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Afghanistan - Issue and Crisis, Detailed Analysis

  • 12 November, 2021

  • 7 Min Read

Context: Afghanistan- Issue and Crisis is an important topic for UPSC GS paper 2.

Historical Background-

Afghanistan was never ruled by a Single ruler. It has had a history of conquests by Alexander (330 BC), Mongol Empire (13th Century), Mughal conquests, Three Anglo Afghan Wars (1839-1842; 1878 – 1880 and 1919 respectively), Panjdeh incident (which was an armed engagement between the Afghanistan and Russian Empire in 1885 and the first major incursion into Afghanistan by Russia), etc.

  • During the Modern era, 1973 Afghan coup d’etat occurred. In a relatively bloodless coup, King Mohammed Zahir Shah was deposed on 17 July 1973 and the Republic of Afghanistan established and Monarchy abolished.
  • The coup was executed by the then-Army commander and prince, Mohammed Daoud Khan who led forces in Kabul along with then-chief of staff General Abdul Karim Mustaghni to overthrow the monarchy while the King was convalescing abroad in Ischia, Italy.
  • Daoud Khan was assisted by leftist Army officers and civil servants from the Parcham faction of the PDPA, including Air Force colonel Abdul Qadir.
  • King Zahir Shah decided not to retaliate and he formally abdicated on August 24, remaining in Italy in exile. More than two centuries of royal rule (since the founding of the Durrani Empire in 1747) ended.

Saur Revolution, 1979

  • Saur Revolution aka April Revolution or April coup was a coup d'état (or self-proclaimed revolution) led by the People's Democratic Party of Afghanistan (PDPA) against the rule of Afghan President Mohammed Daoud Khan on 27–28 April 1978.
  • Daoud Khan and most of his family were killed at the presidential palace by military officers in support of the PDPA.
  • The revolution resulted in the creation of a Soviet-aligned government with Nur Muhammad Taraki as President (General Secretary of the Revolutionary Council).
  • The revolution was ordered by PDPA member Hafizullah Amin, who would become a significant figure in the revolutionary government; at a press conference in New York in June 1978, Amin claimed that the event was not a coup but a revolution by the "will of the people".
  • The coup involved heavy fighting and resulted in many deaths.
  • The Saur Revolution was a significant event in Afghanistan's history, marking the onset of 43 years of conflict in the country.

The aftermath of Saur Revolution, 1978

  • Power was thereafter shared by two Marxist-Leninist political groups, the People’s (Khalq) Party and the Banner (Parcham) Party, which had earlier emerged from a single organization, the People’s Democratic Party of Afghanistan, and had reunited in an uneasy coalition shortly before the coup.
  • Taraki’s government introduced many modernisation reforms that were considered too radical and left them unpopular, especially in the rural areas and with the traditional power structures.
  • The new government, which had little popular support, forged close ties with the Soviet Union, launched ruthless purges of all domestic opposition, and began extensive land and social reforms that were bitterly resented by the devoutly Muslim and largely anti-Communist population.
  • Insurgencies arose against the government among both tribal and urban groups, and all of these—known collectively as the mujahideen ( “those who engage in jihad”)—were Islamic in orientation.
  • The communist party itself experienced deep internal rivalries between the Khalqists and Parchamites; in September 1979, People's Democratic Party General Secretary Nur Mohammad Taraki was assassinated under orders of the second-in-command, Hafizullah Amin, which soured relations with the Soviet Union.
  • With fears rising that Amin was planning to switch sides to the United States, the Soviet government, under leader Leonid Brezhnev, decided to deploy the 40th Army across the border on 24 December 1979.

