India and Taliban: What next after Afghan embassy closure?
Two years after the Taliban takeover of Kabul, the Afghan embassy in Delhi announced a cessation of operations, citing lack of support from the host government
Afghanistan's embassy in New Delhi ceased operations on 1 October, listing a series of allegations, including a lack of cooperation from the Indian government that allegedly hindered the embassy's operations.
"It is with profound sadness, regret, and disappointment that the embassy of Afghanistan in New Delhi announces this decision to cease its operations," the embassy said.
Since the Taliban seized power in Afghanistan two years ago, the embassy has symbolically represented the previous Afghan government rather than the Taliban regime.
The previous ambassador, Farid Mamundzay — who was appointed by the government of former Afghan President Ashraf Ghani — left India and never returned, creating a leadership void.
India, like many countries, does not recognise Afghanistan's Taliban government, causing diplomatic relations to be complex and challenging. However, the Afghan consulates in Mumbai and Hyderabad continue to function.
Officials at the ministry of external affairs pointed out the embassy had been acting as a "stateless mission", aiding Afghan citizens and travellers in India without representing the current rulers of Kabul. "An embassy is supposed to represent a legitimate authority. In this case, there is no representation," a senior official told DW.
Foreign policy experts and diplomats observe that India is currently calibrating its moves in Kabul by adopting a cautious middle path that will not recognise the Taliban and yet engage them to protect its interests in Afghanistan.
"For the past two years, New Delhi has been experimenting with various strategies of engaging the Taliban short of recognising them," Shanthie Mariet D'Souza, president of Mantraya, an independent research forum, told DW. "The Afghan embassy headed by the ambassador of the former Republican regime was seen as a symbol of resistance to the Taliban regime."
In a major step towards reestablishing its presence in Afghanistan, India sent a "technical team" to Kabul last year to coordinate the delivery of humanitarian assistance and to see how New Delhi can support the Afghan people.
"Since the opening of the technical mission of India in Kabul, the Taliban have been seeking reciprocity and demanding to place their own representative in Delhi. In some ways this change will now be possible," Amar Sinha, former Indian ambassador to Afghanistan, told DW.
"The two consulates will provide consular services to Afghans stranded in India," said Sinha, who suggested that the Taliban would need to accept such an arrangement.
According to D'Souza, an Afghanistan expert, New Delhi's policy toward the Taliban seems to be shifting, as an anti-Taliban stance jeopardises the execution of its projects, including its technical mission.
"In the past months, Taliban officials have welcomed India's 'diplomatic upgrade' in Kabul, requested India to complete its development projects, offered security to its mission, and have even requested New Delhi to train their security personnel," she said.
"New Delhi is moving slowly in engaging the Taliban, but the real test would be when Taliban demand that their candidate be appointed as an ambassador. The consulates are functioning under the Taliban command," D'Souza added.
Notably, the Taliban have taken control of several missions overseas where they have posted nominees. Pakistan, China, Russia and Iran are among the countries that have allowed the appointment of Taliban-endorsed diplomats.
Ajay Bisaria, a former high commissioner to Pakistan, said the closure of the embassy in New Delhi could be seen in the context of India's pragmatic policy towards the Taliban. "Despite not recognising the regime, India has a technical team in place in Kabul and is willing to have conversations with the Taliban to promote Indian interests and the welfare of the Afghan people," Bisaria told DW.
Closing or opening the Afghan mission is an internal Afghan issue, to which India is not party, said Bisaria. "The call that India would have to take would be whether to acquiesce if the Taliban requests Indian approval to place a 'technical team' in New Delhi, mirroring the arrangement in Kabul."
It is still early days on how New Delhi will formulate its policies towards Afghanistan, a nation over which it exercised vast influence prior to the Taliban takeover.
Some feel the goodwill it had garnered in the last two decades would be lost if New Delhi does not craft a careful strategy of helping Afghans in need and not the regime. "New Delhi needs to pay heed to the fact that Afghanistan needs a long-term stabilisation effort beyond the diplomatic and strategic manoeuvring that is taking place," said D'Souza.