Foreign Policy Watch: India-Afghanistan

Foreign Policy Watch: India-Afghanistan

Pakistan’s Illegal Deportation of Afghan Refugees

Note4Students

From UPSC perspective, the following things are important :

Prelims level: 1951 Refugee Convention

Mains level: Refugee crisis in the world

afghan refugee

Central Idea

  • Pakistan’s government has recently implemented an order mandating the expulsion of all foreigners, with a significant impact on Afghan refugees, the largest refugee group in Pakistan.
  • This move has raised questions about the fate of Afghan migrants returning to a country facing numerous challenges, including a collapsed economy, natural disasters, food insecurity, and human rights issues under Taliban rule.

Afghan Refugees in Pakistan

  • Historical Background: Afghan refugees have sought shelter in Pakistan since the late 1970s, primarily due to the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan in 1979. Subsequently, they fled during the Afghan civil war in the 1990s and the Taliban regime’s rule.
  • Afghan Refugee Population: Pakistan is home to over 4 million Afghans, with an estimated 1.7 million lacking proper documentation.
  • Deportation Deadline: The government set a deadline of October 31 for illegal migrants to leave Pakistan, after which they would face arrest and expulsion.
  • Deportation Process: Hours before the deadline, authorities began rounding up undocumented migrants, demolishing some homes to compel them to leave.
  • Border Crossings: Thousands of Afghans crossed into Afghanistan through border crossings, including Torkham and Chaman.

Reasons for Deportation

  • Economic Concerns: Pakistan cites economic strain as a key reason for deportation, asserting that undocumented migrants who do not pay taxes strain its limited resources.
  • Security Concerns: Authorities claim that Afghan migrants have been involved in terror attacks, street crimes, and organized crimes like drug trafficking. They are accused of participating in attacks against the government and the army.
  • Political Timing: The deportation coincides with Pakistan’s caretaker government, insulating it from potential political or electoral repercussions.

Refugee Convention,1951

  • The 1951 Convention Relating to the Status of Refugees is one of the cornerstone instruments of refugee protection. It defines who a refugee is and outlines their rights and responsibilities.
  • It also provides a non-refoulement principle, which prohibits states from returning refugees to a country where they would face persecution.
  • The 1967 Protocol Relating to the Status of Refugees expanded the geographic scope of the 1951 Convention and removed the temporal and geographic limitations, making the Convention universally applicable.

Challenges for Returnees

  • Uncertain Future: Afghan migrants returning to Afghanistan face an uncertain future amid economic collapse, earthquakes, food shortages, and human rights violations under Taliban rule.
  • Education and Employment: Women and girls returning to Afghanistan may be denied education and job opportunities.
  • US-Affiliated Migrants: Those who worked for the US before the Taliban’s takeover are particularly vulnerable.

Taliban’s Response

  • Criticism and Request for Time: The Taliban has criticized the deportations and asked for more time to prepare for the returnees.
  • Humanitarian Efforts: Afghan authorities are establishing temporary camps near the border to provide food, shelter, healthcare, and SIM cards to returnees. The Taliban has expressed a willingness to assist them in finding jobs.

Conclusion

  • This deportation is a contentious move driven by economic and security concerns.
  • The international community, including the Taliban, is grappling with the challenges posed by this situation, particularly as winter approaches and Afghanistan faces additional hardships.

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Foreign Policy Watch: India-Afghanistan

In news: Helmand Water Conflict

Note4Students

From UPSC perspective, the following things are important :

Prelims level: Helmand River

Mains level: Taliban-Iran Conflict

helmand

Central Idea

  • Iran and Afghanistan have been engaged in a prolonged disagreement over the sharing of water from the Helmand River.
  • Violent confrontations have occurred in the border region between the two countries in the recent past.

About Helmand River

  • The Helmand River is the longest river in Afghanistan, spanning approximately 1,150 kilometers (715 miles) in length.
  • It originates near Kabul in the western Hindu Kush mountain range.
  • The river flows in a south-westerly direction through desert areas before emptying into Lake Hamun, which straddles the Afghanistan-Iran border.
  • Lake Hamun, fed by the Helmand River, is the largest freshwater lake in Iran.
  • The Helmand River is a vital water source for both Afghanistan and Iran, supporting agriculture, livelihoods, and ecosystems in the region.

Row over Helmand River and Lake Hamun

  • Afghanistan’s longest river: The Helmand River holds great importance for Afghanistan as it is the country’s longest river, originating near Kabul and flowing through desert areas.
  • Iran’s largest freshwater lake: Lake Hamun, located on the Afghanistan-Iran border, is Iran’s largest freshwater lake and has been historically sustained by the Helmand River.
  • Drying up due to drought: The Lake has experienced a drastic decline in water levels and has largely dried up, attributed to factors such as drought and the construction of dams and water control infrastructure.
  • Economic Importance: Lake Hamun plays a vital role in the regional ecosystem and supports agricultural activities, livelihoods, and economic sectors in the surrounding areas.

Disagreements between Iran and Afghanistan (Taliban)

  • Fouling of the 1973 Helmand River Treaty: The agreement signed in 1973 between Iran and Afghanistan to regulate the allocation of river water has not been fully ratified or effectively put into practice.
  • Iran accuses Afghanistan of violating water rights: Iran has consistently accused Afghanistan of infringing upon its water rights, claiming that it receives significantly less water than agreed upon in the 1973 treaty.
  • Afghanistan blames climatic factors for reduced water flow: Afghanistan has refuted Iran’s allegations, citing climatic factors such as reduced rainfall and diminished river water volumes as the primary causes of the current situation.
  • Concerns over Afghanistan’s dam and irrigation projects: Tehran expresses concerns over Afghanistan’s construction of dams, reservoirs, and irrigation systems along the Helmand River, fearing that these initiatives negatively impact water flow into Iran.