Soviet-Afghan War : Deployment of Soviet Army (1979 – 89)

  • The Soviet–Afghan War was a conflict wherein insurgent groups (known collectively as the Afghan mujahideen), as well as smaller Maoist groups, fought a nine-year guerrilla war against the Soviet Army and the Democratic Republic of Afghanistan government throughout the 1980s, mostly in the Afghan countryside.
  • Arriving in the capital Kabul, Soviet army staged a coup (Operation Storm-333), killing General Secretary Amin and installing Soviet loyalist Babrak Karmal from the rival faction Parcham. The Soviet invasion was based on the Brezhnev Doctrine. Later Babrak Karmal was installed as the new President who was a Soviet Ally.
  • But the Mujahideen rebellion grew in response. The Soviets initially left the suppression of the rebellion to the Afghan army, but the latter was beset by mass desertions and remained largely ineffective throughout the war.
  • This intervention was seen as an invasion by the USA and other western nations.
  • While the Soviet army had control of the cities and towns, the insurgency groups called the Mujahideen had the rural parts of Afghanistan under their control.
  • A bitter war was fought between both groups. The Soviet Union, which had planned to stay for 6 months to a year in Afghanistan found themselves stuck in a war that was proving to be too costly.
  • The Mujahideen did not relent in their pursuit to ‘drive out’ the Soviets. They had the support of many countries like the USA, Pakistan, China, Iran, Egypt and Saudi Arabia.
  • They were given assistance like arms and training needed to fight the soviets.
  • The soviets followed a policy of wiping out the rural regions in order to defeat the Mujahideen. Millions of land mines were planted and important irrigation systems were destroyed.
  • As a result, millions of Afghan refugees took refuge in Pakistan and Iran. Some came to India as well. It is estimated that in the Soviet-Afghan war, about 20 lakh Afghan civilians were killed.
  • In 1987, after the reformist Mikhail Gorbachev came to power in the Soviet Union, he announced that his government would start withdrawing troops.

Geneva Accords (1988)-

  • The Geneva Accords, known formally as the agreements on the settlement of the situation relating to Afghanistan, were signed on 14 April 1988 at the Geneva headquarters of the United Nations, between Afghanistan and Pakistan, with the United States and the Soviet Union serving as guarantors.
  • The accords consisted of several instruments:
  1. A bilateral agreement between the Islamic Republic of Pakistan and the Republic of Afghanistan on the principles of mutual relations, in particular on non-interference and non-intervention;
  2.  A declaration on international guarantees, signed by the Soviet Union and the United States
  3. A bilateral agreement between Pakistan and Afghanistan on the voluntary return of Afghan refugees
  4. An agreement on the interrelationships for the settlement of the situation relating to Afghanistan, signed by Pakistan and Afghanistan and witnessed by the Soviet Union and the United States.
  • The agreements also contained provisions for the timetable of the withdrawal of Soviet troops from Afghanistan.
  • It officially began on 15 May 1988 and ended by 15 February 1989, thus putting an end to a nine-year-long Soviet occupation and Soviet–Afghan War.
  • The United States reneged on an agreement it had made, with White House clearance, albeit aloofness, in December 1985 to stop the supply of arms to the mujahideen through Pakistan once the Soviet withdrawal was complete.
  • Mikhail Gorbachev felt betrayed, but the Soviet Union was determined to withdraw and so the accords were supplanted with a contradictory "understanding" that the arms supply would continue.
  • The final soviet troops were withdrawn on 15 February 1989.
  • The Afghan resistance, or mujahideen, were neither party to the negotiations nor to the Geneva accords and so refused to accept the terms of the agreement. Now, the government of Afghanistan was left alone to fight the Mujahideen.
  • As a result, the civil war continued after the completion of the Soviet withdrawal. The Soviet-backed regime of Mohammad Najibullah failed to win popular support, territory, or international recognition but was able to remain in power until 1992, when it collapsed and was overrun by the mujahideen.
  • In April 1992 various rebel groups, together with newly rebellious government troops, stormed the besieged capital of Kabul and overthrew the communist president, Najibullah, who had succeeded Karmal in 1986.
  • Again, the Mujahideen had different factions within and they could not agree on power sharing. The country collapsed into a bloody civil war.

