Foreign Policy Watch: India-Afghanistan

Foreign Policy Watch: India-Afghanistan

Heart of Asia – Istanbul Process (HoA-IP)

Note4Students

From UPSC perspective, the following things are important :

Prelims level : Heart of Asia – Istanbul Process

Mains level : Afghan peace process

External Affairs Minister S Jaishankar has attended the Heart of Asia Conference in Dushanbe, Tajikistan.

The 9th Heart of Asia-Istanbul Process (HoA-IP) ministerial conference is part of the Istanbul Process – a regional initiative on security and cooperation for a stable and peaceful Afghanistan – that was launched on November 2, 2011, in Turkey.

Note the participating countries from the logo itself.

Heart of Asia – Istanbul Process

  • The Heart of Asia – Istanbul Process (HoA-IP) is an initiative of Afghanistan and Turkey, which was officially launched at a conference hosted by Turkey in Istanbul on 2 November 2011.
  • Since then, Afghanistan supported by fourteen participating countries and supporting countries beyond the region as well as 12 Regional and International Organizations is leading and coordinating this Process.

Goals of the Process

  • The HoA-IP aims at promoting and strengthening peace, security, stability and prosperity in Afghanistan and in the region.
  • The HoA-IP has become one of the most interactive voluntary state-groupings in the HoA Region.
  • It brings Afghanistan’s immediate and extended neighbours as well as international supporters together through the following focus areas:
  1. Political Consultations
  2. Implementation of the Confidence Building Measures (CBMs)
  3. Cooperation with Regional Organizations

Note: India too, has held the Ministerial Conferences of HoA-IP back on 4 December 2016 at Amritsar.

By Dr V

Doctor by Training | AIIMSONIAN | Factually correct, Politically not so much | Opinionated? Yes!

Foreign Policy Watch: India-Afghanistan

The Afghan Endgame and the US

Note4Students

From UPSC perspective, the following things are important :

Prelims level : Taliban Peace Deal

Mains level : Restoration of democracy in Afghanistan

As the May 1 deadline for pulling out all American troops from Afghanistan nears, US President Joe Biden faces some difficult decisions.

Key tasks for the US before they exit

  • The U.S. could abide by the promise made in the U.S.-Taliban agreement signed in February 2020 to withdraw the last of the around 2,500 American Marines stationed in Afghanistan.
  • However, Mr Biden has said it would be tough given the levels of violence there.
  • The US could negotiate with the Taliban for an extension of the agreement, offering other incentives like the release of more prisoners and the delisting of sanctioned Taliban terrorists.
  • The other option is to scrap the 2020 agreement and back the Ashraf Ghani government to continue towards a negotiated settlement, even as US troops remain in Afghanistan to stabilize the security situation.

What is the US likely to do?

  • The US exit plan is still underway and that no decision on the length of stay or troop numbers have been made to this point, cleared the US Secy of Defence.
  • No U.S. troops have been targeted by Taliban militants in the past year, but violence against Afghan civilians, particularly women, journalists, students and activists has gone up manifold despite the peace agreement.
  • More than 3,000 civilians were killed in 2020.
  • The US has shown some impatience with the Ghani government as well, believing that it is dragging its feet on intra-Afghan negotiations that began last year in Doha but have stalled for the moment.

Plans for Ashraf Ghani

  • A US plan proposes that Mr Ghani step up negotiations with the Taliban for “power-sharing”, discuss principles of future governance and step aside eventually for a “more inclusive” or interim government. The
  • The tone of the letter seems to make it clear that the US is not in favour of completely scrapping the 2020 agreement.
  • Therefore, it is most likely to pursue the option of negotiating for an extension of the agreement, according to experts, as it builds other dialogue platforms.

Try this question from our AWE Initiative:

What is President Ghani’s plan?

  • Ghani has proposed his own peace plan.
  • It would involve a full ceasefire, inviting the Taliban to participate in early elections in Afghanistan, and then for Mr Ghani to hand over power to the elected government.
  • He also said no regional talks could be successful if they did not include India, which is a development partner and a stakeholder.

Where does India stand?

  • India’s position has been to back an “Afghan-owned, Afghan-led, Afghan-controlled” peace process, backing the elected government in Kabul, and it has not yet held talks with the Taliban directly.
  • As a result, its option remains to stand with the Ghani government and support the constitution that guarantees a democratic process and rights of women and minorities, over any plans the Taliban might have if they come to power.
  • At the same time, India has not foreclosed on the option of talking to the Taliban if it does join the government in Afghanistan.
  • India too has made it clear that it seeks to be an integral part of the process, as the outcomes will have a deep impact on India’s security matrix as well.

By Dr V

Doctor by Training | AIIMSONIAN | Factually correct, Politically not so much | Opinionated? Yes!

Foreign Policy Watch: India-Afghanistan

Biden’s Afghanistan Peace Plan

Note4Students

From UPSC perspective, the following things are important :

Prelims level : NA

Mains level : Afghan peace process

The Joe Biden administration has proposed a new peace plan to the Afghan government and the Taliban, seeking to bring violence to a halt and form an interim government.

What is Biden’s proposal?

  • The US has asked the Afghan President to show “urgent leadership in the coming weeks”.

The proposal included many elements.

  • It has proposed an UN-led conference of representatives of Russia, China, Pakistan, Iran, India and the US to discuss a unified approach to support peace in Afghanistan.
  • It urges both sides including the Taliban to reach a consensus on Afghanistan’s future constitutional and governing arrangements.
  • It asks to find a road map to a new “inclusive government”; and agree on the terms of a “permanent and comprehensive ceasefire”.

Why the US is making this peace push?

  • The US has pointed out that accelerating the peace process is the best way to advance the shared interests of the US and the Afghan government.
  • According to the agreement the U.S. signed with the Taliban in February 2020, American troops – currently some 2,500 troops are in Afghanistan – are set to vacate by May 1.
  • The Taliban and the Afghan government started peace talks in Doha in September last year but reached no breakthrough.
  • The Biden administration is concerned about the slow pace of the talks.

Why is the US delaying troops withdrawal?

  • The US assessment is that if American troops are pulled out of Afghanistan, the Taliban would make quick gains.
  • So, the Biden administration’s believes that the Taliban are on the ascent.
  • It hopes that the best way to prevent a complete Taliban takeover is a regional peace process and an interim unity government.
  • The Taliban are yet to respond to America’s proposal.

What is the Afghan government’s stand?

  • The Ghani administration has consistently been critical of the US’s direct outreach to the Taliban.
  • The Trump administration held direct talks with the Taliban, excluding the government.
  • Later, Washington put pressure on Kabul to release Taliban prisoners as part of an agreement it reached with the insurgents.
  • Even when the Doha talks between the Taliban and the Afghan government were underway, Mr Ghani made it clear that he, as elected President, is the only legitimate representative of the Afghan people.
  • He resisted making concessions to the Taliban.

India’s position in the process

  • Since the Afghan peace process began two years ago, India’s role in it has been peripheral at best.
  • Our EAM has iterated India’s long-held support for an “Afghan-led, Afghan-owned, and Afghan-controlled” peace process.

What lies ahead

  • While the Afghan government’s opposition to sharing power with the Taliban is well known, it is not clear whether Mr Ghani could continue to resist American pressure.
  • And if the Biden administration decides to stick to the Taliban deal and withdraw troops by May, Mr Ghani would be in a tougher spot.
  • The people of Afghanistan do not have any good options. If Ghani rejects the American offer, the war will continue forever.
  • The Taliban have already taken over much of the country’s hinterlands and are breathing down the neck of its cities.
  • Either way, the Taliban are set to make gains.

By Dr V

Doctor by Training | AIIMSONIAN | Factually correct, Politically not so much | Opinionated? Yes!

Foreign Policy Watch: India-Afghanistan

Places in news: Shahtoot Dam

Note4Students

From UPSC perspective, the following things are important :

Prelims level : Shahtoot Dam

Mains level : India-Afghan relations

India and Afghanistan have signed an agreement to build the Shahtoot Dam in Kabul to provide drinking water facility in the Afghan capital.

Try this question from prelims 2020:

Consider the following pairs

Sr. River Flows into
1. Mekong Andaman Sea
2. Thames Irish Sea
3. Volga Caspian Sea
4. Zambezi Indian Ocean


Which of the pairs given above is/are correctly matched?

(a) 1 and 2 only

(b) 3 only

(c) 3 and 4 only

(d) 1, 2 and 4 only

Shahtoot Dam

  • It is a proposed dam in the Kabul river basin, one of the five river basins in Afghanistan.
  • This project will provide drinking, irrigation and Environmental water for Kabul province.
  • The dam will provide potable water to more than 2 million residents of Kabul, in addition to the irrigation of 4000 hectares of land in the district of Charasiab and Khairabad.
  • The dam will also provide water for irrigation to nearby areas, rehabilitate the existing irrigation and drainage network and help in flood protection and management efforts.
  • The project is expected to produce electricity for the region.

By Dr V

Doctor by Training | AIIMSONIAN | Factually correct, Politically not so much | Opinionated? Yes!

Foreign Policy Watch: India-Afghanistan

Role for India in Afghan peace push

Note4Students

From UPSC perspective, the following things are important :

Prelims level : Not much

Mains level : Paper 2- Afghan peace process and India's role

The U.S. objectives

  • Following  4 were the states as objectives of the Afghan peace process.
  • 1) An end to violence by declaring a ceasefire.
  • 2) An intra-Afghan dialogue for a lasting peace.
  • 3) The Taliban cutting ties with terrorist organisations such as al Qaeda.
  • 4)  U.S. troop withdrawal.

Evolving Indian stand in the peace process

  • India’s vision of a sovereign, united, stable, plural and democratic Afghanistan is one that is shared by a large constituency in Afghanistan, cutting across ethnic and provincial lines.
  • At Doha meeting, India’s External Affairs Ministerreiterated that the peace process must be “Afghan led, Afghan owned and Afghan controlled”.
  • But Indian policy has evolved from its earlier hands-off approach to the Taliban.
  • U.S. and Russian representatives suggested if India had concerns regarding anti-India activities of terrorist groups, it must engage directly with the Taliban. In other words.

Limited interest of the major powers

  • Major powers have limited interests in the peace process.
  • The European Union has made it clear that its financial contribution will depend on the security environment and the human rights record.
  • China can always lean on Pakistan to preserve its security and connectivity interests.
  • For Russia, blocking the drug supply and keeping its southern periphery secure from extremist influences is key.
  • That is why no major power is taking ownership for the reconciliation talks, but merely content with being facilitators.

Conclusion

A more active engagement will enable India to work with like-minded forces in the region to ensure that the vacuum created by the U.S. withdrawal does not lead to an unravelling of the gains registered during the last two decades.

By Dr V

Doctor by Training | AIIMSONIAN | Factually correct, Politically not so much | Opinionated? Yes!

Foreign Policy Watch: India-Afghanistan

In news: Loya Jirga

Note4Students

From UPSC perspective, the following things are important :

Prelims level : Loya Jirga

Mains level : Taliban

The Afghan Loya Jirga approves release of 400 ‘hard-core’ Taliban prisoners.

The term seems peculiar. We may expect a prelim question on the same.

What is Loya Jirga?

  • A Loya Jirga is a special type of jirga, or legal assembly, in Pashtunwali, the traditional code of laws of the Pashtun people.
  • It is mainly organized for choosing a new head of state in case of sudden death, adopting a new constitution, or to settle national or regional issue such as war.
  • It predates modern-day written or fixed laws and is mostly favoured by the Pashtun people but to a lesser extent by other nearby groups that have been influenced by Pashtuns (historically known as Afghans).
  • In Afghanistan, Loya Jirgas have been reportedly organized since at least the early 18th century when the Hotaki and Durrani dynasties rose to power.

By Dr V

Doctor by Training | AIIMSONIAN | Factually correct, Politically not so much | Opinionated? Yes!

Foreign Policy Watch: India-Afghanistan

Afghanistan–Pakistan Transit Trade Agreement (APTTA)

Note4Students

From UPSC perspective, the following things are important :

Prelims level : APTTA

Mains level : India-Afghanistan trade facilitation

Pakistan has allowed Afghanistan to send goods to India using the Wagah border. The decision is a part of Islamabad’s commitment under the Afghanistan-Pakistan Transit Trade Agreement (APTTA).

A statement based question can be asked upon the agreement on terms like:

1. Reciprocal trade with India

2. Railways/Road/Air transit whether allowed

About the agreement

  • The APTTA is a bilateral trade agreement signed in 2010 by Pakistan and Afghanistan.
  • It calls for greater facilitation in the movement of goods amongst the two countries.
  • The 2010 agreement supersedes the 1965 Afghanistan Transit Trade Agreement, which granted Afghanistan the right to import duty-free goods through Pakistani seaports, mostly notably from Karachi.

Features of the agreement

  • Trade-in goods smuggled into Pakistan once constituted a major source of revenue for Afghanistan.
  • The 2010 APTTA allows for both countries to use each other’s airports, railways, roads, and ports for transit trade along designated transit corridors.
  • The agreement does not cover road transport vehicles from any third country, be it from India or any Central Asia country.
  • However, the signed Agreement permits Afghanistan trucks access to the Wagah border with India, where Afghan goods will be offloaded onto Indian trucks.
  • This agreement does not permit Indian goods to be loaded onto trucks for transit back to Afghanistan.
  • Instead, Afghan trucks offloaded at Wagah may return to Afghanistan loaded only with Pakistani, rather than Indian goods in an attempt to prevent the formation of a black market for Indian goods in Pakistan.

By Dr V

Doctor by Training | AIIMSONIAN | Factually correct, Politically not so much | Opinionated? Yes!

Foreign Policy Watch: India-Afghanistan

Looking beyond Taliban: Focus on the Pashtun Question

Note4Students

From UPSC perspective, the following things are important :

Prelims level : Regions of Afghanistan

Mains level : Paper 2- Implications of the return of Taliban for India.

The US-Taliban peace deal signals growing heft of the Taliban in Afghanistan. Pashtuns constitute nearly 42 per cent population of Afghanistan and the Taliban is essentially a Pashtun formation. Also,  remember Pakistan: just like the kid who is always up to something. The ethnic fragmentation and Pakistan’s meddling is a recipe for perpetual conflict zone in the region.

