The Taliban must not return

India's stakes in Afghanistan are high enough to justify joining the coalition to maintain peace there 
Continuing civil unrest and militancy in Afghanistan do not augur well for strategic stability in Southern Asia . C. Raja Mohan's reminder that India is not doing enough to safeguard its interests in Afghanistan ('No Control on Durand Line', IE, September 29) should serve as a timely warning to the government to prepare contingency plans for a robust engagement. Afghanistan, which lies well within India's strategic frontiers, provides a gateway to the oil and gas rich Central Asian Republics. It could be roped in to countervail Pakistan and is a useful trading partner. Above all, Afghanistan has traditionally had friendly relations with India and, except during the Taliban years, rather tentative relations with Pakistan . As Chanakya remarked over two millennia ago, your adversary's rival is your friend. 
When the Taliban came to power, a question often asked was whether India would seek external help if it became necessary to rescue the Indian ambassador or his staff from Kabul. That contingency did not arise but a more challenging one arose when the Indian Airlines flight IC-814 was hijacked to Kandahar. While limited military options were available even then, an under-confident political leadership apparently failed to even consider them. The ignominious surrender to the Jaish-e-Mohammed terrorists and their Taliban hosts showcased India's poor strategic culture and lack of appropriate military intervention capability. 
Several Indian companies are today engaged in the post-war rebuilding of Afghanistan and many others may be awarded lucrative contracts in the future. However, due to inimical vested interests at play, reconstruction activities will remain prone to disruption unless security is guaranteed. While well-trained para-military forces should suffice to provide close protection to workers strung out over long distances, pro-active offensive operations may sometimes be necessary to prevent hit-and-run attacks and these can only be undertaken by joint army and air force teams. 
Having burnt their fingers in an ill-conceived intervention in Sri Lanka, India 's political leaders are now hesitant to try any new experiments. However, India now aspires for its rightful place in the comity of nations and great nations must be prepared to take strategic risks to safeguard their national security interests. The government had very correctly turned down an American request to send Indian troops to Iraq in the summer of 2003, but the strategic stakes in Afghanistan are high enough to justify joining the coalition maintaining peace and stability. The Taliban must not be allowed to succeed a second time, as the repercussions will be felt in Kashmir and elsewhere in India. It is time to take the bull by the horns. 
The author is senior fellow, Centre for Air Power Studies, New Delhi