Afghan Civil War (1989 – 1996)-

  • This article covers the Afghan history from the Soviet withdrawal from Afghanistan on 15 February 1989 until 27 April 1992, the day after the proclamation of the Peshawar Accords proclaiming a new interim Afghan government which was supposed to start serving on 28 April 1992.
  • Mujahideen groups, some of them more or less united in the Islamic Unity of Afghanistan Mujahideen, in the years 1989–1992 proclaimed as their conviction that they were battling the hostile "puppet regime" of the Republic of Afghanistan in Kabul.
  • In March 1989, the mujahideen groups Hezb-e Islami Gulbuddin and Ittehad-e Islami in cooperation with the Pakistani ISI Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI) attacked Jalalabad but they were defeated by June.
  • In March 1991, a mujahideen coalition quickly conquered the city of Khost. In March 1992, having lost the last remnants of Soviet support, President Mohammad Najibullah agreed to step aside and make way for a mujahideen coalition government.
  • One mujahideen group, Hezb-e Islami Gulbuddin, refused to confer and discuss a coalition government under the Pakistani sponsored Peshawar Peace Accords and invaded Kabul.
  • This kicked off a civil war, starting 25 April 1992, between initially three, but within weeks five or six mujahideen groups or armies.
  • On 25 April 1992, a civil war had ignited between three, later five or six, mujahideen armies, when Hezb-e Islami Gulbuddin led by Gulbuddin Hekmatyar and supported by Pakistan’s Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI) refused to form a coalition government with other mujahideen groups and tried to conquer Kabul for themselves. After four months, already half a million residents of Kabul had fled the heavily bombarded city.
  • The following years, several times some of those militant groups formed coalitions, and often broke them again.
  • By mid 1994, Kabul's original population of two million had dropped to 500,000.

Rise of Taliban-

  • Partly as a response, the Taliban (Pashto for “Students”), a puritanical Islamic group led by a former mujahideen commanderMohammad Omar, emerged in the fall of 1994.
  • In 1995–96, the new militia the Taliban, supported by Pakistan and ISI, had grown to be the strongest force. Many of them were trained in Pakistan when they were in refugee camps.
  • By late 1994, the Taliban had captured Kandahar, in 1995 they took Herat, in early September 1996 they took Jalalabad, and eventually in late September 1996 they captured Kabul. By 1998, almost entire Afghanistan was under the control of the Taliban.
  • Fighting would continue the following years, often between the now dominant Taliban and other groups.
  • The Islamic State of Afghanistan government remained the recognized government of Afghanistan of most of the international community, the Taliban's Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan however received recognition from Saudi Arabia, Pakistan and the United Arab Emirates. The defence minister of the Islamic State of Afghanistan, Ahmad Shah Massoud, created the United Front (Northern Alliance) in opposition to the Taliban.
  • The United Front included all Afghan ethnicities: Tajiks, Uzbeks, Hazaras, Turkmens, some Pashtuns and others.
  • Many of the Mujahideen warlords fled to the north of the country and joined the Northern Alliance who were fighting the Taliban.
  • This time, Russia lent support to the Northern Alliance, though they were fighting against them earlier.
  • During the conflict, the Taliban received military support from Pakistan and financial support from Saudi Arabia.
  • Pakistan militarily intervened in Afghanistan, deploying battalions and regiments of its Frontier Corps and Army against the United Front.
  • Al Qaeda supported the Taliban with thousands of imported fighters from Pakistan, Arab countries, and Central Asia.
  • The Taliban ruled the country under strict interpretation of the Sharia law and many of the progress with regard to women and education which the country had seen earlier, were reversed.
  • Girls were forbidden from attending schools and women banned from working.
  • The Taliban-ruled country also became a safe haven for international terrorists.
  • Only Pakistan, the UAE and Saudi Arabia recognised the Taliban government.