The question of India’s engagement with Taliban

  • Taliban’s effective control of territory in Afghanistan expanded in recent years.
  • This led to the question of India’s direct dialogue with the Taliban gain some relevance.
  • It has acquired some immediacy after the US announced plans for a significant draw down of its forces from Afghanistan and signed a peace deal with the Taliban earlier this year.
  • Also, recently the US Special Envoy for Afghanistan, Zalmay Khalilzad, called on India to open a political conversation with the Taliban.
  • The interest was further amplified by a signal from the Taliban that it is eager for a productive relationship with India.

So, what should India do?

  • Those calling for direct engagement with the Taliban say that Delhi can’t ignore such an important force in Afghan politics.
  • Opponents say there is no reason for Delhi to join the international stampede to embrace the Taliban.
  • If and when the Taliban becomes a peaceful entity and joins the quest for a political settlement with Kabul, they argue, Delhi should have no objection to direct talks.
  • So, opening a dialogue with the Taliban is a tactical issue focused on when, how and on what terms.

Pashtun question and India’s enduring interest in Afghanistan

  • The Taliban remains an important sub-set of the larger and more strategic Pashtun question.
  • The Pashtun question holds the key to India’s enduring interest in Afghanistan: Promoting a peaceful, independent and a sovereign Afghanistan that is not a subaltern to the Pakistan army.

2 Basic issues that will define the Pashtun question

1. Forming unity among multiple ethnic groups

  • First is the problem of reconciling the interests of multiple ethnic groups in Afghanistan.
  • The Pashtuns constitute nearly 42 per cent of the population.
  • The sizeable Afghan minorities include 27 per cent Tajiks, 9 per cent each of Hazaras and Uzbeks.
  • Irrespective of the nature of the regimes in Kabul over the last four decades— constructing a stable internal balance has been hard.
  • That problem will acquire a new intensity as the Taliban stakes claim for a dominant role in Kabul.

But has the Taliban learnt to live in peace with the minorities?

  • The Taliban, an essentially Pashtun formation, had brutally crushed the minorities during its brief rule in the late 1990s.
  • There are some indications that the Taliban is now reaching out to the minorities but it is some distance away from winning their trust.

2. Pakistan’s meddling in Afghanistan

  • The problem of constructing internal balance in Afghanistan has been complicated by Pakistan’s meddling.
  • Pakistan would like to have the kind of hegemony that the British Raj exercised over Afghanistan.
  • Neither can Pakistan replicate that dominance nor are the Afghans willing concede it to the Pakistan army.

What about the Pashtun minority in Pakistan?

  • There are more than twice as many Pashtuns living in Pakistan than in Afghanistan.
  • The Pashtun population is estimated to be around 15 million in Afghanistan and 35 million in Pakistan.
  • And as mentioned above, the Taliban is essentially Pashtun formation.
  • Although Pashtun separatism has long ceased to be a force in Pakistan, Islamabad finds the Pashtun question re-emerge in a different form.
  • Pakistan can’t really bet that the Taliban will not put Pashtun nationalism above the interests of the Pakistani state.
  • The Taliban, for example, has never endorsed the Durand Line as the legitimate border with Pakistan.
  • It is by no means clear if Pakistan’s construction of the Taliban as a conservative religious force has obliterated the group’s ethnic character.
  • Sufferings of Pakistani Pashtun People: Islamabad’s quest for control over Afghanistan over the last four decades has heaped extraordinary suffering on the Pashtun people on Pakistan’s side of the Durand Line.
  • As the Pashtun Tahafuz Movement seeks a peaceful redressal of its demands for basic human rights, Pakistan has unleashed massive repression.

India’s importance in Afghanistan

  • That the Taliban wants to talk to India and Pakistan brands Pashtun leaders as Indian agents only underlines Delhi’s enduring salience in Afghanistan.

Consider the question “After the US-Taliban peace deal, India is forced with a difficult prospect of opening the dialogue with the Taliban. Examine the implications of the return of Taliban in Afghanistan for India. What is your opinion on India starting the dialogue with Afghanistan?”

Conclusion

Pakistan’s expansive military and political investments in Afghanistan have not really resolved Islamabad’s security challenges on its western frontier. If an Afghan triumph eludes Pakistan, Delhi can’t escape the complex geopolitics of the Pashtun lands.

By Dr V

Doctor by Training | AIIMSONIAN | Factually correct, Politically not so much | Opinionated? Yes!

Foreign Policy Watch: India-Afghanistan

Afghan Power-Sharing Deal

Note4Students

From UPSC perspective, the following things are important :

Prelims level : Not Much

Mains level : Afghan peace process

Afghan President Ashraf Ghani and political rival Abdullah Abdullah have signed a power-sharing agreement two months after both declared themselves the winner of last presidential election.

Practice question for mains:

Q. India’s reluctance to enter into talks with the Taliban in Afghan peace process needs a rethink. Comment.

The Deal

  • The deal calls for Abdullah to lead the country’s National Reconciliation High Council and some members of Abdullah’s team would be included in Ghani’s Cabinet.
  • Ghani would remain President of the war-torn nation.
  • The Reconciliation Council has been given the authority to handle and approve all affairs related to Afghanistan’s peace process.

Why such a deal?

  • Afghanistan has been in political disarray since the country’s Election Commission in December announced Mr. Ghani had won the September 28 election with more than 50% of the vote.
  • Abdullah had received more than 39% of the vote, according to the EC, but he and the Elections Complaint Commission charged widespread voting irregularities.
  • Ghani and Mr. Abdullah both declared themselves president in parallel inauguration ceremonies in March.
  • The discord then prompted the Trump administration to announce it would cut $1 billion in assistance to Afghanistan if the two weren’t able to work out their differences.

Role of the US

  • A peace agreement between the U.S. and the Taliban signed February 29 calls for U.S. and NATO troops to leave Afghanistan.
  • It was seen at the time as Afghanistan’s best chance at peace in decades of war.
  • Since then, the U.S. has been trying to get the Taliban and the Afghan government to begin intra-Afghan negotiations, but the political turmoil and personal acrimony between the two impeded talks.

Also read:

Afghan peace and India’s elbow room


Back2Basics

[Burning Issue] The US-Taliban Peace Agreement

By Dr V

Doctor by Training | AIIMSONIAN | Factually correct, Politically not so much | Opinionated? Yes!

Foreign Policy Watch: India-Afghanistan

India on the margins of Afghanistan diplomacy

Note4Students

From UPSC perspective, the following things are important :

Prelims level : Countries bordering Afghanistan.

Mains level : Paper 2- Peace process in Afghanistan and implications for India.

From economic, strategic to security, India has many interests in “future” Peaceful and Developed Afghanistan. But India was sidelined from the recently organised meeting on Afghanistan. This article analyses what went wrong in India’s foreign and security policy. Two factors are emphasised in the article- India’s reluctance to talk with the Taliban and the US’s desperation to get out of Afghanistan.

India’s Rigid policy toward Afghanistan

  • Recent developments in Afghanistan demand a flexible approach.
  • But India’s foreign and security planners have lacked flexibility in their approach.
  • Right approach should have included seeking to establish open connections with all its political groups, including with those perceived to be in Pakistan’s pocket.
  • Instead, they continued to rigidly cling to Afghanistan President Ashraf Ghani even as his influence diminished with each passing month.

India’s support to Mr Ghani

  • Prime Minister Narendra Modi congratulated Mr Ghani for winning the elections, in December 2019 when the Afghanistan election commission had only announced the preliminary results.
  • And most countries had maintained a discreet silence then.
  • When the final result came it was rejected by Mr Ghani’s main rival, Abdullah Abdullah.
  • The international community ultimately supported Mr Ghani.
  • But qualified it with an insistence that he enters into a real power-sharing agreement with Mr Abdullah.

India sidelined from meeting on Afghanistan

  • The United Nations Secretariat organised a meeting on Afghanistan where it invited the 6 current physical neighbours of Afghanistan—China, Pakistan, Iran, Turkmenistan, Uzbekistan and Tajikistan.
  • In addition, invitations were extended to the United States, Russia and the Ghani government.
  • Obviously, Mr Ghani did not condition his participation on India’s inclusion.
  • The constructive role New Delhi has played in Afghanistan’s reconstruction since the Taliban were ousted from the country in 2001-2002 after 9/11 was neglected.

US going along with India’s absence

  • The role and action of the US proved that the U.S. acts to promote its interests in Afghanistan.
  •  It obviously expects that if in doing so Indian interests are exposed, India will protect them as best as it can.
  • U.S. Special Representative for Afghanistan Reconciliation said that ‘India should talk directly to Taliban, discuss terror concerns directly’.
  • He noted that despite India’s contributions to Afghanistan’s economic development — and these are undeniably significant covering large parts of the country, and are popular — as well as its long history of contacts with that country, it does not have a place in international diplomacy on Afghanistan.
  • He also said that when it comes to international efforts, India yet does not have a role that it could.
  • He patronisingly added that the U.S. wants India to have a more active role in the peace process.

So, why India’s presence was not considered vital?

  • U.S. Special Representative for Afghanistan Reconciliation thinks that by avoiding open contacts with the Taliban, India has reduced its role in international diplomatic efforts.
  • That the U.S. is currently crucially dependent on Pakistan for the successful implementation of its Taliban deal.
  • It is reminiscent of the time in the 1990s when, at Pakistan’s insistence, India was considered a problem and kept out of crucial global forums on Afghanistan.

Way forward

  • In such a situation, it is essential for India to maintain its strong links with the Afghan government, built and support its traditional Afghan allies.
  • But India should also established open lines of communication with the Taliban.
  • This is important because they are informally conveying that India should not consider them as Pakistan’s puppets and also because they have gained international recognition.
  • Contacts and discussions do not mean acceptance of their ways but its still a step forward.
  • India should act keeping in mind that there are no countries on the horizon which are really opposed to the Taliban acquiring a major place in the Afghanistan’s formal power structures.

In 2013, the UPSC asked a question related to developments in Afghanistan against the backdrop of the proposed withdrawal of the International Security Assistance Force. Similarly, a question based on the latest development can be asked, for ex-“The return of Taliban after the US-Taliban deal in Afghanistan is fraught with major security implications for the countries in the region. Examine in the light of the fact that India is faced with a plethora of challenges and needs to safeguard its own strategic interests.”

Conclusion

India needs to take corrective diplomatic action even at this late stage, and even in the time of COVID-19. It must begin openly talking to the Taliban and with all political groups in the country. It must realise that its Afghan policy needs changes.

By Dr V

Doctor by Training | AIIMSONIAN | Factually correct, Politically not so much | Opinionated? Yes!

Foreign Policy Watch: India-Afghanistan

Afghan peace and India’s elbow room

Note4Students

From UPSC perspective, the following things are important :

Prelims level : Countries sharing border with Afghanistan.

Mains level : Paper 2- Implications for India of the return of Taliban in Afghanistan after US-Taliban deal.

The article discusses India’s exclusion from the Afghan peace process. As India seeks to fight back its exclusion there are certain issues that need to be addressed. India’s reluctance to enter into talks with the Taliban in one such issue, which needs a rethink. And there are several areas in which India needs to continue working like-the goodwill in Afghanistan, participation in assistance work, bringing together the major leaders in that country.

India left out of the meeting on peace in Afghanistan

  • Earlier this month, the United Nations Secretariat held a meeting of what it calls the “6+2+1” group on regional efforts to support peace in Afghanistan.
  • The group includes six neighbouring countries: China, Iran, Pakistan, Tajikistan, Turkmenistan and Uzbekistan; global players the United States and Russia, and Afghanistan itself.
  • India was conspicuous by its absence from the meeting on April 16, given its historical and strategic ties with Afghanistan.
  • This has not happened for the first time, India was left out form talks similarly in 2001 and 2010.
  • In both 2001 and 2010, however, India fought back its exclusion
  • At the Bonn agreement of 2010, India played a major role in Northern Alliance accepting Hamid Karzai as the Chairman of the interim arrangement that replaced the Taliban regime.
  • After the 2010 conference, New Delhi redoubled its efforts with Kabul, and in 2011 India signed the historic Strategic Partnership Agreement, which was Afghanistan’s first such agreement with any country.

Reasons for not inviting India

  • In 2020, the reason given for keeping India out of regional discussions on Afghanistan was ostensibly that it holds no “boundary” with Afghanistan.
  • But in fact, it is because New Delhi has never announced its support for the U.S.-Taliban peace process.
  • As planners in South Block now consider their next steps in Afghanistan, they must fight back against the idea that any lasting solution in Afghanistan can be discussed without India in the room, while also studying the reasons for such exclusions.

Following are the issues that Indian must consider and act on as it seeks to fight back its exclusion from the peace talks.

India’s position on Afghan-led peace process and reality

  • India’s resistance to publicly talking to the Taliban has made it an awkward interlocutor at any table.
  • Its position that only an Afghan-led, Afghan-owned, and Afghan-controlled process can be allowed is a principled one but has no takers.
  • The Ashraf Ghani government does not lead, own or control the reconciliation process today, comprising the U.S.-Taliban negotiation for an American troops withdrawal, and intra-Afghan talks on power-sharing.
  • The U.S.-Taliban peace deal means that the Taliban, will become more potent as the U.S. withdraws soldiers from the country.
  • Taliban will hold more sway in the inter-Afghan process as well, as the U.S. withdraws funding for the government in Kabul.

Two effects of India’s position

  • New Delhi’s decision to put all its eggs in the Ghani basket has had a two-fold effect:
  • 1) Its voice in the reconciliation process has been limited.
  • 2) It has weakened India’s position with other leaders of the deeply divided democratic setup in Kabul such as the former chief executive Abdullah Abdullah.

India should not let its diplomatic strength weaken

  • India painstakingly built up its presence inside Afghanistan since 2001.
  • This presence is being threatened anew by terror groups such as the Islamic State Khorasan Province (ISKP).
  • ISKP is believed to be backed by Pakistan’s establishment.
  • Intercepts showed that the brutal attack, in March, that killed 25 at a gurudwara in Kabul was meant for the embassy in Kabul.
  • The government cleared out both of its consulates this month.
  • While the government has said that the novel coronavirus pandemic prompted its decision to clear out both consulates.
  • The truth is that a full security reassessment is under way for them.
  • Either way, India’s diplomatic strength in Afghanistan should not appear to be in retreat just when it is needed the most.

