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India Looks West

A hostile China and the looming US withdrawal from Afghanistan have forced India to rethink its regional strategy. Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s government has thus sought to improve relations with Pakistan and engage with the Taliban – and for now, at least, it appears to be making the right moves.

NEW DELHI – Recent conciliatory moves by India’s nationalist government on its western flank have rightly aroused global interest. But Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s calculus appears relatively simple. Faced with continued Chinese aggression on India’s northern frontier and a likely Taliban resurgence in Afghanistan, improving relations on the country’s western flank, with Pakistan, seems prudent.

In recent weeks, there have been reports of secret back-channel talks between Indian and Pakistani security officials – facilitated by the United Arab Emirates – aimed at easing bilateral tensions. A February 2021 ceasefire along the Line of Control separating Indian and Pakistani forces in the disputed Kashmir region has so far held, permitting an atmosphere of near-normalcy in the area.

India has also been talking to the Taliban, which it long derided as surrogates for the Pakistani army, reflecting the increasing likelihood that the mullahs will reclaim power in Kabul following the withdrawal of US forces from Afghanistan in September. Furthermore, India has kept two of its consulates in Afghanistan closed since last year, a long-standing Pakistani demand that it had resisted for two decades.

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