9/11 Attacks and invasion by USA-

  • Al-Qaeda, led by Osama Bin Laden in Afghanistan, carried out the largest terror attack ever conducted on US soil. Four commercial airliners were hijacked. Two are flown into the World Trade Centre in New York, which collapses. One hits the Pentagon building in Washington, and one crashes into a field in Pennsylvania. Nearly 3,000 people were killed.
  • In 2001, a US-led coalition defeated the Taliban in response to 9/11 and US attacks of 2001 and established another government in place.
  • After the initial objectives were completed, a coalition of over 40 countries (including all NATO members) formed a security mission in the country called International Security Assistance Force (ISAF, succeeded by the Resolute Support Mission (RS) in 2014) of which certain members were involved in military combat allied with Afghanistan's government.
  • The war mostly consisted of Taliban insurgencies fighting against the Afghan Armed Forces and allied forces; the majority of ISAF/RS soldiers and personnel are American.
  • The war was code-named by the US as Operation Enduring Freedom (2001–2014) and Operation Freedom's Sentinel (2015–2021).
  • Following the September 11 attacks in 2001, George W. Bush demanded that the Taliban, then-de facto ruling Afghanistan, hand over Osama bin Laden.
  • The Taliban's refusal to extradite him led to Operation Enduring Freedom; the Taliban and their Al-Qaeda allies were mostly defeated in the country by US-led forces, and the Northern Alliance which had been fighting the Taliban since 1996.
  • At the Bonn Conference, new Afghan interim authorities (mostly from the Northern Alliance) elected Hamid Karzai to head the Afghan Interim Administration.
  • The United Nations Security Council established the ISAF to assist the new authority with securing Kabul.
  • A nationwide rebuilding effort was also made following the end of the Taliban regime.

Reorganization of Taliban

  • Following defeat in the initial invasion, the Taliban was reorganized by Mullah Omar and launched an insurgency against the Afghan government in 2003.
  • Insurgents from the Taliban and other groups waged asymmetric warfare with guerrilla raids and ambushes in the countryside, suicide attacks against urban targets, and turncoat killings against coalition forces.
  • The Taliban exploited weaknesses in the Afghan government to reassert influence across rural areas of southern and eastern Afghanistan.
  • From 2006 the Taliban made further gains and showed an increased willingness to commit atrocities against civilians; ISAF responded by increasing troops for counter-insurgency operations to "clear and hold" villages. Violence escalated from 2007 to 2009.
  • Troop numbers began to surge in 2009 and continued to increase through 2011 when roughly 140,000 foreign troops operated under ISAF and US command in Afghanistan.
  • NATO leaders in 2012 commenced an exit strategy for withdrawing their forces and later the United States announced that its major combat operations would end in December 2014, leaving a residual force in the country.
  • On 28 December 2014, NATO formally ended ISAF combat operations in Afghanistan and officially transferred full security responsibility to the Afghan government. The NATO-led Operation Resolute Support was formed the same day as a successor to ISAF.

How have the Taliban managed to stay so strong?

  • The group could be making as much as $1.5bn (£1.2bn) a year, a huge increase even within the past decade. Some of this is through drugs - Afghanistan is the world's largest opium producer, and most opium poppies - used for heroin - are grown in Taliban-held areas.
  • But the Taliban also make money by taxing people who travel through their territory, and through businesses like telecommunications, electricity and minerals.
  • Foreign countries, including Pakistan and Iran, have denied funding them, but private citizens from the region are thought to have done so.
  • The figures for Afghan civilians are more difficult to quantify. A UN report in February 2019 said more than 32,000 civilians had died. The Watson Institute at Brown University says 42,000 opposition fighters have died. The same institute says conflicts in Iraq, Syria, Afghanistan and Pakistan have cost the US $5.9 trillion since 2001.
  • The US is still conducting air strikes against the Taliban, instigated by the third president to oversee the war, Donald Trump. But he is keen to reduce troop numbers before he faces another election in November 2020.
  • The Taliban now control much more territory than they did when international troops left Afghanistan in 2014. Many in Washington and elsewhere fear that a full US troop pull-out would leave a vacuum that could be filled by militant groups seeking to plot attacks in the West. The Afghan people, meanwhile, continue to bear the brunt of the long and bloody conflict.

What do the Taliban and the United States want?