Goodwill in Afghanistan and damage caused due to CAA

  • The government must also consider the damage done to the vast reservoir of goodwill India enjoys in Afghanistan because of recent events in the country, especially the controversy over the Citizenship (Amendment) Act.
  • The building blocks of that goodwill are India’s assistance in infrastructure projects, health care, education, trade and food security, and also in the liberal access to Afghans to study, train and work in India.
  • Above all, it is India’s example as a pluralistic, inclusive democracy that inspires many.
  • Afghanistan’s majority-Muslim citizens have felt cut out of the move to offer fast track citizenship to only Afghan minorities.
  • The damage was also done by reports of anti-Muslim rhetoric and incidents of violence in India.

Regain upper hand in the narrative in Afghanistan

  • While many of these are problems of perception, New Delhi must move swiftly to regain the upper hand in the narrative in Afghanistan.
  • India has provided the assistance of more than $3 billion in projects.
  • Bilateral trade is about $1 billion.
  • A $20 billion projected development expenditure of an alternate route through Chabahar.
  • And support to the Afghan National Army, bureaucrats, doctors and other professionals for training in India should assure it a leading position in Afghanistan’s regional formulation.
  • Three major projects along with hundreds of small development projects (of schools, hospitals and water projects) have cemented that position in Afghan hearts nationwide, regardless of Pakistan’s attempts to undermine that position, particularly in the South.
  • The three major projects include 1) the Afghan Parliament, 2) the Zaranj-Delaram Highway, 3)the Afghanistan-India Friendship Dam (Salma dam).

 Pursue opportunities to fulfil its role in the peace efforts

  • India must also pursue opportunities to fulfil its role in the peace efforts in Afghanistan, starting with efforts to bridge the Ghani-Abdullah divide.
  • India could also play role in bringing together other major leaders with whom India has built ties for decades.
  • It would be an utter tragedy if the Taliban were to enter the government in Kabul as the U.S. deal envisages, to find the opposing front collapse as it did in 1996.
  • An understanding between Iran and the U.S. on Afghanistan is necessary for a lasting peace as well, and India could play a mediatory part, as it did in order for the Chabahar project.

Return of the Taliban has several implications for India. In 2013, the UPSC asked a question related to developments in Afghanistan against the backdrop of the proposed withdrawal of the International Security Assistance Force. Similarly, a question based on the latest development can be asked, for ex-“The return of Taliban after the US-Taliban deal in Afghanistan is fraught with major security implications for the countries in the region. Examine in the light of the fact that India is faced with a plethora of challenges and needs to safeguard its own strategic interests.”

Use UN call for peace to put hostilities with Pakistan on hold

  • Finally, New Delhi should use the United Nations’s call for a pause in conflicts during the novel coronavirus pandemic, to ensure a hold on hostilities with Pakistan.
  • This will be even more difficult than it sounds given the abyss that bilateral relations have fallen into in the past year over Kashmir.

Conclusion

It would be a mistake, at this point, to tie all India’s support in only to Kabul or the Ghani government; the government must strive to endure that its aid and assistance is broad-based, particularly during the novel coronavirus pandemic to centres outside the capital, even if some lie in areas held by the Taliban.

By Dr V

Doctor by Training | AIIMSONIAN | Factually correct, Politically not so much | Opinionated? Yes!

Foreign Policy Watch: India-Afghanistan

Terrorist attack in Kabul’s Gurudwara

Note4Students

From UPSC perspective, the following things are important :

Prelims level : Not much.

Mains level : Paper 2- The US-Taliban pact and its implications for India.

Context

Attack on gurdwara underlines that the US-Taliban deal has brought Afghanistan no respite.

The futility of US-Taliban deal highlighted

  • The attack on a gurdwara in Kabul, in which 25 people were killed, has shown that the coronavirus may well be vanquished by science, but human beings will continue to inflict barbarity upon each other.
  • Within hours, it was claimed by the Islamic State, which later also said it had carried it out in revenge for Kashmir.
  • The deal not leading to peace: If there were still doubts left on this score, it must be clear after this attack that the US-Taliban deal was not an arrangement to return Afghanistan to peace.

Why the attack matters for India?

  • The gurdwara attack was the first strike after the agreement claimed by the IS.
  • A provision in pact: Under the pact, the Taliban have committed themselves to eliminate the Islamic State from Afghanistan.
  • Yet to start honouring commitment: If the IS claim is true, the Taliban have yet to begin honouring that commitment.
  • India’s reaction: Appearing to hint at something more sinister, the ministry of external affairs called the attack “diabolical” and condemned the “perpetrators and their backers”, a formulation usually reserved for attacks suspected to have emanated from or to have the backing of Pakistan.
  • Connection of attack with India: The Taliban’s operational leadership is now in the hands of Sirajuddin Haqqani of the Haqqani group, which has been blamed for several attacks on Indian targets, including the 2008 Indian Embassy bombing in Kabul.
  • The Taliban have denied having anything to do with the gurdwara attack, and Pakistan has condemned it strongly.
  • The question over IS in Afghanistan: Who, really, is the IS in Afghanistan is a question that security experts have been asking for some time now.

COVID-19 outbreak in Afghanistan

  • Appeal for ceasefire: The UN Secretary-General made an appeal for an immediate ceasefire in theatres of conflict across the world, to enable governments, health workers and humanitarian aid agencies to access those who might be most vulnerable to COVID-19.
  • The epicentre of the outbreak is Herat, where over 1,00,000 Afghans recently crossed over from Iran.
  • After the number of confirmed cases rose to 58, the province has been placed under lockdown.
  • But the government is hobbled in its efforts to contain the disease, both by a contested election result — Afghanistan has two presidents — and the burden of an agreement that has brought it no respite.

Conclusion

With the recently concluded US-Taliban deal delivering no peace and coronavirus spreading unabated, Afghanistan faces two contagions, new and old — COVID-19 and the relentless violence.

By Dr V

Doctor by Training | AIIMSONIAN | Factually correct, Politically not so much | Opinionated? Yes!

Foreign Policy Watch: India-Afghanistan

Fail-safe exit for America, but a worry for India

Note4Students

From UPSC perspective, the following things are important :

Prelims level : Not much.

Mains level : Paper 2- India-Afghanistan relations and return of Taliban after deal with the US.

Context

The recently negotiated peace deal between the United States and the Taliban is unlikely to bring peace to Afghanistan, is geopolitically disadvantageous for India, and has serious implications for our national security.

Power dynamics of the US-Taliban deal

  • An honourable exit for India: The terms of the deal, the manner in which it was negotiated as well as the geopolitical context in which it was stitched up indicate that it was more about providing an honourable exit route for the U.S.
  • Violence after concluding the deal: Within 24 hours of the much-publicised deal, violence and major disagreements about the deal began erupting in Afghanistan.
  • Why there are the prospects of instability in Afghanistan: Given that the Taliban negotiated from a position of strength, the Trump administration from weakness and little political will, and that the Ashraf Ghani administration in Afghanistan was by and large a clueless bystander in all of this, means that the country is perhaps on the verge of yet another long-drawn-out and internecine battle.

The changed Taliban

  • Taliban of the 1990s: When the Taliban came to power in the mid-1990s in Kabul, it had few backers in the world.
    • Nor was it seen as a useful commodity by the great powers or the states in the region, except for Pakistan, Saudi Arabia, and the United Arab Emirates.
  • United pushback from the rest of the world: The international community was almost united in offering a normative pushback against the violent outfit.
    • As a result, the Taliban was at best reluctantly tolerated until it messed up towards the end of its regime in Kabul.
  • The pressure of Northern Alliance: The Northern Alliance, supported by countries such as Russia and India, kept up its military pressure against the Taliban while it was in power.
  • How today’s Taliban is different from the past: The situation today, at least for the moment, is perhaps the exact opposite of what was the case then.
    • Lessons learned to deal with the international system: The Taliban today is also more worldly-wise and might have learned, during its exile, to deal with the international system and play the game of balance of power.
    • Not necessarily the puppet: More so, it may not necessarily be a puppet of the Pakistani deep state once it returns to power.

International acceptance of the Taliban

  • Lending the legitimacy to Taliban: Given the war fatigue and the geopolitical stakes in Afghanistan, most of the key players in the region and otherwise have been in negotiations with the Taliban one way or another, and for one reason or another, lending the terror group certain legitimacy in the process.
  • Why countries want good relations with the Taliban: Anyone desirous of a stake in Afghanistan or does not want its domestic turmoil to spill over into their country would want to keep the Taliban in good humour.
    • Suitable withdrawal of the US: There is another reason why the Taliban has many suitors — because of the U.S. withdrawal by and large suits everyone, be it China, Pakistan, Iran, or Russia.
    • The US bigger challenge: Suddenly, the Taliban appears to have been forgiven for its sordid past and unforgivable sins because for most of these countries, the U.S. is the bigger challenge than the Taliban.

Why India’s strategy is diplomatically flawed?

  • Only state at losing end: The only state that seems to be on the losing end, unfortunately, of this unfolding game of chess and patience in Afghanistan is India.
    • Why the earlier Taliban was anti-India? The earlier Taliban regime was anti-India, it was also because India had militarily supported the Northern Alliance that kept up the military pressure against the Taliban.
    • Today’s Taliban does not share the same animus for India.
  • Need for Change in India’s approach: India, could have rejigged its approach to the Taliban this time around. However, it put all its eggs in the Ashraf Ghani basket, even on the eve of the signing of the peace deal in Doha.
  • Not a diplomatic strategy by India: India also, for most intents and objectives, adopted a puritanical approach to the Taliban.
    • There are 2 reason India is neither reaching out to the Taliban nor exploiting the fissures within it-
    • Because it did not want to irk the elected government in Kabul and-
    • It adopts a moralistic approach to dealing with extremist groups in general — not a smart diplomatic strategy.
  • Self-defeating position: This moralistic attitude, also a diplomatically lazy one, I would say, that be it Pakistan or Afghanistan, India would only talk to the legitimate government in that country, is a self-defeating position.
    • The world is not that perfect, nor state all that uniform, created in the shape and image of the Westphalian forefather.
    • Smart statecraft, therefore, is dealing with what you have and making the best of it.

What would be the result of India’s strategy?

  • Impact on relations with Afghanistan: India’s relations with Afghanistan will take a hit in the immediate aftermath of the deal.
    • Limited ability to influence the outcomes: With China, India’s strategic adversary, deeply involved in the geopolitics and geo-economics of the region, including in Afghanistan, India’s traditional ability to influence the region’s political and security outcomes will be severely limited.
    • This will be further exacerbated by the withdrawal of the U.S., India’s closest friend, from the region.
    • India’s relation with the other players in the region: Other regional actors in Afghanistan are also less friendly towards India than ever before: Iran feels let down by India given how the latter has behaved towards it at the behest of the Americans.
    • Relation with Russia: For Russia, India is only one of the many friends in the region — the exclusivity of Russia-India relations is a thing of the past — and Pakistan would consider targeting India a fair game.
  • Counter Strategy: Unless New Delhi carefully envisages a counter-strategy, these factors will increasingly push India into a geopolitical tough spot in the region.
    • Need to focus on the region: India should worry us that our political class is focused on domestic politics while the region is becoming ever more uncertain and evidently unfavourable to us.

Taliban and Kashmir Angle of the deal

  • Negligible physical impact but the possibility of psychological impact: While the direct physical impact of the Taliban’s return to power in Afghanistan on Kashmir will be negligible, this will not be without serious implications for the unfolding situation in Kashmir’s restive regions.
    • Psychological impact: The most important impact is going to be psychological.
    • Interpretation of the event: Disenchanted Kashmiri youngsters, and there are a lot of them, will interpret the events in Afghanistan as follows: “If the mighty superpower USA could be defeated by the Taliban in Afghanistan with help from the Pakistan army, defeating Indian forces in Kashmir won’t be impossible after all.”
    • This enthusiasm is completely misplaced, but that is not the point.
    • That the Kashmiri youth might pick up guns drawing inspiration from the situation in Afghanistan is indeed the point.
  • Increase in Pakistan’s utility: The U.S.-Taliban deal cannot survive without Pakistan’s assistance towards ensuring its success, and the U.S. and its allies recognise that. Such recognition of Pakistan’s utility provides the country with ability, as and when it wishes to, to up the ante in Kashmir.
  • The geopolitical significance of Pok and Aksai Chin claim: India’s official statement which describes Afghanistan as a “contiguous neighbour” — meaning that India considers Pakistan-occupied Kashmir (PoK) a part of its sovereign territory — will make Pakistan and China sit up and take notice.
    • Claim making reconciliation more difficult: India also made a similar claim about Aksai Chin in the wake of its August decision on Kashmir. Erstwhile rhetorical claims on PoK and Aksai Chin have suddenly assumed a lot more geopolitical significance today making conciliatory approaches to conflict resolution ever more difficult.

Conclusion

Given that a new Taliban-led dispensation in Afghanistan will be far more accepted by the international community than the last time around also means increased acceptability for such regimes in general, either out of necessity or as a function of geopolitical calculations. That the Taliban mass-murdered its opponents into statehood in the 21st century and that this might provide potential inspiration to other outfits in the region and outside should indeed worry us.

 

 

 

By Dr V

Doctor by Training | AIIMSONIAN | Factually correct, Politically not so much | Opinionated? Yes!

Foreign Policy Watch: India-Afghanistan

Pieces of peace

Note4Students

From UPSC perspective, the following things are important :

Prelims level : Not much.

Mains level : Paper 2- US-Taliban Pact- Involvement of Pakistan and consequences for India.

Context

“Agreement for Bringing Peace to Afghanistan” between the US and Taliban signed on February 29 in Doha, is just another piece in the overall strategy of the US for Afghanistan.