Tehran-Taliban Relations: A recent recap

  • Previous ties between Iran and the Taliban: Prior to the Taliban’s capture of Kabul, Iran maintained diplomatic relations with the group, driven by shared opposition to the presence of US forces in the region.
  • Lack of formal recognition of the Taliban government: Despite refraining from formally recognizing the Taliban government, Iran has pragmatically engaged with the ruling group in Afghanistan to protect its interests, including the preservation of Lake Hamun.
  • Border clashes since the Taliban’s takeover: Following the Taliban’s rise to power, there have been repeated incidents and clashes along the Iran-Afghanistan border.

Why is Taliban furious this time?

  • Taliban’s interest in promoting agriculture: The Taliban seeks to prioritize agricultural development, which influences their approach to water management and distribution.
  • Tehran’s sudden attention to Sistan-Baluchistan after protests: Following nationwide protests, including Sistan-Baluchistan, Iran’s government has shown increased attention to the region due to its disadvantaged status and reliance on water resources from Lake Hamun.

Major hurdles in the resolution

  • Lack of interest: Both Iran and the Taliban show little interest in addressing the mismanagement of water resources and environmental challenges in the region.
  • Short-term focus on internal problems: Both Iran and the Taliban prioritize short-term solutions and focus on internal issues rather than actively resolving the water dispute.

Current situation in Sistan-Baluchistan

  • Mounting public anger: The region of Sistan-Baluchistan in eastern Iran experiences growing public anger and frustration, largely driven by water shortages and other economic and social challenges.
  • Water shortages and other problems: Sistan-Baluchistan faces severe water shortages, contributing to economic and social difficulties in one of Iran’s poorest areas.
  • Setting up an inquiry commission: In an effort to address the recent border clash, Iran and Afghanistan have agreed to establish a commission of inquiry to investigate the incident.

 

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Foreign Policy Watch: India-Afghanistan

India signs MoU with World Food Programme for sending wheat to Afghanistan

Note4Students

From UPSC perspective, the following things are important :

Prelims level: World Food Program

Mains level: India's assistance to Afghanistan

India signed an MoU with the World Food Programme (WFP) to send 10,000 metric tonnes of wheat to Afghanistan.

Reason: Utilizing WFP supply chain

  • The MoU signed between India and the World Food Programme (WFP) paves the way for sending 10,000 metric tonnes of wheat for the people of Afghanistan.
  • The WFP has a massive supply chain and logistics infrastructure in Afghanistan that could help in ensuring that the food supply reaches those who need it the most and no one is excluded.
  • The MoU also ensures that the assistance is coordinated and delivered in an effective and efficient manner, and that it reaches the most vulnerable sections of the Afghan population.

What is World Food Programme (WFP)?

  • The WFP is a humanitarian organization that is part of the United Nations system.
  • It was established in 1961 and has its headquarters in Rome, Italy.
  • The WFP is the world’s largest humanitarian agency focused on combating hunger and promoting food security.

Scope of Operations

  • The WFP operates in more than 80 countries, delivering food assistance to people in need.
  • WFP programs reach over 97 million people each year, including children, pregnant and nursing women, and people affected by emergencies, such as conflict or natural disasters.
  • It provides a range of food assistance, including in-kind food assistance, cash and voucher-based transfers, and specialized nutritious foods.

Funding and Support

  • The WFP is funded entirely by voluntary contributions from governments, companies, and individuals.
  • The organization works closely with donors to ensure that funding is used effectively and efficiently, and to ensure that it is directed to the areas and programs where it is needed most.

Governance and Structure

  • The WFP is governed by an Executive Board, which is composed of 36 member states that are elected to three-year terms.
  • The Executive Board provides oversight and strategic direction to the organization, and approves the WFP’s programs and budgets.
  • The WFP is headed by an Executive Director, who is appointed by the Secretary-General of the United Nations.
  • The organization has more than 17,000 staff worldwide, including professionals in fields such as logistics, nutrition, and food security.

Impact and Achievements

  • Over the years, the WFP has made significant contributions to addressing hunger and promoting food security worldwide.
  • The organization has responded to numerous emergencies, providing food assistance to millions of people affected by conflict, natural disasters, and other crises.
  • The WFP has also supported programs that help people access the food they need to lead healthy, active lives, and that promote sustainable agriculture and development.
  • The WFP has been recognized for its efforts, receiving the Nobel Peace Prize in 2020 in recognition of its contributions to combatting hunger and promoting peace.

 


 

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Foreign Policy Watch: India-Afghanistan

India to send 20,000 MT of wheat to Afghanistan via Chabahar

Note4Students

From UPSC perspective, the following things are important :

Prelims level: Chabahar Port

Mains level: India's central Asia connectivity push

chabahar

Central idea: The article discusses India’s plan to send 20,000 metric tonnes of wheat to Afghanistan through the Chabahar port in Iran.

Why in new?

  • Last year, the Indian side announced its partnership with UNWFP (UN World Food Programme) for the delivery of 20,000 MTs of wheat for Afghan people through the Chabahar Port.

UN World Food Programme

  • The WFP is a leading humanitarian organization that provides food assistance in emergencies and works to improve nutrition and food security in poor and conflict-affected areas.
  • It was established in 1961 and is a part of the United Nations system.
  • The WFP is funded entirely by voluntary contributions from governments, non-governmental organizations, and private donors.
  • The organization provides assistance to over 80 million people in around 80 countries every year.
  • The WFP delivers food and other essential supplies in times of crisis and supports communities to build resilience and achieve long-term food security.

 

India’s Assistance to Afghanistan

  • India has been providing humanitarian aid and support to Afghanistan for several years, including food and medical supplies.
  • The latest shipment of wheat is a part of India’s continued efforts to assist Afghanistan during its humanitarian crisis.

