Russian President Putin and Indian Prime Minister Modi held a phone call with one another earlier this week where they pledged to coordinate more closely on Afghanistan. According to the Kremlin’s official readout, “While exchanging opinions on Afghanistan, the parties noted the importance of concerted efforts, which would help establish peace and stability in the country and ensure security in the region in general. They expressed their determination to increase cooperation in opposing the spread of terrorist ideology and the threat of the drugs emanating from Afghan territory. They agreed to establish a two-way channel for permanent consultations on this issue.”
This is important because each country can help the other advance their interests in that third country in the spirit of their special and privileged strategic partnership. India has no influence in Afghanistan anymore after refusing to publicly enter into talks with the Taliban and thus voluntarily excluding itself from the Extended Troika which regards such ties as a prerequisite to participating in that format. The South Asian state also evacuated all of its diplomats from there too. It’s therefore entirely reliant on Russia to understand the evolving situation in Afghanistan since it can’t trust China’s, Pakistan’s, or US’ assessments. Even though Russia officially designates the Taliban as terrorists, it enjoys excellent political and security ties with the group.
From the Russian perspective, India’s critical views of the Taliban and everything that’s happening in Afghanistan right now more broadly can serve as a much-needed counterweight to that group’s statements that are partially intended to improve Moscow’s perceptions of it. It’s always useful to have alternative interpretations of events against which to compare prevailing or emerging ones such as the generally positive assessment that Russian officials have of the Taliban right now (again, in spite of officially designating it as a terrorist group). India’s perspective on everything is very important for Russia since these two countries trust one another and value their input on various issues whenever it’s requested.
In terms of tangible dividends, their closer coordination on Afghanistan can help their security agencies more effectively counter the potential spread of terrorist ideologies from that country following the Taliban’s rapid takeover earlier this month. Although the group has never espoused any intentions of expanding its influence beyond Afghanistan’s borders, other organizations might be inspired by their recent victory. The Taliban’s savvy social media campaign might also influence them too, whether that’s the group’s intent or not. It’s also a pressing priority for both Great Powers to stop the shared drug threat coming from that country, to which end their respective agencies must work closer together and share relevant intelligence.
As it presently stands, India potentially gains more from Russia than the reverse. New Delhi aspires to regain some of its influence in Afghanistan since it already invested over $3 billion in various developmental projects there, yet it has no realistic inroad for doing so apart from hoping that Moscow can potentially mediate between it and the Taliban sometime in the future. Russia has already reaffirmed its interest in India participating in the Extended Troika, but the onus remains on New Delhi with respect to its decision whether or not to enter into public talks with the Taliban per the prerequisite for joining this format. If any positive developments occur on this front, then they’ll likely be due to Russia’s behind-the-scenes support.