Pakistan’s support to the Taliban and unchanged Afghan policy of the US

  • Continuation of the same hard-nosed policy: While rolling out the Afghan policy in August 2017, it was emphasised by the current US dispensation that it was making amends to the Afghan strategy of the previous dispensation.
    • In reality, it has been a continuation of the same hard-nosed line.
  • How Pakistan supported the Taliban? The US and allies had got a rude shock when it dawned on them that between 2001 and 2008, the Taliban had used training and recuperation centres in Pakistan to regain domination over most parts of Afghanistan.
    • Benefiting from the Coalition Support Fund: Pakistan had actively aided the Taliban and al Qaeda (AQ), while continuing to benefit from handsome Coalition Support Funds and a seat at the “high table”.
    • Support of the Pakistan Army: All failures were blamed on inadequate numbers of International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) and Afghan National Security Forces (ANSF), which were ill-equipped to challenge the Taliban, backed by a professional Pakistan Army.
    • Misdiagnosed cause: The Obama administration diagnosed that lack of governance, corruption and fragmented polity were other key factors.

What was the comprehensive Afghanistan Strategy?

  • COIN doctrine and “troop surge”: A comprehensive Afghanistan strategy review led to replicating its “troop surge” strategy, which was believed to have succeeded in Iraq, leading to total withdrawal of US troops (December 2011).
    • At the heart of the troop surge was the Counterinsurgency (COIN) doctrine of the US Field Manual.
  • COIN plus CT: The military strategy in Afghanistan was split into COIN plus CT (Counter Terrorism) objectives.
    • The Taliban movement was treated as an insurgency.
    • What was involved in COIN: The COIN efforts entailed protecting population centres and highways, building numbers and capability of the ANSF to take on insurgents, with emphasis on good governance and support for reconstruction.
    • It also included reconciliation and reintegration of lower to mid-level willing Taliban.
    • The UN designations of Taliban and AQ were separated to pave the way for “peace talks” with Taliban commanders who were tired of fighting.
  • What this strategy achieved? The US-led ISAF troop surge helped create time and space to build and strengthen the ANSF over three times and succeeded in pushing the Taliban back to outlying areas.
    • Even today these territorial gains have not been reversed, except in some areas.
    • As the ANSF gained strength and depth, the US led-ISAF mission became a NATO led-Resolute Support mission.
  • How changing geopolitical circumstances increased challenges? The CT effort yielded rich dividends for the US and allies, in the Af-Pak region and even beyond.
    • The rise of ISIS: From the build-up of ISIS in 2014 to the loss of its Caliphate in 2019 and recently to the killing of General Solemani, the CT challenges of the US and allies in the Af-Pak region and periphery have become graver than ever.
    • These elements had a bearing on the Afghan strategy rolled out in August 2017.
    • Good progress was made in building up the ANSF, with a strong focus on three key elements — Special Forces, Air Force, and Afghan Intelligence (NDS).

The US withdrawal

  • Objectives of the withdrawal: Emphasising that “consequences of a rapid exit were predictable and unacceptable”, it outlined two key objectives —
    • Preventing a resurgence of safe havens that threatened the security of Afghanistan and the US interests in Afghanistan and Pakistan.
    • Preventing terrorists from getting nukes or nuclear material which could be used against the US or elsewhere.
  • What is the recalibrated strategy: The “recalibrated” strategy envisaged following-
    • Time-bound but condition-based withdrawal.
    • Support for the Ghani government.
    • ANSF to take on the Taliban.
    • Talks with the Taliban and for Pakistan to demonstrate commitment on dismantling safe havens that threatened US objectives.
    • Overall, the strategy remained the same, except for the withdrawal of the US from a role in nation-building.
  • What are the results of the strategy? There has been a greater emphasis on the strengthening of ANSF.
    • The regular assessments by the US show an increasing role and success of the Afghan Special Forces.
    • The Air Force and the NDS in playing the lead in keeping the Taliban from running over capitals.
    • By and large, the ANSF have been successful in maintaining the balance and the Taliban-control has not slipped to 2009 levels.
    • In the meantime, US forces have dropped to 10 per cent of the peak (in 2011).
    • With the re-election of President Ghani, it is assured that the US line of thinking will prevail over the Afghan government.
    • Role of Pakistan in the process: On its part, Pakistan has demonstrated its intent by delivering top-rung Taliban, including Mullah Baradar in its custody since 2010, and Anas Haqqani released as part of the process, for the talks.
    • Even if there is no comprehensive ceasefire or full withdrawal ever, Pakistan is unlikely to be blamed.

What Pakistan achieved from the peace process?

  • Return of Afghan refugee: Pakistan has been rewarded in more ways than one. It managed to return lakhs of Afghans.
  • Fencing on the eastern border of Afghanistan: It builds a fence along the eastern parts of Afghanistan to prevent cross-border attacks.
  • Targeting the key TTP leaders: Pakistan got the US and Afghan forces to target key TTP leaders, starting with TTP chief Mullah Fazlullah in June 2018.
    • Since January this year, three top TTP leaders have been killed in Kabul and Kunar.
    • This has also helped build the Pakistan narrative that Afghan soil is being used to target Pakistan.
  • Changing the international narrative in its favour: Even though it is facing “calibrated” heat on FATF sanctions, Pakistan has managed to change the international narrative in its favour.
    • The 24th report (July 2019) of the UNSC monitoring committee has stated, “Al Qaeda continues to cooperate closely with LeT and the Haqqani Network”, but there is no reference to LeT or Haqqani in the 25th report (January 2020).
    • This report has also asserted that ISIL-K has established informal contact with other terrorist groups, including Jamaat-ul-Ahrar, TTP and Lashkar e-Islam.
    • Meanwhile, these groups regularly attack Pakistani posts along the Afghan border.
    • All key anti-Pakistan groups are now being categorised as ISIL-K supporters, even though Pakistan has run the so-called Daesh networks in eastern Afghanistan for years.
    • The UNSC reports also highlight the positive role of Taliban in targeting ISIL-K.

Conclusion

  • The election in the US has bearing on the process: In an election year, the US needs to show that it is not fighting someone else’s battles and is making “sincere efforts” at peace-making.
    • The “Agreement” demonstrates sincerity.
    • At the same time, the US has to continue steering the Afghan strategy to keep terror networks in check.
    • The peace process has already created a comfort-loving, globe-trotting leadership in the top echelons of the Taliban, who would continue to talk, even if the current Agreement falters.
  • Pakistan is again sitting on the high table: As the LeT and Haqqani networks go missing from UN reports and JeM chief Masood Azhar and pro-Pak TTP leader Ehasanullah Ehsan go conveniently “missing” from Pakistan soil, the pressure on Pakistan has eased.
    • The new non-state entities backed by Pakistan, such as the AQIS and ISKP/IS-Kashmir/IS-Hind will become more visible.
    • The rank and file of LeT, JeM, HUJI etc can easily be transferred to these new entities, while many more can be recruited under new banners.
    • Online propaganda of these entities, including in Indian languages, is already visible and likely to escalate.

 

By Dr V

Doctor by Training | AIIMSONIAN | Factually correct, Politically not so much | Opinionated? Yes!

Foreign Policy Watch: India-Afghanistan

Explained: US-Taliban Pact

Note4Students

From UPSC perspective, the following things are important :

Prelims level : Not Much

Mains level : US-Taliban pact and its implications on India-Afghanistan relationship

 

 

  • The US and Taliban signed an agreement for “Bringing Peace to Afghanistan”, which will enable the US and NATO to withdraw troops in the next 14 months.
  • The pact is between the “Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan which is not recognized by the United States as a state and is known as the Taliban” and the US.
  • The four-page pact was signed between Zalmay Khalilzad, US Special Representative for Afghanistan Reconciliation, and Mullah Abdul Ghani Baradar, political head of the Taliban.

Key elements 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 — “all” would include “non-diplomatic civilian personnel” (could be interpreted to mean “intelligence” personnel).

Taliban Commitment

  • The main counter-terrorism commitment by the Taliban is that “It 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 US and its allies”.
  • While Miller said the reference to al-Qaeda is important, the pact is silent on other terrorist groups — such as anti-India groups Lashkar-e-Toiba or Jaish-e-Mohammed.
  • Again, India, not being an US ally, is not covered under this pact.

Sanctions Removal

  • UN sanctions on Taliban leaders to be removed by three months (by May 29) and US sanctions by August 27.
  • The sanctions will be out before much progress is expected in the intra-Afghan dialogue.

Prisoner’s release

  • This is a possible trouble spot because the US-Taliban agreement and the joint declaration differ, and it is not clear whether the Ashraf Ghani-led government is on board with this big up-front concession to Taliban.
  • The joint declaration says the US will facilitate discussion with Taliban representatives on confidence building measures, to include determining the feasibility of releasing significant numbers of prisoners on both sides.
  • While there are no numbers or deadlines in the joint declaration, 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.
  • The intra-Afghan negotiations are supposed to start in Oslo.

Ceasefire

  • This is identified as another potential “trouble spot”.
  • The agreement states ceasefire will be simply “an item on the agenda” when intra-Afghan talks start, and indicate actual ceasefire will come with the “completion” of an Afghan political agreement.

Implications of the Deal

An adieu to democracy in Afghanistan

  • The Taliban have got what they wanted: troops withdrawal, removal of sanctions, release of prisoners.
  • This has also strengthened Pakistan, Taliban’s benefactor, and the Pakistan Army and the ISI’s influence appears to be on the rise.
  • It has made it unambiguous that it wants an Islamic regime.
  • The Afghan government has been completely sidelined during the talks between the US and Taliban.
  • The future for the people of Afghanistan is uncertain and will depend on how Taliban honours its commitments and whether it goes back to the mediaeval practices of its 1996-2001 regimes.

Implications for India

  • India has been backing the Ghani-led government and was among very few countries to congratulate Ghani on his victory.
  • India’s proximity to Ghani also drew from their shared view of cross-border terrorism emanating from Pakistan.
  • There has not been formal contact with top Taliban leaders, the Indian mission has a fair amount of access to the Pashtun community throughout Afghanistan through community development projects of about $3 billion.
  • Due to So, although Pakistan military and its ally Taliban have become dominant players in Kabul’s power circles, South Block insiders insist that it is not all that grim for New Delhi.
  • these high-impact projects, diplomats feel India has gained goodwill among ordinary Afghans, the majority of whom are Pashtuns and some may be aligned with the Taliban as well.

Way Forward

  • The joint declaration is a symbolic commitment to the Afghanistan government that the US is not abandoning it.
  • Much will depend on whether the US and the Taliban are able to keep their ends of the bargain, and every step forward will be negotiated, and how the Afghan government and the political spectrum are involved.
  • Like in 1989, 1992, 1996, and in 2001, Pakistan has the opportunity to play a constructive role. It frittered away the opportunities in the past.

Back2Basics

India and the Taliban

  • India and the Taliban have had a bitter past.
  • New Delhi nurses bitter memories from the IC-814 hijack in 1999, when it had to release terrorists — including Masood Azhar who founded Jaish-e-Mohammed that went on to carry out terror attacks as such on Parliament, Pathankot and in Pulwama.
  • Quite predictably, Mullah Baradar did not name India among the countries that supported the peace process, but specially thanked Pakistan for the “support, work and assistance” provided.
  • The Taliban perceived India as a hostile country, as India had supported the anti-Taliban force Northern Alliance in the 1990s.
  • India never gave diplomatic and official recognition to the Taliban when it was in power during 1996-2001.
  • But its foreign policy establishment has shied away from engaging with the Taliban directly.

By Dr V

Doctor by Training | AIIMSONIAN | Factually correct, Politically not so much | Opinionated? Yes!

Foreign Policy Watch: India-Afghanistan

Taliban ceasefire in Afghanistan

Note4Students

From UPSC perspective, the following things are important :

Prelims level : NA

Mains level : Taliban Ceasefire and its significance

The Taliban’s ruling council agreed to a temporary cease-fire in Afghanistan, providing a window in which a peace agreement with the US can be signed. Since October 2018, Taliban representatives and US officials have been meeting to chalk out a peace treaty.

Significance of the ceasefire

  • A key pillar of the agreement, which the U.S. and Taliban have been hammering out for more than a year, is direct negotiations between Afghans on both sides of the conflict.
  • A peace deal would allow the U.S. to bring home its troops from Afghanistan and end its 18-year military engagement there, America’s longest.
  • The U.S. wants any deal to include a promise from the Taliban that Afghanistan would not be used as a base by terrorist groups.
  • The U.S. currently has an estimated 12,000 troops in Afghanistan.

Expected outcomes

  • The first item on the agenda is expected to address how to implement a cease-fire between the Taliban and Afghanistan’s National Security Forces.
  • The negotiations, however, were expected to be prickly and will cover a variety of issues including rights of women, free speech, and changes to the country’s constitution.
  • The intra-Afghan talks would also lay out the fate of thousands of Taliban fighters and the heavily armed militias belonging to Afghanistan’s warlords.

Back2Basics

US-Taliban Conflict

  • Afghanistan has been ravaged by war since 2001 when a US-led coalition overthrew the Taliban.
  • Osama bin Laden’s al-Qaida who carried out the 9/11 terrorist attacks on the United States was harbored by Taliban.
  • The Taliban initially has emerged as a militia – largely consisted of students called as Talibs in 1994.
  • This group comprises of militants who had been educated in traditional Islamic schools and fought during the Soviet–Afghan War (ended in 1989).

By Dr V

Doctor by Training | AIIMSONIAN | Factually correct, Politically not so much | Opinionated? Yes!

Foreign Policy Watch: India-Afghanistan

[op-ed snap] Endless wait: on Afghanistan Presidential election

Note4Students

From UPSC perspective, the following things are important :

Prelims level : Nothing much

Mains level : Afghan polls

Context

The announcement of preliminary results for the Afghanistan Presidential election is a significant step for the country.

Elections

  • This is the fourth presidential poll since the Taliban’s fall in 2001.
  • It consolidates the country’s democratic process in the face of continuing violence and terrorism there. 
  • According to the Independent Election Commission, President Ashraf Ghani has won 50.64% of the votes counted. It will obviate the need for a second round of polling. 
  • A second-round would prolong the uncertainty around the polls, given that even these results took more than three months to announce. 
  • These polls have been delayed for months, and almost canceled after progress in reconciliation talks with Taliban leaders, who do not recognise the electoral process. 
  • The U.S.’s decision to cancel the talks in September gave a breather for the September 28 polls and counting to be carried out. 