About Chabahar Port

  • In 2016, India signed a deal with Iran entailing $8 billion investment in Chabahar port and industries in Chabahar Special Economic Zone.
  • The port is being developed as a transit route to Afghanistan and Central Asia.
  • India has already built a 240-km road connecting Afghanistan with Iran.
  • All this were expected to bring cargo to Bandar Abbas port and Chabahar port, and free Kabul from its dependence on Pakistan to reach the outer world.
  • Completion of this project would give India access to Afghanistan and beyond to Turkmenistan, Uzbekistan, Tajikistan, Kyrgyzstan, Kazakhstan, Russia and Europe via the 7,200-km-long multi-modal North-South Transport Corridor (INSTC).

India’s strategic vision for Chabahar

When the first agreement for Chabahar was signed by then PM Atal Bihari Vajpayee in 2003, the plan had a three-fold objective:

  1. To build India’s first offshore port and to project Indian infrastructure prowess in the Gulf
  2. To circumvent trade through Pakistan, given the tense ties with India’s neighbour and build a long term, sustainable sea trade route and
  3. To find an alternative land route to Afghanistan, which India had rebuilt ties with after the defeat of the Taliban in 2001
  • Subsequently, PM Manmohan Singh’s government constructed the Zaranj -Delaram Highway in Afghanistan’s South.
  • It would help connect the trade route from the border of Iran to the main trade routes to Herat and Kabul, handing it over to the Karzai government in 2009.
  • In 2016, PM Modi travelled to Tehran and signed the agreement to develop Chabahar port, as well as the trilateral agreement for trade through Chabahar with Afghanistan’s President Ashraf Ghani.

Commencement of operations

  • Since the India Ports Global Chabahar Free Zone (IPGCFZ) authority took over the operations of the port in 2018, it has handled 215 vessels, 16,000 TEUs (Twenty-foot Equivalent Units) and four million tons of bulk and general cargo.

Why is it gaining importance?

  • In the last few years, a fourth strategic objective for the Chabahar route has appeared, with China’s Belt and Road Initiative making inroadsin the region.
  • The government hopes to provide Central Asia with an alternate route to the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC)through Iran for future trade.

Why is the Chabahar dream taking so long to realise?

  • India’s quest for Chabahar has hit geopolitical road-blockafter road-block; the biggest issue has been over Iran’s relationship with western countries, especially the United States.
  • In years when western sanctionsagainst Iran increased, the Chabahar project has been put on the back-burner.
  • However, the nuclear talks resulted in the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA)in 2015 came into being, the Chabahar port has been easier to work on.
  • In 2018, the Trump administration put paid to India’s plans by walking out of the JCPOA and slapping new sanctions on dealing with Iran.
  • India also snapped ties with Afghanistan after the Taliban takeover in August 2021, which put an end to the humanitarian aid of wheat and pulses that was being sent to Kabul via Chabahar.
  • When India restarted wheat aid this year, it negotiated with Pakistan to use the land route to Afghanistan instead.

 


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Foreign Policy Watch: India-Afghanistan

34 years of Soviet Invasion of Afghanistan

Note4Students

From UPSC perspective, the following things are important :

Prelims level: NA

Mains level: India's role in ensuring normalcy in Afghanistan

afghanistan

Central idea: The article discusses the Soviet Union’s withdrawal from Afghanistan 34 years ago, which marked the end of a nearly decade-long occupation.

Fun fact:

“Charlie Wilson’s War” is a 2007 American biographical comedy-drama based on the true story of Charlie Wilson, a former United States Congressman who played a key role in supporting the Afghan mujahideen during the Soviet-Afghan War of the 1980s.

The film is notable for its depiction of the complex and often murky world of international politics and covert operations. It also highlights the unintended consequences of the US’s support for the Afghan mujahideen, which included the rise of the Taliban and the emergence of al-Qaeda.

 

Why did the Soviet Union invade Afghanistan?

  • Establish influence: The Soviet Union invaded Afghanistan in December 1979 in an attempt to support a friendly communist government (Saur Revolution) that had seized power in Kabul earlier that year.
  • Prevent radicalization of its southern states: The Soviet Union saw the situation in Afghanistan as an opportunity to extend its influence in the region and to protect its southern borders from Islamic fundamentalism.
  • Countering US influence in Pakistan: The Soviet Union was concerned about the possibility of the United States gaining a foothold in Afghanistan and potentially using it as a base for attacks against the Soviet Union.

What led to its withdrawal?

  • US-powered rebel groups: The Soviet Union’s occupation of Afghanistan faced fierce opposition from Afghan rebel groups, who were supported by the US and trained by Pakistan hoping that the jihadis would wage war on India and liberate Kashmir.
  • Huge casualties: The conflict turned into a protracted and costly war that lasted almost a decade, with the Soviet Union suffering significant casualties and eventually withdrawing its troops in 1989.
  • Fall of USSR: After the Soviets withdrew from Afghanistan in 1989, the Afghan government, which had been propped up by the Soviet Union, soon collapsed, and the country plunged into a civil war.

Aftermath: Radicalization of Afghanistan

  • Rise of Taliban: Various factions vied for power, and the Taliban emerged as a dominant force. The Taliban, a hardline Islamist group, took control of the country in 1996 and imposed a strict interpretation of Islamic law. This rule was marked by brutality and oppression, including the widespread use of public executions, amputations, and other forms of punishment.
  • Safe havens for terror: The group provided a safe haven for Al Qaeda, which was responsible for the 9/11 attacks in the US.

How US came to Afghanistan?

  • In response to the 9/11 attacks, the United States led a coalition of forces in an invasion of Afghanistan in 2001.
  • The Taliban was quickly ousted from power, and a new ‘democratic’ government was established.
  • However, the conflict continued, and the Taliban gradually regained strength, launching attacks on government forces and civilian targets.

Why did the US left Afghanistan?