The negotiations appear to be focused on four elements:

  • Withdrawal of Foreign Forces: Both sides agree on the full withdrawal of the fourteen thousand U.S. troops currently in Afghanistan, as well as of additional foreign forces, but they disagree on the timeline. The United States is reportedly offering a two-and-a-half-year deadline, while the Taliban insists on nine months.
  • Counterterrorism Assurances: The Taliban has agreed to prevent Afghanistan from being used by terrorist groups, but negotiators disagree over how to define the terms “terrorism” and “terrorist.”
  • Intra-Afghan Dialogue: Washington has urged Afghan government and Taliban leaders to begin official talks on how Afghanistan will be governed after the war, but the Taliban refuses to negotiate with the government until after it has reached a deal with the United States.
  • Comprehensive Cease-fire: U.S. negotiators seek a permanent cease-fire among U.S., Taliban, and Afghan government forces prior to a peace deal, but the Taliban insists on putting off a cease-fire until U.S. troops have withdrawn.

Reasons for India to be part of reconciliation process with the Taliban:

  • Regional Stability: Security and Stability are foundations over which development can be built on. Peaceful neighbourhood and trouble free regional climate will provide space for the regimes to focus more on development as threats of violence by Taliban’s in the region will be minimized.
  • Counter China and Pakistan's vested interests: India should play a considerable role through Quadrilateral group plus 2 talks to thwart the efforts of china to place puppet regimes which can play according to their own vested interests. This can be counterproductive for India's aspirations and concerns.
  • Connectivity with Central Asia: India's trade with Central Asia and reaping benefits from the enhanced connectivity will be largely dependent on Afghanistan's domestic environment. A peaceful and cooperative Afghanistan will be a key pin in India's central Asia policy. The latest trilateral transit agreement between India. Iran and Afghanistan is a significant step in this direction.
  • TAPI for Energy security: Violence free Afghanistan is desideratum for finishing the project of TAPI and sustaining the benefits from it through energy supplies from Turkmenistan.
  • Gateway to "Link west" policy: Afghanistan will act as a gateway to India's increasing rigour on its west Asia policy.
  • Minerals of Afghanistan: The cost of access to minerals will be minimum and helpful in expanding the production of Indian Industries.

US- Taliban Deal

  • Recently, the U.S. signed a deal (at Qatar's capital-Doha) with the Taliban that could pave the way towards a full withdrawal of foreign soldiers from Afghanistan over the next 14 months and represent a step towards ending the 18-year-war in Afghanistan. Along with this, a separate joint declaration was also signed between the Afghan government and the US at Kabul.
  • The peace deal is expected to kick-off two processes- a phased withdrawal of US troops and an ‘intra-Afghan’ dialogue. The deal is a fundamental step to deliver a comprehensive and permanent ceasefire and the future political roadmap for Afghanistan peace process and the Central region.

Background of the Deal

  • On 11 September 2001, terrorist attacks in America killed nearly 3,000 people. Osama Bin Laden, the head of Islamist terror group al-Qaeda, was quickly identified as the man responsible.
  • The Taliban, radical Islamists who ran Afghanistan at that time, protected Bin Laden, refused to hand him over. So, a month after 9/11, the US launched airstrikes against Afghanistan.
  • The US was joined by an international coalition and the Taliban were quickly removed from power. However, they turned into an insurgent force and continued deadly attacks, destabilising subsequent Afghan governments.
  • Since then, the US is fighting a war against the Taliban.
  • Donald Trump’s 2017 policy on Afghanistan, was based on breaking the military stalemate in Afghanistan by authorising an additional 5,000 soldiers, giving US forces a freer hand to go after the Taliban, putting Pakistan on notice, and strengthening Afghan capabilities.
  • However, the US realised that the Taliban insurgency could not be defeated as long as it enjoyed safe havens and secure sanctuaries in Pakistan, the US changed track and sought Pakistan’s help to get the Taliban to the negotiating table.
  • The negotiations began in September 2018 with the appointment of Ambassador Zalmay Khalilzad to initiate direct talks with the Taliban. After nine rounds of US-Taliban talks in Qatar, the two sides seemed close to an agreement.