Questions remain

  • Voter turnout was a record low, with only about a quarter of 9.6 million registered voters voting. 
  • Thousands of votes were also disqualified after biometric match failures and other irregularities. It has set off allegations of voter fraud. 
  • Afghanistan’s former Chief Executive Officer and Mr. Ghani’s chief rival, Dr. Abdullah Abdullah, has rejected the preliminary results. 
  • Mr. Ghani’s vote margin over Mr. Abdullah is only about 214,769, and if more votes are disqualified during the review process, they may have to fight the second round. 
  • Mr. Ghani, a Pashtun leader, has drawn much of his support from the Pashtun-majority south and Mr. Abdullah has won mainly in the Northern areas with Tajik presence. 
  • The U.S.-Taliban talks also cast a shadow over whether the results will be respected if the Taliban negotiates its way into a power-sharing arrangement in Kabul.

India

  • Modi reaffirmed India’s close and strategic partnership with Afghanistan since 2010. It is in sharp contrast to the rest of the world that has chosen to be more cautious at present.
  • U.S. Ambassador has reminded that “many steps remain” before the final results are certified and declared.
  • The UN has called for all candidates to “safeguard and complete the election”.

By Dr V

Doctor by Training | AIIMSONIAN | Factually correct, Politically not so much | Opinionated? Yes!

Foreign Policy Watch: India-Afghanistan

[op-ed snap] The Taliban problem: On the Afghan crisis

Note4Students

From UPSC perspective, the following things are important :

Prelims level : Nothing much

Mains level : Afghanistan - latest situation and way ahead

Context

The U.S.-Taliban talks collapsed last week. Taliban threatened to step up attacks in Afghanistan. 

The security situation in Afghanistan

  • It used two suicide bombers who killed at least 48 people by targeting a rally being addressed by Ashraf Ghani. 
  • These attacks are yet another warning of the security challenges Afghanistan faces. Particularly before the presidential polls.
  • Both the 2014 presidential election and last year’s parliamentary poll were violently disturbed by the Taliban. 
  • This time, they asked civilians to stay away from political gatherings, making all those who participate in the political process of potential targets. 

Taliban

  • Rising attacks against Afghan civilians make the Taliban’s claim of fighting on behalf of them hollow. 
  • The Taliban did not suspend its terror campaign even while holding talks with the U.S. in Qatar. 
  • Now that the talks have collapsed, a vengeful Taliban is unleashing itself.
  • Threat from the Taliban is so grave that the President is largely addressing campaign rallies through Skype. 

Afghanistan situation

  • The Afghan government is determined to go ahead with the election. 
  • Even if the elections are over without further attacks, the Taliban problem will remain. 
  • The fundamental problem with the U.S.-Taliban peace process was that it excluded the Kabul government at the insistence of the insurgents.
  • The Taliban was not even ready to cease hostilities. A peace agreement dictated by the Taliban won’t sustain.
  • A permanently unstable Afghanistan and Taliban growing in strength is not good news for Afghanistan’s neighbours.

Solution

  • Regional and international players should help the new government. 
  • The Taliban can’t be allowed to have a free terror run. 
  • Afghanistan needs a comprehensive peace push in which all stakeholders, including the government, the U.S., the Taliban, and regional players will have a say. 
  • The U.S. should continue to back the Kabul government.
  • It should put pressure on Pakistan to crack down on the Afghan Taliban, double down its counter-insurgency operations in Afghanistan.
  • The US should also invite regional players such as Pakistan, Iran, Russia, India, and China to take part in the diplomatic efforts. 
  • The Taliban should be forced to return to talks. 

Conclusion

The U.S.-Taliban peace talks may have collapsed. But it need not be the end of the road for finding a settlement for the Afghan crisis.

By Dr V

Doctor by Training | AIIMSONIAN | Factually correct, Politically not so much | Opinionated? Yes!

Foreign Policy Watch: India-Afghanistan

[oped of the day] In Afghan peace derailment, a wagon of hope

Note4Students

From UPSC perspective, the following things are important :

Prelims level : Nothing much

Mains level : Afghan peace process

Op-ed of the day is the most important editorial of the day. This will cover a key issue that came in the news and for which students must pay attention. This will also take care of certain key issues students have to cover in respective GS papers.

CONTEXT

U.S. President Donald Trump abruptly called off ‘peace’ talks with the Taliban citing the killing of an American soldier in a suicide bomb attack for which the Taliban claimed the credit. 

Background

  • The agreement had been in the making over nine rounds of talks, largely in Doha.
  • The Afghan government was not a part of talks on account of a Taliban veto.
  • The details of the agreement are as follows
    • They centered on an initial timetable for the withdrawal of around 5,400 out of nearly 14,000 U.S. troops from five Afghan bases in 135 days.
    • A tight timeline of two weeks to kick-start intra-Afghan talks before the Afghan presidential elections.
  • The announcement was accompanied by a wave of violence. They were intended to sabotage the elections. 

Why Trump had to withdraw the Khalilzad deal

  • The deal as negotiated was one-sided, partial and highly flawed. It tilted towards Trump’s goal of a withdrawal of all U.S. troops by November 2020.
  • It was weak in guarantees against terrorism aimed at the U.S., and lacking safeguards for the security and stability for Afghanistan. 
  • Differences remained over the withdrawal of the remaining troops amid U.S. insistence on residual counter-terrorism (CT) and intelligence presence.
  • A lack of trust in the Taliban at critical levels in the U.S.
  • The comprehensive ceasefire was watered down to a limited ‘reduction’ in violence. 
  • The intra-Afghan government talks effectively downgraded to talks with a non-official delegation. 
  • The Afghan government with which the U.S. has a bilateral strategic partnership and security agreements were sidelined and powerless. 
  • These were among the reasons for Trump’s decision.

Other problems with the agreement

  • Its timing and attempt to rush intra-Afghan talks just days before the presidential elections is with the aim of undermining the elections. 
  • If successful, they could have undercut plans to install an interim, transitional or power-sharing arrangement that could provide the mechanism and an illusion of peace to pull out U.S. forces. 
  • It would have paved the way for a dominant position for the Taliban in any future dispensation and pushed Afghanistan towards instability.
  • Even a civil war worse than the intra-Mujahideen fighting of the 1990s with unpredictable consequences could happen.
  • The agreement was seen as an “abdication”, and even a “surrender” rather than a peace agreement, sacrificing the political, military and economic investments and civic gains of the last 18 years including democracy and the advancement of women.
  • It is creating the conditions for a likely descent into civil war, fanning radical extremism.

Way ahead

  • There is a need for a counter-terrorism strategy. 
  • The suspension of U.S.-Taliban talks has opened the space for the holding of Afghan presidential elections.
  • It also gave a window of opportunity for the international community and India to reset their approach to peace and withdrawal.
  • The Afghan election authorities and security forces should be supported in every way to conduct free and fair elections as an exercise of Afghan sovereignty. 
  • Concerns about misuse of government apparatus should be addressed. 
  • A reasonably good turnout even if elections are held only in secure areas would be a barometer of support elsewhere and a victory for the constitutional order.
  • Its outcome could provide a stronger foundation for talks with the Taliban that are Afghan-led, Afghan-owned and Afghan-controlled and not as dictated from Washington, Islamabad, Doha or Moscow. 
  • India should be able to support such talks.
  • Free from elections, the Afghan government should take the lead in forging a national consensus behind talks with the Taliban that it has failed to do until now.
  • Focus efforts on the Taliban to demonstrate their ‘nationalism’ by distancing themselves from Pakistan’s ISI, halting attacks against fellow Afghans, agreeing to a ceasefire, and negotiating directly with a representative Afghan delegation.
  • U.S. military pressure on the Taliban is not enough. Doha talks show that the route to peace in Afghanistan is through Pakistan. Every possible instrument should be brought to bear on Pakistan to deliver on this. 
  • Crucial to Afghanistan’s future is its ability to stand on its own feet:
    • economically through investment in Afghanistan’s mineral sector
    • Militarily through a progressive ‘Afghanisation’ of security forces at a lower budget
  • India should be able to use Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s rapport with Mr. Trump and Russian President Vladimir Putin to influence their policies and play a larger international diplomatic role in Afghanistan.

By Dr V

Doctor by Training | AIIMSONIAN | Factually correct, Politically not so much | Opinionated? Yes!

Foreign Policy Watch: India-Afghanistan

[op-ed snap] Free fall: On the Afghan conflict

Note4Students

From UPSC perspective, the following things are important :

Prelims level : Nothing much

Mains level : Afghan peace process

CONTEXT

A recent suicide attack at a crowded wedding hall in Kabul killed at least 63 people and injured more than 180 others. It is a tragic reminder of the security situation in Afghanistan.

Background

  1. The blast is claimed by the local arm of the Islamic State. It occurred at a time when the U.S. and the Taliban are preparing to announce a peace agreement to end the 18-year-long conflict.
  2. It’s now a three-way conflict in Afghanistan — the government, the Taliban insurgents and the global terrorists.
  3. The Afghan government is fighting to preserve the existing system that offers a semblance of democracy. But it failed in ensuring the safety and security of the people.
  4. The Taliban controls the mountainous hinterlands and wants to expand its reach to the urban centers.
  5. IS declared a province (Khorasan) in eastern Afghanistan and has emerged as the third player. Attacks against civilians, especially the Shia minority, is the central part of its brutal military tactics. Afghanistan’s Hazara Shias were the target of the wedding hall bombing.
  6. IS has demonstrated an ability to survive and strike in Afghanistan despite the U.S.’s heavy air campaign in the east.

Afghanistan peace deal:

  1. U.S. is ready to pull troops from Afghanistan in return for assurances from the Taliban that they will not allow the Afghan soil to be used by transnational terrorists such as the IS and al-Qaeda.
  2. But the Taliban’s intentions are hardly clear. It ran most of Afghanistan according to its puritanical interpretation of Islamic law from 1996 to 2001.
  3. There are chances that it turns against Kabul once the Americans are out and the country may plunge into a multi-party civil war as it did after the Soviet Union pulled out in 1989.

Way ahead :

  1. Taliban and the government should have their own peace talks and settle differences. It would allow both sides to rechannel their resources to fighting terrorist groups.
  2. The international community should strengthen the hands of the Kabul government against all kinds of terrorists, before seeking a settlement with the insurgents.

By Dr V

Doctor by Training | AIIMSONIAN | Factually correct, Politically not so much | Opinionated? Yes!

Foreign Policy Watch: India-Afghanistan

[op-ed snap] Talks and terror: on Afghan peace talks

Note4Students

From UPSC perspective, the following things are important :

Prelims level : Nothing Much

Mains level : Peace talks in afghanistan are not yielding required results

CONTEXT

The attack on Afghan vice presidential candidate Amrullah Saleh’s office in Kabul on Sunday that killed at least 20 people and injured 50, including Mr Saleh, is a grave reminder of the crisis the war-torn country is going through even amid attempts to find peace.

Background

  • Mr. Saleh, a former intelligence chief and a strong critic of the Taliban and Pakistan, is President Ashraf Ghani’s running-mate for the September 28 election.
  • And the irony is that the assault occurred a few hours after President Ghani officially launched his campaign in which he promised that “peace is coming”.
  • The message the insurgents are trying to send is that even the most fortified political offices in the country or its top politicians are not safe.
  • The insurgents have made it clear they will carry out their offensive irrespective of the peace process, especially when Afghanistan gets down to a full-fledged election campaign.

Peace initiatives

  • In recent months, even when the U.S. and Taliban representatives have held multiple rounds of talks in Doha, Qatar, insurgents have kept up attacks, both on military and civilian locations.
  • The Taliban appears to be trying to leverage these assaults to boost its bargaining position in the talks with the U.S.
  •  And the Kabul government’s inability to prevent them and the U.S.’s apparent decision to delink the negotiations from the daily violence are giving the insurgents a free run in many Afghan cities.

Problems before  Afghanistan

  • Afghanistan’s crises are many.
  • Half the country is either directly controlled or dominated by the Taliban.
  • In the eastern parts, the Islamic State has established a presence and the group targets the country’s religious minorities.
  • The government in Kabul is weak and notorious for chronic corruption.
  • Its failure to ensure the basic safety and security of civilians is in turn eroding the public’s confidence in the system.

Response by government

  • At present, the government appears beleaguered. Its security agencies are strained by the prolonged war. 
  • It is true that Afghanistan needs a political settlement.
  • The war has been in a stalemate for long.
  • The government, even with U.S. support, is not in a position to turn the war around.
  • The Taliban, on the other side, has expanded its reach to the hinterland, but not the urban centres.

Giving too much leeway to the Taliban

  • While a peace process is the best way ahead in such a scenario, the question is whether the U.S. is giving too much leeway to the Taliban in its quest to get out of its longest war.
  • The decision to keep the Afghan government out of the peace process was a big compromise.
  • The absence of a ceasefire even when talks were under way was another.

Conclusion

  • The result is that Afghans continue to suffer even when the Americans and the Taliban talks.
  • This has to change.
  • There has to be more pressure, both political and military, on the Taliban to cease the violence.
  • And the U.S. should back the Afghan government and the coming elections resolutely, while Kabul has to get its act together.

By Dr V

Doctor by Training | AIIMSONIAN | Factually correct, Politically not so much | Opinionated? Yes!

Foreign Policy Watch: India-Afghanistan

[op-ed snap] Endless war

Note4Students

From UPSC perspective, the following things are important :

Prelims level : Nothing Much

Mains level : Current situation of afghanistan Peace Process

CONTEXT

A call by Afghanistan’s Loya Jirga, a grand assembly of senior politicians and tribal and religious leaders, for a ceasefire between government troops and the Taliban underscores the mood in Kabul.The U.S. must put pressure on the Taliban to heed the Afghan government’s concerns.

Background

  • Afghanistan’s leaders, from its rulers to tribal chieftains, want to resolve the 17-year-long conflict.
  • Over a four-day meeting that ended on May 2, the Jirga asked the government to set up a negotiating team with members from the assembly for talks with the insurgents.
  • It also backed women’s rights, a critical issue being debated by the political class amid the Taliban’s rising clout.
  • President Ashraf Ghani has said his government would honour the assembly’s proposals, but wants the ceasefire to be mutual.
  • The Taliban, for its part, immediately shot down the proposal, vowing to continue attacks through the Ramzan month.
  • Without the Taliban’s reciprocity, no ceasefire will hold.