In August 2021, the US completed its withdrawal of troops from Afghanistan, marking the end of a 20-year-long military presence in the country.  It decided to withdraw its troops from Afghanistan for several reasons-

  • Massive cost: The conflict had lasted for two decades, and the United States had spent over $2 trillion on the war effort.
  • Huge casualties: The number of lives lost by the United States in the war in Afghanistan is a matter of debate, but it is estimated that more than 2,400 US military personnel were killed in the conflict.
  • Mission accomplished: The US had achieved many of its initial objectives in Afghanistan, such as dismantling Al Qaeda’s infrastructure and removing the Taliban from power.
  • Foreign policy shift: The withdrawal of US forces was part of a broader shift in US foreign policy towards a focus on great power competition, particularly with China and Russia.
  • America first policy: The US had also sought to end what it saw as “endless wars” in the Middle East and refocus its attention on domestic priorities.

Assessing Taliban rule now

Since taking control of Afghanistan in August 2021, the Taliban has taken a number of steps to consolidate its power and impose its ideology on the Afghan people. Some of the ways in which the Taliban has been accused of ruining Afghanistan are:

  • Imposing Sharia: The Taliban is an Islamist extremist group that seeks to impose its strict interpretation of Islamic law on the country.
  • Human rights abuses: The Taliban has been accused of committing widespread human rights abuses, including extrajudicial killings, summary executions, and forced disappearances.
  • Oppression of women: The group has also targeted women and girls, imposing strict dress codes and limiting their access to education and employment.
  • Restrictions on free speech and the press: The Taliban has cracked down on freedom of expression and the press, shutting down independent media outlets and arresting journalists and activists who oppose their rule.
  • Economic and humanitarian crisis: The Taliban’s takeover has caused an economic and humanitarian crisis in Afghanistan, with many people struggling to access basic necessities like food and medical care.
  • International isolation: Many countries have suspended aid and diplomatic relations with Afghanistan, and the UN has expressed concern about the group’s human rights record.

How is India helping the Afghan people cause?

India has been actively involved in providing humanitarian aid to the people of Afghanistan, especially in the wake of the Taliban’s return to power. Some of the ways in which India is helping the Afghan people are:

  • Providing food and medical aid: India has sent several consignments of food and medical aid to Afghanistan, including wheat, medicines, and other essential supplies. The aid is being delivered through various channels, including the Afghan Red Crescent Society and the UN.
  • Supporting refugees: India has a long history of providing support to Afghan refugees, and the government has pledged to continue this tradition in the wake of the Taliban’s return to power. India has said it will grant visas to Afghan nationals who are seeking refuge, and the government has also set up a new portal to streamline the visa application process.
  • Diplomatic efforts: India has been working to build international support for the Afghan people, and the government has been in touch with various countries and international organizations to coordinate relief efforts. India has also called for an inclusive political settlement in Afghanistan that respects the rights of all Afghan citizens, including women and minorities.

Conclusion

  • The situation in Afghanistan is complex and challenging, and there are no easy solutions.

 

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Foreign Policy Watch: India-Afghanistan

Moscow Format to Engage with the Talibans

Note4Students

From UPSC perspective, the following things are important :

Prelims level: Moscow Format

Mains level: Restoration and normalization of governance in Taliban

The Moscow Format of Consultations on Afghanistan was recently held in the Russian capital.

What is the Moscow Format?

  • The Moscow format was introduced in 2017 on the basis of the six-party mechanism for consultations between special representatives from Russia, Afghanistan, China, Pakistan, Iran and India.
  • The present meeting includes a group of 10 nations including India, China, Pakistan, Iran and the Central Asian republics with Taliban officials.
  • Russia had previously convened a new meeting of the ‘Extended Troika’ on Afghanistan which included Russia, the United States, China and Pakistan.
  • The US pulled out of the last meeting.
  • Taliban did not participate in the talks but, welcomed the discussion and declared that it will not allow Afghan territory to be used against “stability of the region”.

Key outcomes of the meet

  • The dialogue called for respect for all Afghan ethnic groups and minorities in a bid to create national reconciliation in the war torn country.
  • The Russian hosts, presented a White Book on the civilian losses in Afghanistan due to the actions of the NATO forces during the past two decades.
  • The representatives at the talks also called for “complete unfreezing” of Afghanistan’s assets by Washington.

Urging the Taliban Govt.

  • Prevent poppy cultivation: Participating countries called upon the Taliban setup to “fulfil its commitments to eradicate terrorism and drug trafficking” that continue to emanate from the Afghan territory.
  • Stop atrocities: The return of the Taliban has been followed by a series of attacks on Shia Hazaras and growing atrocities against women and political opponents.
  • Inclusive govt. formation: The participants underscored the importance of forming a “truly inclusive government in Afghanistan, reflecting the interests of all major ethno-political groups of the country.”

 

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Foreign Policy Watch: India-Afghanistan

Why India must engage Taliban

Note4Students

From UPSC perspective, the following things are important :

Prelims level: Not much

Mains level: Paper 2- India's approach in dealing with the Taliban

Context

It is good that India has extended humanitarian assistance to Afghanistan at this time through international agencies and not let its unhappiness with the Taliban’s policies come in the way.

India’s  recent engagement with Afghanistan

  • Recently, the Ministry of External Affairs announced that a team led by J P Singh, Joint Secretary (PAI) “is currently on a visit to Kabul to oversee the delivery operations of our humanitarian assistance to Afghanistan”.
  • The MEA clearly implied that this engagement should be seen only in the limited context of assistance to the Afghan people
  • The continuance of humanitarian assistance can be only one, though an important, segment of interaction; other aspects, especially security issues and later, connectivity and investments, as Afghanistan stabilises, have to be part of the dialogue with the Taliban.

Why Afghanistan matters to India’s security

  • Afghanistan impacts India’s security.
  •  It has, in the past, provided space to al Qaeda with which the Taliban had a special relationship.
  • Afghanistan has an ISIS presence too.
  • Of special concern to India are the Taliban’s ties with the Lashkar-e-Taiba and Jaish-e-Mohammed.
  • A recent United Nations report has emphasised that the Taliban’s connections with these groups have not been severed.

