UK Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab has made repeated references to close partner India as being crucial to the UK’s attempts at finding a long-term solution to the unfolding Afghan crisis.
“We must work to safeguard regional stability. That will require us to work with different partners, and it will require engagement with key regional players, including India, China, Russia, Pakistan and central Asian states, however difficult, complex or outside of our comfort zone that may prove,” UK Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab told the House of Commons in a special session convened this week to debate the unfolding crisis in Afghanistan since the Taliban took charge over the last weekend.
“Through our domestic sanctions regime and by working with the Indians, who chair the UN sanctions regime for Afghanistan, we will make sure that we can exercise a moderating influence on the Taliban regime,” he said.
This was just one of many references made by the senior British Cabinet minister, acknowledging the pivotal role of India – not least as one of the UK’s closest allies in the region.
As the situation escalated in the wake of the US troop withdrawal from the region, the West has been scrambling to come to grips with how best to handle the takeover by an infamously militant and unreliable regime.
The UK has indicated that one way forward would involve the creation of some form of international "contact group" to ensure Afghanistan can never be used to launch terrorist attacks against the UK or its allies.
“I think it’s incredibly important in all of this to be working with a wider group of not just like-minded countries but partners that can exercise maximum influence. And that will mean, difficult as it is, to engage with China and Russia as well as our closer partners like India,” Raab told the BBC earlier this week.
The minister, at the heart of the country’s evacuation efforts from a war-ravaged Afghanistan, admitted that the international community was “caught off guard” and that the scale of the advances of the Taliban “took us all by surprise”.
“Now it is about how we use every lever we have at our disposal to try and moderate the influence of the regime that comes in. The crucial thing will be working in the UN Security Council as a permanent member, using our G7 presidency, using not just with our NATO allies but with the key neighbouring and regional players and that will include difficult partners – from China and Russia, to Pakistan; India is going to be very important in this,” said Raab.
The debate in the special session of the UK Parliament this week veered towards concerns for the wider region, even as much of the anger was targeted at US President Joe Biden for his decision to withdraw American troops based on his predecessor Donald Trump’s dubious dealings with the Taliban.
“The collapse happened because a truly dreadful US President, Donald Trump, who was probably in hock to the Russians, dealt with the Taliban behind the Afghan government’s back — a shocking betrayal,” said Conservative Party MP Bob Seely told the Commons.
“Joe Biden… could have changed things. He has chosen not to and has opened the United States, Europe, India and many allies throughout the world to considerable terrorist risks from the 2,500 to 4,000 jihadi nut jobs — pardon my French — who are currently being released from Bagram, Kandahar and Kabul,” he said.
“We are now in a mess. China, Russia and Iran are hostile. What are we going to say to citizens in Taiwan, India, Pakistan and western Ukraine? They will all be worried,” noted another Tory MP Owen Paterson.
Meanwhile, in the House of Lords as well, peers pointed to the centrality of India.
“India is one of the top trading partners of Afghanistan. Has the Foreign Secretary, Dominic Raab, had a meeting with the Indian Foreign Minister Dr Jaishankar,” asked Lord Karan Bilimoria.
“The UK and India need to partner together. India has invested hugely in development projects in Afghanistan, such as on power, water supply, road connectivity, healthcare, education, agriculture and capacity building,” he said.
As the international community continues to grapple with one of its gravest foreign policy crises in recent times, there is no doubt that a thriving democracy like India has much to offer in an attempt to navigate the extremely precarious situation for South Asia.