Salient Features of the Deal

  • Troops Withdrawal: The US will draw down to 8,600 troops in 135 days and the NATO or coalition troop numbers will also be brought down, proportionately and simultaneously. And all troops will be out within 14 months.
  • Taliban Commitment: The main counter-terrorism commitment by the Taliban is that Taliban will not allow any of its members, other individuals or groups, including al-Qaeda, to use the soil of Afghanistan to threaten the security of the United States and its allies.
  • Sanctions Removal: UN sanctions on Taliban leaders to be removed by three months and US sanctions by August 27. The sanctions will be out before much progress is expected in the intra-Afghan dialogue.
  • Prisoner Release: The US-Taliban pact says up to 5,000 imprisoned Taliban and up to 1,000 prisoners from “the other side” held by Taliban “will be released” by March 10.

Challenges in the Deal

  1. One-Sided Deal: The fundamental issue with the U.S.’s Taliban engagement is that it deliberately excluded the Afghan government because the Taliban do not see the government as legitimate rulers. Also, there is no reference to the Constitution, rule of law, democracy and elections in the deal.
    1. Taliban is known for strict religious laws, banishing women from public life, shutting down schools and unleashing systemic discrimination on religious and ethnic minorities, has not made any promises on whether it would respect civil liberties or accept the Afghan Constitution.
    2. Therefore, Shariat-based system (political system based on fundamental Islamic values) with the existing constitution is not easy.
  2. Issues with Intra-Afghan Dialogue:
    1. President Ashraf Ghani faces a political crisis following claims of fraud in his recent re-election.
    2. The political tussle is between Ashraf Ghani (who belongs to the largest ethnic group in Afghanistan- the Pashtun) and Abdullah Abdullah (whose base is among his fellow Tajiks, the second largest group in Afghanistan).
    3. If there are any concessions made by Mr Ghani’s government to the Taliban (predominantly Pashtun) will likely be interpreted by Mr Abdullah’s supporters as an intra-Pashtun deal reached at the cost of other ethnic groups, especially the Tajiks and the Uzbeks.
    4. Consequently, these ethnic fissures may descend into open conflict and can start the next round of civil war.
  3. Thus, the lifting of the US military footprint and the return of a unilateral Taliban could set the stage for the next round of civil war that has hobbled the nation since the late 1970s.
  4. Problem with Prisoner's Swap: The US-Taliban agreement and the joint declaration differ:
    1. The US-Taliban pact says up to 5,000 imprisoned Taliban and up to 1,000 prisoners from “the other side” held by Taliban “will be released” by March 10.
    2. However, the joint declaration lays down no numbers or deadlines for the prisoner's swap. Afghanistan President held that there is no commitment to releasing 5,000 prisoners. He also held that such prisoners' swap is not in the authority of the US, but in the authority of the Afghan government.
  5. Also, the Taliban is fragmented or divided internally. It is composed of various regional and tribal groups acting semi-autonomously.
    1. Therefore, it is possible that some of them may continue to engage in assaults on government troops and even American forces during the withdrawal process.
    2. It is unclear if there is a date for the complete withdrawal of US troops or for concluding the intra-Afghan dialogue, or how long the truce will hold.

Impact of the Deal on Other Stakeholders

  • US: The promise to end America’s “endless wars” in the greater Middle East region was one of the central themes of US President Donald Trump’s election campaign in 2016. This deal may demonstrate progress on that front in his bid for re-election later this year.
     
    • Though, the US doesn't recognise Taliban as a state under the name of Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan (key demand of Taliban), though many experts are of the view that this deal is a little more than a dressed-up U.S. surrender that will ultimately see the Taliban return to power.
  • Pakistan: The deal provides the strategic advantage to Pakistan, who is a long-time benefactor of the Taliban.
  • China: After the launch of the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC), Pakistan is seen as more of a protectorate state of China. Thus, China may leverage Pakistan's influence on the Taliban, to propel its strategic projects like the Belt and Road Initiative.

Impact of this Deal on India

  • This deal alters the balance of power in favour of the Taliban, which will have strategic, security and political implications for India. The deal may jeopardise the key stakes of India in Afghanistan:
  • India has a major stake in the stability of Afghanistan. India has invested considerable resources in Afghanistan's development.
  • India has a major stake in the continuation of the current Afghanistan government in power, which it considers a strategic asset vis-à-vis Pakistan.
     