So, what should be India’s approach toward the Taliban?

  • It is argued that both “principle and pragmatism” demand that India should not do business with the Taliban.
  • However, Pakistan has continued to sponsor terror and yet India has continued to engage it and has maintained a diplomatic presence in Islamabad. 
  • India cannot argue that the diplomatic door must be kept open for Pakistan because it’s a neighbour while it can be shut on the Taliban because Afghanistan directly impacts Indian security.
  • Engagement with Taliban: An engagement with the Taliban would at least give an opportunity to convey Indian concerns directly and encourage those elements within the group who wish to open up its diplomatic choices.
  • Exploit contradiction: Far from being a monolith, the Taliban has significant tribal and regional contradictions.
  • Therefore, India should not leave the Afghan arena entirely to Pakistan and China because of the social manifestation of Taliban theology.
  • The Taliban is here to stay and for India, there is no alternative but to deal with it even while repeating, if it wishes, the mantra of inclusive government.
  • India should also maintain contacts with the leaders of the ousted Republic, especially as the Taliban itself wants them to return to the country.

Conclusion

All in all, the sooner India establishes a permanent presence in Kabul the better for the pursuit of national interests in the external sphere. This is not an exercise in evangelism but the cold and undeterred pursuit of interests.

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Foreign Policy Watch: India-Afghanistan

Delhi Regional Security Dialogue on Afghanistan

Note4Students

From UPSC perspective, the following things are important :

Prelims level: Not much

Mains level: India's quest for Afghan Peace

India is hosting the National Security Advisors (NSAs) level ‘Delhi Regional Security Dialogue on Afghanistan’ this week.

About the dialogue

  • It will be headed by NSA Ajit Doval.
  • It aims to organise a conference of regional stakeholders and important powers on the country’s current situation and the future outlook.
  • Invitations are sent to Afghanistan’s neighbours such as Pakistan, Iran, Tajikistan, and Uzbekistan, and other key players including Russia, and China.

Pakistan’s response

  • Not surprisingly, Pakistan has denounced India’s invitation. China too followed Pakistan’s footsteps.
  • Had Pakistan consented to come, it would have been the first high-level visit to India from Pakistan since 2016.
  • Pakistani position reflects its mindset on Afghanistan, where it has played a conspiring role.
  • It reflects its mindset of viewing Afghanistan as its protectorate.

Response from the other countries

  • India’s invitation has seen an overwhelming response.
  • Central Asian countries as well as Russia and Iran have confirmed participation.

Significance of the dialogue

  • This will be the first time that all Central Asian countries, and not just Afghanistan’s immediate neighbours, would be participating in this format.
  • The enthusiastic response is a manifestation of the importance attached to India’s role in regional efforts to promote peace and security in Afghanistan.
  • If peace is established in Afghanistan, it could become a major trading hub as a corridor of connectivity in the heart of Asia.

When you are not at the table, you are on the menu… this conference is India’s attempt to set the table, be on the table, and decide the agenda.

India’s motive for the conference

  • This is India’s attempt to secure for itself a seat at the table to decide the future course of action on Afghanistan.
  • It underlines the need to actively engage with the world to protect India’s security interests.
  • Until the fall of Kabul, India had not engaged with the Taliban through publicly-announced official channels.

India’s expectations form Taliban Govt

  • Taliban should not allow safe havens for terror on its soil.
  • The administration should be inclusive, and the rights of minorities, women, and children must be protected.

 

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Foreign Policy Watch: India-Afghanistan

The fall of Afghanistan, the fallout in West Asia

Note4Students

From UPSC perspective, the following things are important :

Prelims level: Not much

Mains level: Geopolitical dynamics with Taliban's formation of legitimate govt

Three weeks after they walked into Kabul without any resistance, the Taliban now has announced an interim Council of Ministers.

Chord with Pakistan: Crowing of its puppets

  • Pakistan appears to have got its way. This government formation has tightly controlled the head of its Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI).
  • Afghanistan’s acting PM is Mullah Hassan Akhund, a close associate of former Taliban founder Mullah Omar.
  • Abdul Ghani Baradar is his deputy, but again, this could be a token position.
  • Baradar had been arrested in 2010 by the Pakistanis for pursuing a dialogue with the Hamid Karzai government without Pakistani sanction and jailed for eight years.
  • Pakistan’s true proteges are Sirajuddin Haqqani, the acting interior minister, and Mohammed Yaqoob, the acting defence minister, a son of Mullah Omar, who is also close to Haqqani.

The West Asian players

Saudi Arabia, Qatar and Iran have been direct role-players in Afghan affairs for over 25 years.

  • Sheikhdom involvement: In the 1990s, the first two were supporters and sources of funding for the Taliban, while Iran was an antagonist. After 9/11, all three countries became deeply involved with the Taliban. Since 2005, the Gulf sheikhdoms have contributed millions of dollars to different Taliban leaders and factions.
  • Iran’s defiance of the US: Iran began a substantial engagement with various Taliban leaders from 2007 and provided funding, weapons, training and refuge when required. It wanted the Taliban to maintain pressure on the U.S. forces to ensure their speedy departure from the country.
  • Regional competition: In the 2010s, when the US began to engage with Iran on the nuclear issue, Saudi Arabia became more directly involved in Afghan matters to prevent Iran’s expanding influence among Taliban groups. Thus, besides Syria and Yemen, Iran and Saudi Arabia have also made Afghanistan an arena for their regional competitions.
  • Earliest acknowledgment of the Taliban: In 2012, Qatar, on U.S. request, allowed the Taliban to open an office in Doha as a venue for their dialogue with the Americans. This has made Qatar an influential player in Afghan affairs, with deep personal ties with several leaders, many of whom keep their families in Doha.

Competitions for influence

The low-key reactions of the Gulf countries to recent developments in Kabul reflect the uncertainties relating to the Taliban in power.