Current Situation

  • The group controls half of Afghanistan and has shown its capacity to strike anywhere, including in the most fortified of locations.
  • It has also been engaged in direct talks with the U.S. for months.
  • But the peace talks haven’t prevented the Taliban from carrying out its summer offensive against the government.
  • By rejecting the Loya Jirga proposal, the Taliban has once again made it clear that it is not ready yet to engage with the government in Kabul.

Us Stance

  •  The talks between Taliban representatives and Zalmay Khalilzad, the U.S. special representative, are primarily focussed on withdrawing foreign troops from Afghanistan.
  • The U.S. seeks, in return, an assurance that Afghanistan will not provide a safe haven to transnational terrorist groups such as al-Qaeda and the Islamic State.

Stalemate situation

  • But for an eventual settlement of the Afghan crisis, the government and the Taliban need to talk. The war has long been in a stalemate.
  • But the government and the Taliban see different ways out.
  • The government is willing to engage the insurgents, a move which has now been endorsed by the Loya Jirga as well.
  • But the Taliban, like any other successful insurgent group, wants to prolong the conflict, hoping that it can weaken the government’s morale and reduce its military strength.
  • The Taliban will change track only if it is forced to do so militarily or through pressure.
  • The government lacks the resources to accomplish either.
  • It cannot defeat the Taliban militarily, as the 17 years of the war suggest.
  • It cannot forge peace on the Taliban’s terms as it would mean endangering whatever few freedoms the Afghans enjoy right now.
  • This resource deficit can be bridged only with the help of the international community.

Way Forward

The U.S., which is in talks with the Taliban, should not overlook the interests of Kabul. It must put pressure on the Taliban to cease hostilities and engage with Mr. Ghani’s government.

By Dr V

Doctor by Training | AIIMSONIAN | Factually correct, Politically not so much | Opinionated? Yes!

Foreign Policy Watch: India-Afghanistan

[op-ed snap] No good options in Afghanistan

Note4Students

From UPSC perspective, the following things are important :

Prelims level : Doha Talks

Mains level : Peace in afghanistan seems elusive.

CONTEXT

In Afghanistan, ‘reconciliation’ means different things to different players and to different groups of Afghans.

Background

During the last 50 years, Afghanistan has been through different governance systems — monarchy till 1973; communist type rule, initially home-grown and then imposed by the U.S.S.R. with its 1979 intervention; jihadi warlordism in the early 1990s; shariat-based Taliban rule; and a democratic republic based on a presidential system since 2004.

Negotiating a U.S. exit

  • The U.S. began its operations in Afghanistan, primarily against the al-Qaeda, 18 years ago.
  • The cumulative cost has been over $800 billion on U.S. deployments and $105 billion on rebuilding Afghanistan, with nearly 2,400 American soldiers dead.

Trump’s Policy

  • U.S. President Donald Trump’s policy announced in August 2017 was aimed at breaking the military stalemate by authorising a small increase in U.S. presence, removing operational constraints, putting Pakistan on notice, improving governance and strengthening the capabilities of Afghan security forces.
  • Within a year, the policy failure was apparent.
  • Afghan government continued to lose territory and today controls less than half the country.
  • Since 2015, Afghan security forces have suffered 45,000 casualties with over 3,000 civilians killed every year.

Talks With Taliban

  • Last year, U.S. senior officials travelled to Doha to open talks with the Taliban, followed by the appointment of Ambassador Zalmay Khalilzad as Special Representative for Afghan Reconciliation.
  • Five rounds of talks have been held and a sixth is likely soon.

Terms of talks

  • Mr. Khalilzad is seeking guarantees that the Taliban will not provide safe haven to terrorist groups such as al-Qaeda and Afghan territory will not be used to launch strikes against the U.S., while the Taliban have demanded a date for U.S. withdrawal along with the release of all Taliban detainees in Guantánamo and Afghanistan.
  • Mr. Khalilzad has also sought a ceasefire in Afghanistan and engagement in an intra-Afghan dialogue in return.
  • Al-Fatah- The Taliban have responded with their new spring offensive, al-Fath, and refuse to engage with the Afghan government.
  • An intra-Afghan dialogue with political and civil society leaders planned for around the third week of this month in Doha was called off on account of the presence of Afghan officials.
  • Us exit is aim of talks -It is clear that Mr. Khalilzad is not negotiating peace in Afghanistan; he is negotiating a managed U.S. exit. Given the blood and treasure expended, the optics of the exit is important. As former U.S. Defence Secretary J. Mattis said, “The U.S. doesn’t lose wars, it loses interest”.

Increasing polarisation

  • There is growing polarisation in Afghanistan along ethnic and even sectarian divides.
  • With three presidential elections (in 2004, 2009 and 2014) and three parliamentary elections (in 2005, 2010 and 2018), faith in the electoral process and the election machinery has eroded.

Elusive peace

  • Mr. Khalilzad met with his Russian and Chinese counterparts in Moscow where the three reiterated support for “an inclusive Afghan-led, Afghan-owned peace process”.
  • However, there is no common understanding of what it means or which Afghans should own and lead the process.

The Pakistan factor

  • Pakistan is once again centre-stage as the country with maximum leverage. To demonstrate its support, Pakistan released Mullah Abdul Ghani Baradar, a leader and founder of the Taliban.
  •  Pakistan Prime Minister Imran Khan’s recent statement suggesting the formation of an interim government in Kabul to overcome the hurdles in the Doha talks provoking a furious backlash from Afghanistan from the government and the opposition figures.
  • Even Mr. Khalilzad dubbed the statement as ‘inappropriate’. Pakistan has since backtracked but it shows that old habits die hard.

Conclusion

  • Even without getting into details of why the post-Bonn order in Afghanistan is fraying, there is agreement that peace in Afghanistan cannot be restored by military action.
  • It is also clear that a prolonged U.S. military presence is not an answer.
  • The problem is that a U.S. withdrawal will end the U.S. war in Afghanistan but without a domestic and regional consensus, it will not bring peace to Afghanistan.
  • Sadly, today there are no good options in Afghanistan.

By Dr V

Doctor by Training | AIIMSONIAN | Factually correct, Politically not so much | Opinionated? Yes!

Foreign Policy Watch: India-Afghanistan

[op-ed snap]Afghanistan and the Taliban: next stage in the Great Game

Note4Students

Mains Paper 2: International relations| India and its neighborhood- relations.

From UPSC perspective, the following things are important:

Prelims level: Basic knowledge of India-Afghanistan relations.

Mains level: The news-card analyses the India’s Afghan policy in the light of US withdrawing from Afghanistan and ongoing talks with Taliban, in a brief manner.


NEWS

CONTEXT

Defeatism will hurt India’s interests more than the Taliban’s return to Kabul could.

Relationship dynamics over Taliban Inclusion

  • As international talks with the Taliban leadership gain momentum, India’s foreign policy establishment has gone through the five stages of grief: denial, anger, bargaining, depression and acceptance.
  • After the initial denial that several countries, including the U.S., Russia, U.A.E., Qatar and Saudi Arabia, were engaging with Pakistan in order to bring senior Taliban leaders to the table in late 2017, India protested against being cut out of the talks.
  • It then negotiated to join them, followed by expressions of deep misgiving over where the talks would lead.
  • And finally this has given way to acceptance today that the talks have not only progressed, but are being given priority over every other process in Afghanistan.

Details of Ongoing Talks

  • The talks appeared to be held on the Taliban’s terms, and at a venue of its choice.
  • Therefore, while clear agreements have been forged on the withdrawal of foreign forces and on not allowing Afghan soil for use by foreign terror groups, agreements on a comprehensive ceasefire and an intra-Afghan dialogue, once considered the minimum “redlines” or starting point of engaging with the Taliban, have now been made the last priority.
  • These talks have also broken the most important redline, that of being led by, or at least held with the full backing and knowledge of, the democratically-led government in Kabul.
  • During a visit to Washington on March 14, Afghan National Security Adviser Hamdullah Mohib lashed out at Mr. Khalilzad for “delegitimising” the Ashraf Ghani government by carrying out talks in the dark.

Worrying Factors for India

  • reason for New Delhi’s disquiet is that these talks continue without acknowledging a role for India, despite this being an expressly stated goal of Mr. Trump’s South Asia policy.
  • This week, Mr. Khalilzad’s conference at the U.S. State Department to discuss “international support for the Afghan peace process, the role each party can play in bringing an end to the war, and progress to date in peace talks” included only special envoys from Russia, China and the European Union.
  • When talks with the Taliban began, the objective was to try to mainstream the insurgents into the political process, and at least have a working ceasefire by the time presidential elections, scheduled for April 2019, were held.
  • The reality is far from that.
  • The Taliban continues to carry out terror attacks in Afghanistan even as its leadership talks with the U.S. Despite the Ministry of External Affairs issuing a statement on the importance of holding the presidential elections, the Afghan vote has been further postponed to September 28.
  • This makes Mr. Ghani’s continuance more tenuous under the constitution, which could mean an interim government will be installed, something India has been opposed to as well.
  • New Delhi is worried about the prospect of chaos and civil war, akin to the scene after the previous U.S. pullout in the early 1990s that cut India out and brought the Taliban to power in Kabul with Pakistan’s support.

Way Forward for India

  • Despite the restricted room for manoeuvre, however, there are several steps New Delhi can and must take in the present scenario to ensure both its own relevance in Afghanistan and stability in the region.
  • To begin with, there is the question of talks with the Taliban, which India has thus far refused.
  • In the recent past, the Modi government has shown some flexibility on the issue, by sending a “non-official” representation to the Moscow talks with the Taliban.
  • After a visit to Delhi in January by Mr. Khalilzad, Army Chief General Bipin Rawat even suggested that India should “jump on the bandwagon” of engaging the Taliban.

Challenges in talks with Taliban

  • However, direct, open talks between India and the Taliban at this point would serve little purpose for either side.
  • For India, it would mean casting aside a consistently held moral principle and speaking to a non-state actor that espouses terrorism.
  • recognising the Taliban as a legitimate interlocutor for India at this point would be a betrayal of India’s values without any visible gains.
  • India’s policy for the past two decades is to deal with the government in Kabul, and this will hold it in good stead if the Taliban were to eventually be a part of the government there.

The difference in situation from 1989

  • While Afghan security forces have suffered many losses in the past year, it is unlikely that the Taliban would today be able to overrun and hold Kabul or any other big Afghan city as it did before.
  • It also seems inconceivable that a “full withdrawal” of U.S. troops will include giving up all the bases they hold at present.
  • Given technology, social media and the progress in education in Afghanistan since 2001 (the number of secondary graduates rose from 10,000 to more than 300,000 in 2015), it is also unlikely that the Taliban will be able to control the hearts and minds of Afghans if it were to revert to its brutal ways.
  • Nor could it run policies that endanger Indian interests in the country, given the special place India enjoys, amongst thousands of Afghans who have studied in India, youth and women supported by Indian development projects, and hundreds of military officers trained in the country.
  • India is also host to a sizeable population of Afghans who live, work and study in the country, and an outreach is important.

Conclusion

  • Despite all the many reasons for despondency, it is necessary that Indian strategists don’t lose sight of the bigger picture — India’s longstanding relationship with the people of Afghanistan.
  • This is a relationship nurtured by every government in New Delhi, with more than $3 billion invested by India since 2001, which has reaped manifold returns in terms of goodwill and friendship across Afghanistan.
  • Defeatism or a lack of ambition for the India-Afghanistan relationship at this juncture would be much more detrimental to India’s interests than anything the Taliban’s return to Afghanistan’s political centrestage can do.

 

By Dr V

Doctor by Training | AIIMSONIAN | Factually correct, Politically not so much | Opinionated? Yes!

Foreign Policy Watch: India-Afghanistan

Afghanistan launches new export route to India through Iran

Note4students

Mains Paper 2:IR| Agreements involving India and/or affecting India’s interests

From UPSC perspective, the following things are important:

Prelims level:  Chabahar Port

Mains level: Significance of Chabahar Port for India


News

  • Afghanistan began exports to India through the Chabahar as the landlocked, war-torn nation turns to overseas markets to improve its economy.

Afghan Exports to India

  • 23 trucks carrying 57 tonnes of dried fruits, textiles, carpets and mineral products were dispatched from western Afghan city of Zaranj to Iran’s Chabahar port.
  • The consignment will be shipped to the Indian city of Mumbai.
  • The Iranian port provides easy access to the sea to Afghanistan and India has helped developed this route to allow both countries to engage in trade bypassing Pakistan.

Afghanistan, a new trade partner

  • India has sent 1.1 million tonnes of wheat and 2,000 tonnes of lentils to Afghanistan through Chabahar.
  • Both countries established an air corridor in 2017.
  • Afghan exports to India stood at $740 million in 2018, making it the largest export destination.

To read more about Chabahar Port, navigate to the page:

Chah Bahar, Its significance and the impediments in taking it ahead

By Dr V

Doctor by Training | AIIMSONIAN | Factually correct, Politically not so much | Opinionated? Yes!

Foreign Policy Watch: India-Afghanistan

[op-ed snap] The road to peace runs through Tehran

Note4Students

Mains Paper 2: International relations| India and its neighborhood- relations.

From UPSC perspective, the following things are important:

Prelims level: Basic knowledge of Afghanistan peace process.

Mains level: The news-card analyses the India and Iran’s role Afghanistan peace process, in a brief manner.


Context

  • An American military pull-out from Afghanistan is on the cards and the U.S. will want to leave behind a stable country.

Peace in Afghanistan, rallied on the support of regional powers

  • Any peace settlement in Afghanistan will stand a better chance of staying on the rails if it is supported by regional powers.
  • Ties between Afghanistan and its neighbours, including Iran, will impact the security of southern and western Asia.
  • Like India, Russia, China and the U.S., Iran would want to see a steady hand at the helm in Afghanistan.
  • While lacking military influence, India can build on its good ties with the U.S. and Iran to secure Afghanistan.