    • An increased political and military role for the Taliban and the expansion of its territorial control should be of great concern to India since the Taliban is widely believed to be a protégé of Islamabad.
  • As Afghanistan is the gateway to Central Asia, the deal might dampen India’s interest in Central Asia.
  • Withdrawal of US troops could result in the breeding of fertile ground for various anti-India terrorist outfits like Lashkar-e-Taiba or Jaish-e-Mohammed.

MoU signed

MoU signed for the construction of the Shahtoot dam to provide drinking water to Kabul.

  • The proposed dam will be in the Kabul river basin. It is one of the five river basins in Afghanistan.
  • The dam will provide drinking, irrigation, and Environmental water for Kabul province.
  • This is the second major dam being built by India in Afghanistan, after Salma Dam which was inaugurated in 2016.

But the recent Taliban invasion in Afghanistan has paused back the developmental processes undertaken by India .New practical ways has to be mooted by India , considering the new political reality in Afghanistan.

EDITORIAL-Undefined role

India must be clear on how it wants to shape Afghanistan’s destiny under the Taliban

  • By holding the Third Regional Security Dialogue on Afghanistan, chaired by NSA Ajit Doval, New Delhi has sent out three strong messages:
  1. one, that it wishes to remain an important and engaged player in the future of Afghanistan;
  2.  second, that with the exit of U.S.-NATO troops, the ideal solution to the situation is through consensus in Afghanistan’s extended neighbourhood including Russia; and
  3.  third, that the Afghan humanitarian crisis should be the region’s immediate priority and political differences can be set aside to help.
  • It is the last message that spurred New Delhi to invite the NSAs from China and Pakistan, despite the LAC standoff and deep differences with the Imran Khan government over Kashmir and cross-border terrorism.
  • By declining the invitation, Beijing and Islamabad have made it clear that they do not intend to assist India in its Afghan engagement, further demonstrated by the Khan government’s churlishness in refusing India road access to send wheat and medicines to Kabul.
  • To that end, the Delhi Declaration issued by the eight participating nations, including Iran and Russia, is a milestone in keeping India inside the discussion on Afghanistan.
  • The declaration goes farther than the previous such regional discussion of SCO countries in Dushanbe in September, in its strong language on terrorism, terror financing and radicalisation.
  • It also expands on the need for an inclusive government in Kabul that will replace the Interim Taliban regime, and promotes a national reconciliation process.
  • While the consensus over the Delhi Declaration is a creditable feat, it does not paper over all the differences between India and the other countries over their far stronger engagement with Kabul.
  • For instance, Turkmenistan sent a Ministerial delegation to discuss connectivity with the Taliban, while Uzbekistan accorded the visiting Taliban Deputy PM full protocol and discussed trade, transit and the construction of a railway line. Russia and Iran still maintain their embassies in Kabul, and a “Troika-plus” U.S.-China-Russia-Pakistan engagement is taking place with the Taliban Foreign Minister, in Islamabad this week.
  • With the “normalisation” of ties with the Taliban regime growing, New Delhi must now consider how far it wishes to go in its engagement with Afghanistan.
  • On the one hand, India has publicly held talks with Taliban officials twice and expressed solidarity with Afghans, but on the other has refused practically all visa seekers, made no monetary contribution to the humanitarian crisis there, and has made no bid to continue with plans for trade and connectivity with Afghanistan.
  • India’s desire to lead the discussion on Afghanistan’s destiny, as demonstrated by the NSA dialogue, is a worthy goal for a regional leader, but can only be fulfilled once the Government defines more clearly what it wants its Afghan role to be, despite all its differences with the regime now in power.

Way Forward

  • An independent, sovereign, democratic, pluralistic and inclusive Afghanistan is crucial for peace and stability in the region. In order to ensure this:
  • The Afghan peace process should be Afghan-led, Afghan-owned and Afghan-controlled.
  • Also, there is a need for the global community to fight against the global concern of terrorism. In this context, it is high time to adopt the Comprehensive Convention on International Terrorism (proposed by India at UN in 1996).
  • Though the deal is a good step, the road ahead would not be easy. Achieving lasting peace in Afghanistan will require patience and compromise among all parties.

 

 

 

Source: The Hindu

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