Nature of the govt: Their ability to remain united, their policies relating to human rights, and, above all, whether the Taliban will again make their country a sanctuary for extremist groups.

Fractionalization within terror groups: The country already has several thousand foreign fighters, whose ranks could swell with extremists coming in from Iraq and Syria, and threaten the security of all neighbouring states.

Three sets of regional players are active in Afghanistan today:

  1. Pakistan-Saudi coalition: This has been the principal source of support for the Taliban-at-war. They would like to remain influential in the new order, but neither would like to see the Taliban revert to their practices of the 1990s that had justifiably appalled the global community.
  2. Turkey and Qatar: They represent the region’s Islamist coalition and, thus, share an ideological kinship with the Taliban. Both would like to see a moderate and inclusive administration.
  3. Iran: While many of its hardliners are overjoyed at the U.S. “defeat”, more reflective observers recall the earlier Taliban emirate which was viscerally hostile to Shias and Iran. Iran also sees itself as the guardian of the Tajik, Uzbek and Hazara minorities in the country.

Options Available: The outlook for security

Linking with Israel-Palestine Conflict: The region now has two options: one, an Israel-centric security order in which the Arab Gulf states would link themselves with Israel to confront Iran. This is being actively promoted by Israeli hawks since it would tie Israel with neighbouring Arab states without having to concede anything to meet Palestinian aspirations.

Comprehensive regional security arrangement: The other option is more ambitious: The facilitators and guarantors of this security arrangement are likely to be China and Russia: over the last few years, both have built close relations with the major states of the region. i.e., Iran, Saudi Arabia, Turkey, Afghanistan and Pakistan.

Consensus to ward away the US

  • The Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) states led by Saudi Arabia lifted the over three-year blockade of Qatar.
  • The discussions between Iran and Saudi Arabia and plans are in place for the next meetings.
  • Turkey has initiated diplomatic overtures towards Egypt and Saudi Arabia.
  • None of these initiatives involves the Americans.

Conclusion: A new order is in making

  • These developments suggest that the germ of a new regional security order in West Asia is already sown in fertile ground.

Way forward for India

  • The Indian policies are at a crossroads. Continued bandwagoning with the US makes no sense.
  • Indian diplomacy should harmonize with the regional capitals, including Beijing, which can be a natural ally on issues of terrorism.
  • The bottom line is that India’s vital interests remain to be secured.
  • Demonizing the Taliban can only be counterproductive.

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Foreign Policy Watch: India-Afghanistan

Afghan exit- not the end of the road for the U.S.

Note4Students

From UPSC perspective, the following things are important :

Prelims level: Not much

Mains level: Paper 2- Implications of Afghanistan exit for the US

Context

The debate has abruptly shifted to the future of the United States after its withdrawal from Afghanistan.

Background of the US presence in Afghanistan

  • The terrorist attacks of 9/11, which was a game-changing global experience, led the U.S. to enter Afghanistan.
  •  The terrorist attacks transformed the geopolitics of the world.
  • The most powerful country in the world, which had the capacity to destroy the world many times over, became powerless before a few terrorists.
  •  Once the responsibility of the attack was traced to Osama bin Laden and the terrorists in Afghanistan, it was imperative for the U.S. to retaliate by overthrowing the Taliban regime.

How US presence in Afghanistan benefited the region

  • After accomplishing its mission the US was not able to withdraw because the Afghanistan government was unable to withstand the onslaught of the Taliban and other terrorist groups.
  • Even neighbouring countries, including India, were strongly in favour of continuing the American presence.
  • The US presence helped to provide a certain stability for Afghanistan.
  • The result of their presence was the prevalence of relative peace in the region except that Pakistan fattened the Taliban with American largesse.
  • The U.S. presence in Afghanistan had succeeded in containing the dangers of terrorism for two decades.

Way forward for the US and the rest of the world

  • The US is still the most powerful economic and military power around which the whole constellation of the world rotates.
  • Democratic world leadership: The world has a stake in ensuring that a democratic nation leads the world rather than an expansionist dictatorship which has no public opinion to restrain it.
  • Maintain the US leadership: The free world has a responsibility to maintain the American leadership of the world till a wiser and more benign alternative is found.

Conclusion

Much has been written about a post-American world for some years now. But it looks that the demise of America, as Mark Twain said about the reports of his own death, is greatly exaggerated.

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Foreign Policy Watch: India-Afghanistan

What is Durand Line?

Note4Students

From UPSC perspective, the following things are important :

Prelims level: Durand Line

Mains level: Afghan refugee crisis

With the Taliban’s seize of Kabul, a huge exodus of Afghan refugees and asylum seekers is outpouring into Pakistan along the Durand Line.

Durand Line

  • The Durand Line is a legacy of the 19th century Great Game between the Russian and British empires in which Afghanistan was used as a buffer by the British against feared Russian expansionism to its east.
  • The agreement demarcating what became known as the Durand Line was signed on November 12, 1893, between the British civil servant Henry Mortimer Durand and Amir Abdur Rahman, then the Afghan ruler.
  • Abdur Rahman became king in 1880, two years after the end of the Second Afghan War in which the British took control of several areas that were part of the Afghan kingdom.
  • He was essentially a British puppet.
  • His agreement with Durand demarcated the limits of his and British India’s “spheres of influence” on the Afghan “frontier” with India.
  • The line stretches from the border with China to Afghanistan’s border with Iran.

An illogical separation

  • In reality, the line cut through Pashtun tribal areas, leaving villages, families, and land divided between the two “spheres of influence”.
  • It has been described as a “line of hatred”, arbitrary, illogical, cruel, and trickery on the Pashtuns.
  • Some historians believe it was a ploy to divide the Pashtuns so that the British could keep control over them easily.
  • It also put on the British side the strategic Khyber Pass.