Iranian continuity

  • Iran is not a newcomer to regional diplomacy in Afghanistan.
  • First and foremost, India should try to dissuade the U.S. from dealing with Iran, Russia and China as enemies.
  • In fact, U.S. President’s perception of all three as foes is at odds with America’s earlier engagement with them to end its military campaign in Afghanistan.

Afghan peace process: 6+1 process

  • From 2014 to 2016, Washington and Moscow quietly arranged talks on the Afghan peace process.
  • The meetings, known as the 6+1 group, included representatives from Afghanistan, China, India, Iran, Pakistan, Russia, and the U.S.
  • The 6+1 process assumed that each of these countries was essential to the achievement of a political settlement in Afghanistan.
  • Moreover, last November, the U.S. and the Taliban joined for the first time the Russia-hosted conference in the hope of promoting a negotiated solution to achieve peace and national reconciliation in Afghanistan.

Negotiated settlement to ensure Afghanistan’s stability

  • Regional powers could put their weight behind a negotiated settlement that will ensure Afghanistan’s stability.
  • Iran, Russia and China — and the Central Asian states with which India and Afghanistan wish to cooperate in countering terrorism — fear of that continued instability in Afghanistan could spill over into their countries.
  • India will also be adversely affected if negotiations break down.
  • In that event, extremist exports from Pakistan to Afghanistan or India would probably increase.

India to explore the Iranian diplomatic options to secure Afghanistan

  • It could be worthwhile for India to explore the Iranian diplomatic options to secure Afghanistan.
  • On good terms with Tehran, New Delhi would gain by developing the Chabahar port in southern Iran.

International North-South Transport Corridor project

  • Looking beyond Chabahar, India, Iran and Russia were the founding countries of the International North-South Transport Corridor project as long ago as 2002.
  • The corridor is intended to increase connectivity between India, Iran, Russia, landlocked Afghanistan and Central Asia and Europe.
  • It would also advance their trading interests.

India’s role with the US

  • India could remind Washington about the past coincidence of American and Iranian interests on Afghanistan.
  • Together with the U.S. and India, Iran supported the overthrow of the Taliban in 2001.
  • In the international negotiations which followed in Bonn that year, Iran supported the installation of Hamid Karzai as President and favoured the exclusion of the Taliban from his government.

U.S.-Iran ties have often been fractious

  • As the U.S. imposed sanctions on Iran after 2005, Iran saw the Taliban countering American influence on its borders and gave them arms.
  • Iran continues to oppose the U.S.’s presence in Afghanistan, largely because it fears that American troops in Afghanistan could be used against it.
  • The U.S. and Iran could be advised of the mutual, and regional, advantages of improving ties.
  • Such advantages could range from stability in Afghanistan, and beyond, to increased trade prospects, especially in South and West Asia.

Afghanistan and Iran

  • To allay Iranian fears, Afghanistan recently said that it would not allow the U.S. to use its bases in the country to conduct any act of aggression against Iran.
  • Last December, Iran also held talks with the Taliban with the knowledge of the Afghan government.
  • In recent months Afghan officials have accused Iran, which the U.S. says is trying to extend its influence in western Afghanistan, of providing the Taliban with money, weapons and explosives.
  • Iran has denied the charge.

Win-win prospects

  • Iran could gain by strengthening trading ties with a secure Afghanistan.
  • In 2017 it supplanted Pakistan as Afghanistan’s largest trading partner.
  • At a time when Iran’s economy is weighed down by American sanctions, it would want to build up trade ties with neighbouring states.

The U.S. would also gain

  • Iran is the geopolitical hub connecting South, Central and West Asia and the Caucasus.
  • The Strait of Hormuz, that crucial conduit, links Iran westwards to the Persian Gulf and Europe, and eastwards to the Gulf of Oman, South and East Asia.
  • Moreover, an improvement in U.S.-Iran relations would be welcomed by America’s European allies, who are opposed to Washington’s unilateral sanctions on Iran.

Way Forward

  • The U.S. should not lose the chance to act in concert with Iran to improve Afghanistan’s security.
  • As the U.S. airs the idea of withdrawal from Afghanistan, now is the right time for India to act as the honest broker between them and to play a larger role in regional security.
  • The status of India and Iran as regional powers as well as the stability of South, Central, and West Asia would simultaneously be enhanced.
  • It is to be hoped that Mr. Trump’s display of America’s “superpower” in opposition to Iran — and Russia and China — will not block such an opportunity to stabilise Afghanistan.

By Dr V

Doctor by Training | AIIMSONIAN | Factually correct, Politically not so much | Opinionated? Yes!

Foreign Policy Watch: India-Afghanistan

[op-ed snap] A Crossroads In Kabul

Note4Students

Mains Paper 2: International relations| India and its neighborhood- relations.

From UPSC perspective, the following things are important:

Prelims level: Basic knowledge of India-Afghanistan relations.

Mains level: The news-card analyses the India’s Afghan policy in the light of US withdrawing from Afghanistan, in a brief manner.


Context

  • India’s Afghan policy is at a crossroads.
  • A period of adjustment has become essential following US President Donald Trump’s unilateral announcement that he is pulling US troops out of the conflict-ridden country.

Background

  • Trump is the third, and perhaps the last US president, to try to wind up America’s costly military involvement in Afghanistan.
  • But the announcement of a draw-down before the final peace deal with the Taliban is concluded was certainly a blunder.
  • More fighting and political instability in Afghanistan would be damaging, as much for Indian interests as for regional stability.

Framework deal between the US and Afghan Taliban

  • Another development is the “framework” deal between the US and Afghan Taliban after six days of discussions at Doha.
  • Washington’s hasty timetable (18 months) to disentangle itself from the Afghan quagmire has narrowed the US’s options.
  • India too is trapped in a strategic blind-spot in Afghanistan.

US pull-out: role of Pakistan is going to expand significantly

  • For Pakistan’s security establishment, Trump’s frustration at the current military stalemate in Afghanistan is a godsend — it can re-engage with Washington, largely on its own terms.
  • Trump has frequently criticised Pakistan for turning a blind eye to the Taliban’s insurgency.
  • But he now appears reconciled to Pakistan’s centrality to the endgame in the region.
  • The role of Pakistan is going to expand significantly, with the US depending upon it to implement the interim deal.
  • This will be a diplomatic victory for Pakistan.

Trump’s decision against Pentagon’s advice

  • James Mattis, who was forced to resign as secretary of defence, was against the pull-out.
  • The head of the US Central Command, Lt General Kenneth McKenzie, had argued that Afghanistan would be doomed to a downward spiral if abandoned by the US at this critical juncture.
  • But Trump decided to ignore Pentagon’s advice.

An Afghan-led and Afghan-owned peace process seems to has vanished

  • Fully aware of the deadline, the Taliban are playing their hand well, trying to secure maximum concessions from Zalmay Khalilzad, the US special envoy, without offering anything meaningful in return.
  • The Kabul government is nowhere in the picture.
  • The Taliban’s determined refusal to engage the Kabul regime constitutes the biggest obstacle to a meaningful intra-Afghan dialogue.
  • In all probability, the Trump administration is going to finalise the deal with the Taliban without consulting President Ashraf Ghani, leave alone taking into consideration New Delhi’s concerns.
  • All talk of an Afghan-led and Afghan-owned peace process has vanished.
  • The Afghan presidential election, originally scheduled in April, stands postponed till July.

India finding itself marginalised

  • Despite being an important stakeholder in Afghanistan, India finds itself increasingly marginalised in negotiations involving the key regional players.
  • New Delhi is concerned about the vital role that all the powers are giving to Pakistan.
  • Iran and Russia, two of India’s closest allies during the Northern Alliance’s battle against the Taliban regime in the 1990s, seem out of sync with New Delhi’s interests.

India’s soft power strategy has limitations

  • Since the Taliban’s ouster, Washington’s financial, diplomatic and military support to the Kabul regime has allowed New Delhi to avoid direct military involvement in the Afghan conflict.
  • India’s developmental approach has earned it immense goodwill among the Afghan people.
  • However, the “soft power” strategy has limitations.
  • The manner in which Trump hit out at India’s contribution towards Afghan stabilisation is largely symptomatic of his fundamentally transactional view of India’s relationship with the US.
  • India cannot send troops to Afghanistan since there is a domestic consensus against it.
  • But ironically, without any military footprint, India cannot convincingly push for Pakistan’s exclusion from the peace process.
  • New Delhi today has little influence over Afghanistan’s future.

Taliban might effect security scenario in India’s troubled Kashmir Valley

  • An emboldened Taliban is sure to impinge on security scenario in India’s troubled Kashmir Valley.
  • The outfit seems positioned to emerge as the ideological bulwark of Kashmir’s renewed insurgency.
  • Pakistan’s security establishment, in cahoots with the Taliban, will likely project a potential American exit from Afghanistan as a vindication of its policies.

US and India not on the same page over Afghanistan

  • Trump is unlikely to be bothered even if America’s disengagement in Afghanistan is viewed as a strategic defeat .
  • Trump’s criticism of India’s Afghan policy and his plans to exit could cast serious doubt on the US’s role as a strategic ally for India.
  • Trump’s ill-conceived strategy gives India a chance to reconsider its long-standing belief that it has the US’s backing in Afghanistan.

Way Forward

  • According to experts, India cannot be out of the bandwagon because if “you are not sitting on the high table you will not know what is happening”.
  • It is time for New Delhi to engage the Taliban to secure its interests.
  • India also needs to reassess its policy choices in close coordination with Russia and Iran, constantly reminding them that a complete surrender to the Taliban’s demands will be detrimental to their own security.

By Dr V

Doctor by Training | AIIMSONIAN | Factually correct, Politically not so much | Opinionated? Yes!

Foreign Policy Watch: India-Afghanistan

[op-ed snap] Afghanistan at a crossroads

Note4students

Mains Paper 2: International relations| India and its neighborhood- relations.

From UPSC perspective, the following things are important:

Prelims level: Basic knowledge of the Afghanistan peace process.

Mains level: The news-card analyses the issues and challenges in carrying out the Afghanistan peace process, in a brief manner.


Context

  • Afghanistan is seeing growing national, regional and global attempts to seek a peaceful settlement to the conflict.

Issue

  • The U.S. is desperate to extricate itself from the war, heightened by an unpredictable President and an ambitious negotiator, Zalmay Khalilzad.
  • This is matched by growing fears in Afghanistan that the Taliban will seek to overthrow the government, as it did in 1994, and that the government, the political class and the democratic constituency will be betrayed by a hasty deal between U.S. and Pakistan.
  • This may produce a peace agreement, but such an agreement may not bring inclusive and sustainable peace.

Areas of concern

  • Addressing the main drivers of the conflict are the principal tenets of any sustainable peace settlement.
  • The causes of the Afghan conflict are religious, ethnic and external in nature
  • The conflict has been fought over the identity, legitimacy and sovereignty of the Afghan state and society: Should it be a Pashtun-dominated entity or a pluralistic state?
  • Is an Islamist/theocratic emirate a true identity of the nation or a constitutional republic?
  • Should it be a puppet state of Pakistan or a sovereign and independent state?
  • Should it be a representative or plutocratic state?

Numerous peace-making efforts in past

  • There have been numerous peace-making efforts and agreements since the beginning of the conflict in 1979.
  • The leftist Najibullah Ahmadzai, the Mujahideen-led government of Burhanuddin Rabbani, and the Western-installed governments of Hamid Karzai and Ashraf Ghani all pursued political settlements based on the principles of power-sharing and democratic governance but failed.

Taliban for a pure Islamic government

  • Since its formation in 1994, the Taliban has remained consistent in its ambition of total victory and establishing “a pure Islamic government”.
  • The Taliban is not primarily a nationalistic insurgency fighting a foreign occupation, but an ideological movement determined to re-establish a political order that is in alignment with Pakistan’s geo-strategic ambitions.
  • The presence of international troops is an obstacle to the Taliban’s goal.

Key questions in Afghanistan

  • The key questions are:

(a) whether the Taliban’s goal of establishing a “pure Islamic government” is compatible with the principles of pluralism, power-sharing and election-based politics;

(b) whether Pakistan will accept a sovereign, independent Afghanistan;

(c) whether the potential peace settlement is to be built upon the fragile achievements in the fields of state-building, democratisation, pluralism and connectivity; and

(d) whether there will be an effective guarantee and mechanism for ensuring the sustainability of any peace agreement.

The role of the U.S.

  • In March 1979, the U.S. began covertly supporting the Mujahideen via and with Pakistan through ‘Operation Cyclone’; it has remained a party to the conflict ever since.
  • However, the U.S.’s Afghan policy has been driven by instinct rather than deliberation.
  • Its current peace efforts are mainly driven by Washington’s selfish instincts and ever-changing moods rather than the realities on the ground, particularly the role of the Afghan government and people.
  • U.S. President Donald Trump follows his predecessors in changing the goalposts from conditions-based engagement to cater to the U.S.’s domestic impulses and/or emerging geopolitical attractions.

Current realities

  • Neither the current military environment nor the political structure is conducive for a sustained peace process.
  • Unlike the Afghan and the coalition forces, the Taliban is not militarily and politically exhausted and/or desperate.
  • The leadership of the Taliban and their Pakistani enablers have more stamina, resources and reasons to be hopeful of total victory.
  • Their confidence has been reinforced by the Trump administration’s ‘all bark no bite’ approach in dealing with Pakistan.
  • The Afghan presidential election, in which 17 candidates from different political backgrounds have registered to compete, is scheduled to take place in July.

Challenges

  • The speedy talk between the U.S. and the Taliban has created a parallel process in competition with the planned presidential election.
  • Many in Kabul rightly fear that the U.S. may sacrifice Afghanistan’s nascent democracy and sovereignty to attain its objectives.
  • Any agreement between the Taliban and the U.S. at the expense of the two principal stakeholders — the Afghan government and the people — is doomed to fail.
  • The Afghanistan of 2019 is fundamentally different from the Afghanistan of the 1990s.
  • Despite many shortcomings, the state of Afghanistan enjoys significant capacity and legitimacy and is endowed with a formidable and growing national security force.
  • On the other hand, both Pakistan and the Taliban remain despised and distrusted by an overwhelming majority.
  • In 2018, the Asia Foundation’s annual Afghanistan survey and the nationwide survey conducted by the Afghan Institute for Strategic Studies found that over 90% of the population do not support the Taliban’s cause.

