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Taliban Must Look At Modernising Saudi Arabia As Its Model

India will clearly weigh various factors in deciding its Afghanistan policy going forward notwithstanding Indian domestic debate on the Taliban.

The Taliban delegation in Doha for Afghan peace talks in Qatar. (PTI/AP Image)

When the Taliban reached out to India, it was a part of an effort by the group to gain international recognition.

Foreign secretary Harsh V Shringla said in the US on Saturday that the Taliban had been “reasonable” and that India would adopt a wait and watch policy.

He noted that “the situation is very fluid on the ground, you have to allow it to see how it evolves.” No doubt India’s foreign policy will be dictated by hard-nosed strategic calculations when it comes to establishing links with the Taliban or having any presence in Afghanistan.

New Delhi will be guided by whether security on the ground allows for cooperation in spite of assurances by the Taliban and the role of Pakistan and other elements like the Haqqani network, which have been inimical to Indian interests.

Pakistan has cultivated close relations with the Taliban and now is in a central position in Afghanistan where it has for long sought to curtail Indian presence that grew under the stability provided by the US over the past two decades.

Pakistan, whose Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI) Chief, Lieutenant General Faiz Hameed is in Kabul to meet the Taliban, has said it will help in the formation of the Taliban government.

READ MORE: Panjshir Situation: Mullah Baradar, Anas Haqqani Fight For Power In Kabul; ISI Intervenes

India will clearly weigh all these factors in deciding its Afghanistan policy going forward notwithstanding the Indian domestic debate on the Taliban.

In India, there has been much debate on the Taliban takeover like elsewhere in the world and over whether India should establish links with the Taliban.

Within the country’s substantial Muslim community, too, a heated debate has erupted. So much so that veteran actor Naseeruddin Shah has condemned what he says are “sections of Indian Muslims celebrating the Taliban’s return to power in Afghanistan”, calling it dangerous.

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“Even as the Taliban’s return to power in Afghanistan is a cause for concern for the whole world, celebrations of the barbarians by some sections of Indian Muslims is no less dangerous,” Naseeruddin Shah said in a video on social media.

The Indian Muslims for Secular Democracy in a statement signed by over a hundred people including lyricist Javed Akhtar and actor Shabana Azmi rejected the idea of a “theocratic state anywhere in the world.”

Still, India is expected to explore how it can go forward in Afghanistan where it has made a substantial investment of over 3 billion dollars over the last two decades.

India has multifaceted ties with many countries around the world where strategic interests outweigh any other considerations. A key aspect of how India is pursuing its strategic interest is in the ties it has nurtured with countries in the Gulf countries.

And these relationships have only strengthened and flourished under PM Modi and the Bharatiya Janata Party. One of the most important relationships India enjoys is with Saudi Arabia.

Saudi Arabia is a key supplier of oil to India, helping diversify from oil supplies following sanctions on Iran, and is home to a substantial 2.6 million-strong Indian community, which is the largest expatriate community in the Kingdom.

The Counter-terror cooperation between the two countries, for instance, has been crucial for India. And clearly, India is not the only country to have a Taliban-sized problem.

Saudi Arabia, which was one of three countries that recognised and had close links to Taliban 1.0, which was in power from 1996 to 2001, is also facing a challenge in the takeover of Afghanistan by the Taliban.

The Taliban are Sunni Muslims, which is also the state religion of Saudi Arabia, where 90 per cent are Sunni Muslims. Taliban 1.0 was heavily influenced by ultra-conservative Saudi Arabia.

Those links snapped after the Gulf countries including Saudi Arabia snapped ties with the Taliban following the September 9, 2001 attacks on the US by Al Qaeda terrorists crashed planes, killing hundreds in the US. 

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The Taliban’s re-emergence comes at a time when Saudi king Mohammed bin Salman Al Saud, popularly known as MBS, has been trying to build a more modern image for his country and move away from the ultra-conservative strains that defined the kingdom.

This has reflected in greater rights for women from being able to drive to travel without a male guardian. It remains to be seen what kind of freedom the Taliban are willing to give to women.

For the Gulf nations as well as countries like India, the major concern is whether the developments in Afghanistan will result in a resurgence of terror outfits on its soil.

The Taliban has assured that it will not use its soil to be used by any terror outfit. In the Gulf, it is Qatar, not Saudi Arabia, that has emerged as the key link to the Taliban.

Qatar has been the base for negotiations between the Taliban and the US. It has played a pivotal role in the evacuation and remains a crucial player as the go-between with the Taliban, which has an office in Doha, and the US.  

Still, Saudi Arabia, when it chooses to do so, has individuals that can reach out to the Taliban.

But clearly, both India and Saudi Arabia have decided to wait and watch to see whether what the Taliban promise is reflected on the ground. And these decisions will be rooted in realism and security calculations.

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