Cross-border tensions at Durand Line

  • With independence in 1947, Pakistan inherited the Durand Line, and with it also the Pashtun rejection of the line, and Afghanistan’s refusal to recognize it.
  • Afghanistan was the only country to vote against Pakistan joining the United Nations in 1947.
  • ‘Pashtunistan’ — an independent country of the Pashtuns — was a demand made by Khan Abdul Ghaffar Khan at the time of Partition, although he later resigned himself to the reality of Partition.
  • The proximity of the ‘Frontier Gandhi’ to India was a point of tension between the two countries almost immediately.
  • The fear of Indian support to Pashtun nationalism haunts Pakistan to date and is embedded in its Afghan policy.

Pakistani support against the Pashtuns

  • Pakistan’s creation and support for the Taliban are seen by some as a move to obliterate ethnic Pashtun nationalism with an Islamic identity.
  • But it did not work out the way Pakistan had planned.
  • When the Taliban seized power in Kabul the first time, they rejected the Durand Line.
  • They also strengthened Pashtun identity with an Islamic radicalism to produce the Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan, whose terrorist attacks since 2007 left the country shaken.

Try answering this PYQ:

Consider the following pairs

Towns sometimes mentioned         Country in news

  1. Aleppo                        — Syria
  2. Kirkuk                         — Yemen
  3. Mosul                          — Palestine
  4. Mazar-i-sharif             — Afghanistan

Which of the pairs given above are correctly matched?

(a) 1 and 2

(b) 1 and 4

(c) 2 and 3

(d) 3 and 4

 

Post your answers here.
6
Please leave a feedback on thisx

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Foreign Policy Watch: India-Afghanistan

India must rethink ‘wait and watch’ Afghan policy

Note4Students

From UPSC perspective, the following things are important :

Prelims level: Panjshir valley

Mains level: Paper 2- India's approach towards Taliban

Context

After the collapse of the government in Kabul, India has adopted a wait and watch approach in its dealing with the Taliban.

Taliban’s position in Afghanistan

  • The Taliban grip over Afghanistan will only strengthen unless there is a popular revolt against it in the cities.
  • The Panjshiri defiance is unlikely to go anywhere without considerable and abiding support from the US and a firm commitment from Tajikistan.
  • After a talk between leaders of the extinguished Afghan Republic and the Taliban on central government formation, there has been no news of the process for more than a week.
  • There is continuous pressure on Taliban leaders and Pakistan from the Western donor community for the formation of a government acceptable to it.
  • Some Taliban leaders would want financial flows to continue to prevent a collapse of the Afghan economy.

The approach of the international community toward the Taliban

  • Assurances would be sought from the Taliban not only by the West but also by Russia and China that there will be no attempt to put in place the 1990s practices of the Islamic Emirate on gender issues and the more medieval manifestations of the Sharia.
  • Commitment to anti-terrorism: US will keep close scrutiny on the Taliban to honor its commitment to al Qaeda and will demand that it continues to cooperate on ISIS-K extermination, an objective shared by Russia.
  • Diplomatic recognition of a Taliban government, including allowing it to occupy the United Nations seat in the forthcoming future will depend on its acceptability.
  • However, the US and EU will not be reluctant to maintain open and direct contact with a Taliban government.

Issues with India’s wait and watch policy

  • India continues to “wait and watch” Afghan developments.
  • What is being overlooked is that “strategic patience” cannot be an alibi for inaction.
  • The invocation of the British Raj policy of “masterly inactivity” by some scholars defies logic for it applied in a completely different context.
  • Recognition v. legitimacy: Besides, while diplomatic recognition or its denial is a specific act of a country in inter-state relations, “legitimacy” is more applicable in the internal jurisdiction of countries.
  • India “waited and watched” Afghan developments from the sidelines, at least since the US-Taliban deal.
  • How long will India continue to “wait and watch”?

Way forward

  • Establish open contact: To explore the Taliban’s approaches towards India there is an obvious need to establish open and direct contacts with it.
  • That will also allow India to convey its red lines.
  • This should not be confused with diplomatic recognition.
  • Welcome Afghans: The establishment of open contacts with the Taliban will not be contradictory to actively welcome those Afghans, irrespective of their faith, who are closely connected with India.

Consider the question “What are the implications of the return of the Taliban in Afghanistan for India? What should be India’s approach in dealing with the Taliban controlled Afghanistan?”

Conclusion

It would damage India’s reputation greatly and into the future, if perceptions grow, as they are growing, that India has abandoned its friends in Afghanistan at the time of their need.

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Foreign Policy Watch: India-Afghanistan

Operation Devi Shakti

Note4Students

From UPSC perspective, the following things are important :

Prelims level: Operation Devi Shakti

Mains level: Not Much

India has termed the evacuation operation from Afghanistan in the backdrop of the Taliban’s takeover of the country last week as “Operation Devi Shakti”.

Operation Devi Shakti

  • Operation Devi Shakti is an ongoing operation of the Indian Armed Forces to evacuate Indian citizens and foreign nationals after the fall of the Islamic Republic of Afghanistan to the Taliban.

Major evacuations undertaken

  • Up till now, around 400 individuals from Kabul have been evacuated that covered Indian citizens as well as Afghan nationals including Sikhs and Hindus of Afghanistan.
  • Hundreds of Indian nationals have to be taken out of Kabul which is now under the Taliban’s control.
  • India is airlifting its citizens through Dushanbe in Tajikistan and Qatar.
  • The Indian Air Force has already evacuated around many passengers including its Ambassador to Afghanistan and all other diplomats.

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Foreign Policy Watch: India-Afghanistan

Taliban and new realpolitik

Note4Students

From UPSC perspective, the following things are important :

Prelims level: Not much

Mains level: Paper 2- Enduring features of international politics

Context

As the last American soldiers fly out of Kabul airport and the world adapts to the return of the Taliban, three uncomfortable but enduring features of international politics have come into sharp focus.

