Ever since Afghanistan plunged into crisis following the Taliban’s takeover in August 2021, India has been weighing options to restore its influence in Kabul. Since June 2022, India has reopened its embassy in Kabul, extended heaps of humanitarian assistance, developmental projects are resuming, and military training is on the cards. While India has been nudging the Taliban to revive its lost influence in Kabul, the latest card in the endeavor is the resettlement of Sikh/Hindu minorities in the Karte Parwan neighborhood.
Apparently, India attempts to paint a humanitarian picture of the resettlement of the Afghan Sikhs in Kabul; however, a more subtle motive is restoring its ability to promote the anti-Pakistan narrative in Afghanistan.
After the Taliban’s takeover in August 2021, India evacuated hundreds of Sikhs and Hindus to New Delhi, despite security assurances from the Taliban regime. Now, as New Delhi is warming up to the Afghan government, it plans to send the Afghan Sikhs back to the Karte Parwan neighborhood in Kabul, with a potential pretext for the revival of sabotage activities of India’s Research and Analysis Wing (RAW), especially against Pakistan. This is because Karte Parwan is not only a hub for Afghan minorities, especially Sikhs and Hindus, but also the zone of Indian influence operations, and the closest neighborhood to Pakistan’s Embassy in Kabul. Previously, Karte Parwan has been at the forefront of terrorist attacks from the Islamic State of Khurasan Province (ISKP), especially against the Sikh minorities, the Taliban fighters, and Pakistan. On June 18, 2022, the Gurdwara Karte Parwan came under attack, before a similar attack was launched on Pakistan’s Embassy in Kabul in December, which suggests the destabilizing nexus between India and the ISKP.
While the Afghan Sikhs may fear persecution under the Taliban regime, many have preferred Canada, the United States, and other Western countries over India for migration, as the latter is no longer seen as haven for minorities. India’s poor record of human rights violations has only gotten worse under the incumbent Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) government, with grave concerns expressed by American Senators and European Union. Fearing the worsening fate of the Afghan Sikhs in India, on August 30 last year, the Sikh Coalition, a group of Sikh rights organizations, in a letter to the Biden administration described India as “no more home” for the Sikh community under the BJP government. Adding to the miseries of Afghan Sikhs in India are the declining living conditions and lack of socioeconomic opportunities for the Sikh community; thus, many have been using New Delhi only as a transition point to Western countries.
At this juncture, when the Taliban regime is consolidating its power at home and diplomatic relations abroad, India intends to benefit from the politico-security disorder by planting their malign influence operations against Pakistan. The meteoric rise in the ISKP attacks in major Afghan cities including Kabul, Jalalabad, and Mazar-i-Sharif, especially on the Sikh Gurdwaras, is in tandem with India’s attempts to malign Pakistan on the pretext of terrorism. Before even the Taliban took over, the ISKP was established against the Afghan Taliban by foreign intelligence agencies including India’s RAW to advance their nefarious designs using Afghan soil. Raffaello Pantucci, Senior Associate Fellow at Britain’s Royal United Services Institute (RUSI), states in his article for the Foreign Policy Magazine, that, “Indians and the Central Asians are the new face of the Islamic State”, with many of the ISKP terrorists have been linked back to their terror safe havens in Indian states of Kerala and Tamil Nadu. India, together with the previous Afghan intelligence agencies, has aided terrorist groups including Tehrik-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP) in cross-border terrorism in Pakistan.
In the guise of Afghanistan’s largest donor, New Delhi has become the region’s biggest spoiler of peace by abetting terrorism, and supporting groups like the ISKP and the TTP in their attacks against minorities, the Taliban regime, and Pakistan.
Although India’s overtures to the Taliban regime suggest general trends of rapprochement, the former is more interested in using the Afghan territory for its malicious activities, especially against Pakistan. In this double game, India is using humanitarian assistance as a pretext to revive its influence operations to the detriment of the Emirate’s reputation as a responsible state. Therefore, at a time when gaining international diplomatic support is a supreme priority for the Taliban regime, India’s attempts to foster Ethno-religious violence and abetting terrorism on Afghan soil threaten the Taliban’s security and political interests. Above all, this could further dent the Taliban’s image as a failed government, making international recognition far from reality shortly.
Furqan Khan is an Assistant Research Associate at the Islamabad Policy Research Institute (IPRI). Previously, he has been a member of the Consortium of Indo-Pacific Researchers, and a Research Intern with the China Focus Program at the Carter Center in the United States. Khan holds a bachelor’s degree in International Relations from the National Defence University, Islamabad. His research interests include the impact of U.S.-China relations on the evolving South Asian geopolitics, with a special focus on China –Pakistan relations and its implications for the South Asian region (Afghanistan and India). @furqan_khans