The Taliban’s blitzkrieg through Afghanistan has prompted concerns about an impending humanitarian crisis. Of particular concern is the fate of the country’s minorities and women, as well as those who worked with foreign forces anytime over the past two decades in roles ranging from translators to private military contractors. The international community fears that the Taliban might carry out wanton acts of violence against them in accordance with its ultra-nationalist and -fundamentalist ideologies. Nevertheless, few have yet to step up to the plate to offer those who might be most directly affected by this dark scenario a credible path to safety.
India therefore has a chance to make a meaningful humanitarian difference in Afghanistan so long as it has the political will. It might be politically unpalatable for its ruling Hindu nationalist government, but if New Delhi truly believes in democracy and human rights like it officially claims to, then it should offer every Afghan the opportunity to come to the country on an emergency basis. The optics of potentially hundreds of thousands if not several million, mostly Muslim refugees fleeing to India, might upset certain nationalist forces, but it would send a powerful signal to the rest of the world that India is serious about saving them from potential death.
Not only that, but India could convincingly counteract the growing impression abroad that its present government discriminates against its Muslim minority if it allows so many Afghan Muslims to seek refuge there. Nothing on this scale has ever been considered before, but it’s an excellent way to turn a crisis into an opportunity by exploiting the cloud’s silver lining, so to speak. India would therefore accomplish several major soft power objectives at once: it would show how serious it is about defending democracy and human rights; it would literally save countless lives; and it would improve its international reputation.
There might still be time to carry out this unprecedented rescue mission too. The Taliban threatened to pursue a so-called “anaconda strategy” of choking off Kabul until the internationally recognized government there collapses. The group fears not being recognized by the international community if it comes to power by force after the countries that took part in the latest Doha talks threatened to withhold legitimacy from them if that happens. This means that it might not actually attack Kabul after all if its leadership stays focused on this diplomatic goal and their rank-and-file remains disciplined.
Nevertheless, the Taliban also said that it won’t agree to any peace deal unless Afghan President Ashraf Ghani first resigns. India has immense influence over his government and might be able to convince him to stop clinging to power, which is mostly symbolic at this point anyhow, since the state has already collapsed almost everywhere in the country apart from Kabul. New Delhi might even offer him asylum too, which would immediately result in a peaceful political solution to the war. Public progress towards negotiating that pragmatic end might also convince the Taliban to hold off on attacking the capital until the deal is sealed.