India’s immediate objective in the context of the ongoing Afghanistan crisis is ensuring the return of its citizens, numbering in the thousands. These include many from Uttarakhand. With the resumption of flights from Kabul Airport, it is hoped that arrangements will be made with the US for Indian aircraft to fly in. There is also the problem of Indian citizens getting to the airport from distant parts of the country, who were caught as much by surprise as anybody else with the speed of the Taliban takeover. They may be asked to stay put under the care of their employers till such time there is more clarity on the situation. The Taliban, too, may have to be approached at some level to ensure their safe evacuation, before the new regime reverts to its old ways.
It may be noted that the Taliban are a collection of warring groups that may not follow the directions of those in power at the Centre. As such, there is no guarantee that the assurances being given at the present regarding good treatment will be followed. The Hindu, Sikh and other minorities who are presently citizens of Afghanistan may come under serious threat. While the Indian Government has already stated that they will be provided sanctuary, getting out remains a major challenge. All diplomatic and other leverage needs to be used to ensure their safety.
In the longer term, India will be concerned about the general meltdown in the region. Iran is already a theological state at loggerheads with the West. Pakistan under born again Muslim Imran Khan is moving rapidly in the direction of misogynistic orthodoxy. Now, Afghanistan has also succumbed. Islamic fundamentalism and the world-view that it espouses will pose a major security threat, even as imposition of sanctions will create huge economic hardship, further aggravating the situation. (Already, the US has frozen up to 9.5 billion dollars of Afghanistan’s Central Bank assets.) This is bound to have a spillover effect on India, particularly with China cosying up to the Taliban. An immediate result may be large scale arrival of refugees of all denominations. This would cause multi-dimensional problems, particularly during Covid times. There are also many Afghans living here – workers and students – who will need to be repatriated, or maybe accommodated if they do not wish to go. Much of what happens depends on how determined the Taliban are to gain international acceptability. That is the only silver lining, at the present. All the same, South Asia needs to prepare for the long haul.