative that we raise this issue with regional and international actors involved in the peace process because repeating mistakes of the past has to be avoided at all costs.
Even if we acknowledge that India was doing the right thing by keeping its diplomats safe, we must still question why the planes allegedly flew in several tons of artillery munitions. India’s strong intelligence presence in Afghanistan has been well-established. Their close ties to leading members of the Kabul government have reportedly allowed them a free hand in anti-Pakistan activities. At the same time, there have also been recent reports in Indian, Afghan, and other foreign media that India has been reaching out to groups and individual Taliban leaders and that they are not considered close to “Pakistan or Iran”.
This, when read with Afghan reports about Indian weapons being moved around Kabul, also raises a secondary concern — is India simply trying to keep communication open with the Ghani government and the Taliban, or is New Delhi double-dealing? The fact that the reports of arms shipments coincide with reports of India reaching out to the Taliban — upending their public stance of not engaging with the group — leads us to believe it is the latter. India’s concern is not that the Taliban are likely to overrun the country. It is the loss of a base for operations in Pakistan. They are now gambling on ways to convince the Taliban to maintain the status quo.
It is high time that India starts behaving as a responsible regional actor and works towards meaningfully contributing to regional security and stability. Picking sides to guard its parochial interests will only perpetuate the cycle of violence.