Afghanistan: the school of jihad

  • In the words of the Taliban, Afghanistan is “the school of jihad” for jihadists around the world.
  • Therefore, any arrangement with the Taliban would have direct implications for other violent Islamist groups.
  • Separating the Taliban from wider global Islamist movements is the product of Western political duplicity and intellectual naivety.

Way Forward

  • A trilateral agreement involving Pakistan, the U.S., and the Taliban’s Quetta Shura will not be acceptable to other stakeholders in Afghanistan and the region.
  • Inclusivity, realism, sustainability and Afghan ownership should drive the efforts for the peace settlement.
  • For this to succeed, India should join other like-minded and concerned stakeholders to ensure that Afghanistan moves forward rather than be forced to return to the dark age of the 1990s.

Conclusion

  • The people of Afghanistan want a peaceful, pluralistic and prosperous country.
  • The Taliban can have a role and a place in building and living in such a polity, similar to other Afghan citizens or political groups.
  • A peaceful and prosperous Afghanistan, a peaceful and developed region, and the defeat of the ideology of violent Islamist groups are all interlinked.
  • But the people of Afghanistan should not be forced to choose between an imposed peace or independence and a constitutional order.
  • An imposed peace will achieve brief victory for one party, but cause long-term suffering and will eventually break down.

By Dr V

Doctor by Training | AIIMSONIAN | Factually correct, Politically not so much | Opinionated? Yes!

Foreign Policy Watch: India-Afghanistan

[op-ed snap] A way out of the morass on the US’ plan to pull out of Afghanistan

Note4students

Mains Paper 3: International relations| India and its neighborhood- relations.

From UPSC perspective, the following things are important:

Prelims level: Basics of India-Afghanistan relations, Afghanistan politics.

Mains level: The news-card analyses the issues and challenges in Afghanistan after the US pull out, in a brief manner.


Context

  • In an article published in The Hindu in Dec, 2003 it was suggested that the only way out of the morass in Afghanistan would be to re-place Afghanistan in its traditional mode of neutrality.
  • For that, two things were essential. The Afghans themselves must declare unequivocally that they would follow strict neutrality in their relations with external powers, and the outside powers must commit themselves to respect Afghanistan’s neutrality.
  • In other words, external powers must subscribe to a multilateral declaration not to interfere in the internal affairs of Afghanistan together with an obligation on Afghanistan not to seek outside intervention in its internal situation.

Background

  • The agreement on the Neutrality of Laos, concluded in 1962, could provide a model for the neutralisation of Afghanistan. The present might be an appropriate time to revisit that proposal.
  • U.S. President Donald Trump has announced his decision to reduce American troop strength in Afghanistan, 14,000 at present, by half. Though Mr. Trump has not laid down a deadline for this reduction, it is assumed that he will make this happen well in time before the next U.S. presidential election in 2020.
  • This development has energised the principal stakeholders in Afghanistan to make calculated efforts to place themselves in as favourable a position as possible in an Afghanistan post-American withdrawal.
  • India should also be thinking of what steps it should take to protect its interests in that situation.

Issue

Engaging in dialogue with the Taliban

  • The Taliban will be a major player in the politics of Afghanistan in the coming months and years. They already control more than 50% of the country and are getting stronger and bolder by the day.
  • They are also engaged in direct talks with China, Russia, the Central Asian states and others. The Americans, represented by former diplomat Zalmay Khalilzad, have begun sustained dialogue with the Taliban.
  • The Taliban have refused to talk to the Kabul government so far, but as and when the Americans pull out, as they are justified in doing for reasons of their own national interest, they might agree to engage with the Ashraf Ghani government.
  • In any future scenario, the Taliban are guaranteed to play an important, perhaps even a decisive role in the governing structures of the country.

India’s engagement with Taliban

  • New Delhi has so far refrained from establishing formal contacts with the Taliban out of sensitivity for the Kabul government not wanting to talk directly to the Taliban as long as the Taliban refuse to acknowledge its legitimacy.
  • However, India must look after its own interests. Will a Taliban-dominated government in Kabul necessarily pose a serious security threat to us? While we are in no position to prevent such an eventuality, we would have alienated the Taliban by refusing to talk to them during the present phase.
  • Even Iran, a Shia regime, has established official dialogue with the Taliban, a staunchly Sunni movement. It would not be difficult for our agencies to establish contacts that would facilitate initiating an official dialogue with Taliban; if needed, Iran could help in this even if it might displease the Americans.
  • After all, the Americans have not always been sensitive to India’s concerns, in Afghanistan or elsewhere and Mr. Trump has publicly shown unawareness of India’s substantial development assistance to it.

A regional compact

  • At the same time, the international community ought to think of how to establish a mechanism which might offer a reasonable opportunity to the Afghan people to live in peace, free from external interference.
  • And perhaps the only way in which this could be done is to promote a regional compact among all the neighbouring countries as well as relevant external powers, and with the endorsement of the UN Security Council, to commit themselves not to interfere in Afghanistan’s internal affairs.
  • The most important country in this regard is Pakistan. Pakistan is highly suspicious, perhaps without any basis, of India’s role in Afghanistan. A multilateral pact, with India subscribing to it, ought to allay, to some extent at least, Pakistan’s apprehensions.
  • India will need to talk to China about cooperating in Afghanistan; Chinese President Xi Jinping and Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi already agreed in Wuhan, in April 2018, on working on joint projects there.
  • Pakistan should have no objection to formally agreeing to Afghanistan’s neutrality.

Bilateral Agreement on the Principles of Mutual Relations

  • There is the most relevant precedent of the Bilateral Agreement on the Principles of Mutual Relations, in particular on Non-interference and Non-intervention, signed in Geneva in 1988 between Pakistan and Afghanistan.
  • In that agreement, the parties undertook, inter alia, to respect the right of the other side to determine its political, social and culture system without interference in any form; to refrain from over throwing or changing the political system of the other side; to ensure that its territory was not used to violate the sovereignty, etc of the other side, to prevent within its territory the training, etc of mercenaries from whatever origin for the purpose of hostile activities against the other side.
  • As a document on non-interference, it could hardly be improved upon. Pakistan probably would agree to a document with Afghanistan in whose governance its protégé, the Taliban, will play an important role, which would broadly be similar to the one it had concluded with an Afghan regime which it did not approve of.
  • The Bonn Agreement of 2001, which made Hamid Karzai the interim chief of Afghan government, contains a request to the United Nations and the international community to ‘guarantee’ non-interference in the internal affairs of Afghanistan, a request not acted upon so far.

Concerns

  • A regional pact on non-interference and non-intervention ought to be welcomed by all the regional states.
  • Russia has reason to worry about a lack of stability in Afghanistan because of its concerns regarding a spread of radicalism as well as the drug menace.
  • China has even stronger concerns, given the situation in its western-most region.
  • The U.S. might have apprehensions about China entrenching itself in strategically important Afghanistan, but there is little it can do about it; a regional agreement on non-interference might give the U.S. at least some comfort.

Conclusion

  • It is early days to conclude whether the situation in Afghanistan has entered its end game.
  • In any case, it would be prudent to assume that the U.S. will definitely leave Afghanistan in the next two years, likely to be followed by other western countries.
  • No other country will offer to put boots on the ground, nor should they; certainly not India. The only alternative is to think of some arrangement along the lines this article have suggested.

By Dr V

Doctor by Training | AIIMSONIAN | Factually correct, Politically not so much | Opinionated? Yes!

Foreign Policy Watch: India-Afghanistan

[op-ed snap] After the inevitable exit

Note4students

Mains Paper 2: IR| India and its neighborhood- relations.

From UPSC perspective, the following things are important:

Prelims level: Basic geographical aspects of Afghanistan, The Heart of Asia-Istanbul Process.

Mains level: The newscard discusses US withdrawal from Afghanistan and its impact on India


Context

  • Despite the White House’s spirited denial of reports that it has issued no orders for the pullout of U.S. troops, the course seems set for a thinning of American presence in Afghanistan.
  • S. President Donald Trump had promised this during his campaign, and several advisers have said since then that he is keen to bring back most, if not all, troops before his re-election bid in 2020.

Background

  1. Afghanistan is experiencing political, social and security instability, with extremists taking advantage of the turmoil in the country. The United States and its allies launched a military operation in Afghanistan in 2001, just after the 9/11 terror attacks. The mission in Afghanistan ended in 2014.
  2. On January 1, 2015, NATO announced its new mission in the country, called Resolute Support, to train and assist the Afghan security forces. Despite Washington’s efforts, the Asian state is still being hit by multiple attacks against its civilians and military targets.
  3. “As President, my greatest responsibility is to protect the American people, we are not in Afghanistan to control that country or to dictate its future,” said the President of the United States in 2009, announcing a “regional strategy” for Afghanistan after the worst year of the conflict.
  4. President of United States unveiled his new “regional strategy” for Afghanistan, it was in large part a reiteration of the above speech in terms of strategic objectives. By now 2016 has become the worst year of the conflict.

Shift in policy

  1. Mr. Trump had defined the strategy with following features:
  • that U.S. troops would remain involved in the country until “conditions”, not a timeline, mandated their return;
  • that the U.S. would put Pakistan on notice for its support to the Taliban.
  • a political settlement with the Taliban would only follow “after an effective military effort”; and
  • that the policy would hinge on further developing the strategic partnership with India.
  • It is easy to see that each element of the U.S.’s policy on the ground has shifted, if not been entirely reversed.
  1. The appointment of special envoy Zalmay Khalilzad in September to lead talks with the Taliban after a particularly brutal year shows that the U.S. is no longer waiting for military operations to take effect.
  2. According to the Special Inspector General for Afghanistan Reconstruction (SIGAR) report to the U.S. Congress, casualties of Afghan National and Defence Security Forces (ANDSF) in May-September 2018 were the “greatest it has ever been” compared to corresponding periods since 2001, and
  3. The United Nations Assistance Mission in Afghanistan “documented more civilian deaths in the first nine months of 2018 than they had during the same nine-month reporting period since 2014”.
  4. Khalilzad’s direct talks with the Taliban that cut out the National Unity government (NUG) in Kabul reportedly didn’t even have President Ashraf Ghani in the loop until after the first talks were held in Qatar — this reversed the previous U.S. position not to engage the Taliban until it engages the NUG.
  5. Far from the tough talk on Pakistan for support to the Taliban, Mr. Trump wrote a letter to Pakistan Prime Minister Imran Khan thanking him for his efforts.
  • The departure from the avowed U.S. position on an “Afghan-owned, Afghan-led” process has clearly ruffled feathers in Kabul.
  • In December, Mr. Ghani appointed two aides of former President Hamid Karzai known for their hardline position on the Taliban and Pakistan as his Defence and Interior Ministers.
  • Putting the seal on the clear drift in the U.S. Afghanistan and South Asia policy from the past was the exit of Defence Secretary James Mattis. He had pushed most strenuously to keep India in the Afghan game by swinging a waiver for India on Chabahar and Iran oil purchases.

Present Scenario in Afghanistan

  • The internal situation in Afghanistan is aggravated now by the uncertainty of the democratic process.
  • Parliamentary elections were held in October after being delayed by more than two years, but even their preliminary results haven’t yet been declared, casting doubt on the government’s ability to conduct elections.
  • Presidential elections have been postponed till July, despite the constitutional clause that they were to be completed by April 22, 2019.
  • Meanwhile, Mr. Ghani has been unable to keep his commitment to hold a Loya Jirga (grand council of representatives) to turn Chief Executive Abdullah Abdullah’s post in the NUG into an executive Prime Ministership.

US withdrawal vis-à-vis–India

For India, these developments may appear discouraging, but a more pragmatic view is necessary to deal with all possible outcomes.

  • The U.S.’s eventual pullout as Afghanistan’s peacekeeper is inevitable, and it would make more sense to prepare for it than to deny it will happen.
  • New Delhi was caught off guard in 2010 when Mr. Obama planned the drawdown and discouraged India from a stake in projects there in an effort to placate Pakistan.
  • Trump’s administration has no doubt been much more welcoming of Indian investment in Afghanistan, but that itself is symptomatic of his desire to pare down “Pax Americana” in every part of the world.
  • The removal or reduction of the U.S. presence from most theatres of action has created space for regional players: leaving Syria to Iran and its allies; Yemen to Saudi Arabia; Afghanistan to players like Russia, Pakistan and Iran; and Pakistan to China.

Some other hard truths must be faced:

  • India cannot replace Pakistan’s position geographically, nor can it ever offer the U.S. or any other force what Pakistan has offered in the past, including bases and permission for U.S. forces to bomb its own territory.
  • Pakistan’s problem is that it sees its relations with Afghanistan through the prism of its relations with India. It seeks a veto on Afghanistan’s relations with India which the Afghans will not accept.
  • Changing this dynamic requires getting rid of the military’s stranglehold on Pakistan’s India and Afghan policies.
  • The decision to abandon the SAARC in favour of groupings like BIMSTEC (Bay of Bengal Initiative for Multi-Sectoral Technical and Economic Cooperation), BBIN (Bangladesh, Bhutan, India, Nepal) and IORA (Indian Ocean Rim Association) may have provided some short-term returns in “isolating Pakistan”, but it has had the effect of cutting Afghanistan loose from Indian leadership of South Asia as well.

Way Forward

  1. India’s best course with Afghanistan remains its own regional strategy, not becoming a part of any other country’s strategy.
  2. Close bilateral consultations like this week’s visit to Delhi of National Security Advisor Hamdullah Mohib, are the basis of India’s ability to help Afghanistan according to its needs, not India’s ambitions, and the reason for the immense popularity and goodwill India continues to enjoy in Afghanistan.
  3. Finally, it is necessary to recognise the cyclical nature of interventions in Afghanistan, which has been called the “graveyard of empires” for forcing all world powers to retreat at some point or the other.

By Dr V

Doctor by Training | AIIMSONIAN | Factually correct, Politically not so much | Opinionated? Yes!

By Dr V

Doctor by Training | AIIMSONIAN | Factually correct, Politically not so much | Opinionated? Yes!

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