1) The normalisation of the Taliban by the International community

  • That victories on the battlefield have political consequences is one of the fundamental features of international politics.
  • There is no reason for India to be surprised at the rapid normalisation of the Taliban by the international community.
  • Whether it likes the new and victorious sovereign or not, a government has the obligation to secure its national interests — ranging from the protection of its citizens and property to maintaining the regional balance of power.
  • India is not immune to this essential principle of international relations and will find ways to protect its stakes in Afghanistan under Taliban rule.

2) Future U.S. relations with the Taliban

  • The second enduring feature of world politics — that there are no permanent friends or enemies, only permanent interests.
  • Convergence of interests: The US would want to explore if the Taliban can help secure long-term American interests in preventing a regrouping of international terror outfits like the al Qaeda and ISIS in Afghanistan.
  • The Taliban on the other hand would want American and Western support in rebuilding Afghanistan.
  • It is by no means clear if such a deal can be clinched, given the big risks it presents to both sides.
  • The US engagement with the Taliban to counter the ISIS-K has been met with derision across the world.
  • Critics say all these groups are part of the same school of terror, driven by similar religious zeal and nurtured in Pakistan’s sanctuaries.

3) Exploit the differences between adversaries: Way forward for India

  • The third feature of international politics is that differences even among the closest of friends are natural and always offer openings to adversaries.
  • For India, the main interest is in preventing Afghan soil from being used by anti-India terror groups.
  • At least a section of the Taliban is eager to continue political and commercial engagement with India.
  • This is part of a natural quest for a diversified set of international partnerships.
  • India would be right to wait patiently on the Taliban’s ability to deliver on these promises and stand up against the Pakistan army’s pressures to keep India out.
  • Exploit the contradictions: India should not rule out contradictions between Pakistan and the terror groups it has nurtured as well as among various jihadi organisations.
  • Despite its powerful appeal, religious ideology has failed to build durable political coalitions within and across nations.

Conclusion

Given this history, it is unwise for Delhi to paint the external challenges arising from the Afghan tumult as a single coherent force. The Panchatantra has a more sensible strategy to offer — try and divide your potential adversaries and strengthen your internal unity.

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Foreign Policy Watch: India-Afghanistan

Soft power, India’s strength in Afghanistan

Note4Students

From UPSC perspective, the following things are important :

Prelims level: CDRI

Mains level: Paper 2- Afghanistan issue

Context

Over the past few weeks, there has been much talk about India’s diplomatic stakes being threatened by the changing political scenario in Afghanistan.

India’s role in Afghanistan’s development

  • India is currently the fifth-largest donor in Afghanistan.
  • India’s total development assistance over the years has been worth over $3 billion.
  • Soft and hard measures: India’s development cooperation with Afghanistan has encompassed both soft and hard measures.
  • Soft measures have helped build goodwill and greater people-to-people contact and has involved measures focusing on health, education, capacity development and food security, among others.
  • Many projects have been community-driven, thus helping engage a large section of people in development efforts.
  • Hard infrastructure examples include the parliament building which was inaugurated in 2015, financing the Delaram-Zaranj Highway as well as the 42 MW Salma Dam in Herat province.
  • India had also engaged in triangular cooperation under the US umbrella, cooperating with USAID on various programmes.
  • This includes Afghan Women’s Empowerment Programme, a collaboration between USAID and the Self-Employed Women’s Association (SEWA) for providing vocational education for Afghan women.

How India’s approach differed from other donors?

  • Demand-driven approach: India follows a demand-driven approach, which implies that the sectors for investment are chosen by the recipient government.
  • Not condition based: although its aid is extended as a soft means to gain strategic leverage, it comes without political conditions.
  • In PPP terms, the value of the Indian rupee is often underestimated, meaning that the Indian rupee would be able to buy substantially more goods and services at adjusted exchange rates.
  • For example, a study by the Stimson Centre found out that even though Indian aid in 2015-16 totalled $1.36 billion, in PPP terms it could be pegged at over $5 billion.

Way forward

  • Adapt programs to new reality: At the Afghanistan Conference in Geneva in 2020, India announced several development projects.
  • New political developments in Afghanistan are unlikely to lead to a complete disconnect with India and its established socio-economic role.
  • However, India may need to adapt its programmes to new realities.
  • Diversify portfolio: There is still an infrastructure deficit in Afghanistan and a need for rebuilding and reconstruction.
  • As far as development cooperation is concerned, however, India needs to further diversify its portfolios.
  • Resilient Afghanistan to climate change: India can do much to build a more resilient Afghanistan with respect to climate change and disaster risk reduction with it spearheading global campaigns like CDRI.

Conclusion

India needs to establish itself as a neutral entity that is keen on the development of the region but ready to work with all parties concerned.

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Foreign Policy Watch: India-Afghanistan

India must leverage its unique strengths in remaining engaged with Kabul

Note4Students

From UPSC perspective, the following things are important :

Prelims level: Not much

Mains level: Paper 2- Way forward for India on Afghanistan issue

Context

In the chaos that has followed the Taliban takeover of Kabul on August 15, India has been relatively silent.

India’s role in Afghanistan’s development

  • India’s role spanned three areas in Afghanistan:
  • In terms of infrastructure building and development assistance, encompassing all 34 provinces of the country.
  • In terms of building democracy, helping script the Constitution and hold elections.
  • In terms of educational investment, allowing thousands of young Afghans to study, be trained as professionals and soldiers, and become skilled in India.
  • India was the first country that Afghanistan signed a strategic partnership with.
  • India was the only country that undertook perilous but ambitious projects such Parliament, the Zaranj-Delaram Highway, and the Chabahar port project in Iran for transit trade.
  • India was by far the one country that polled consistently highly among countries that Afghan people trusted. 
  • What should India do now? India should not choose to simply walk away from such capital, regardless of the developments in Afghanistan, domestic political considerations in India and geopolitical sensitivities.

The marginalisation of India’s role in negotiations over Afghanistan

  • No other power from the west to the east has considered India’s interests while charting its course on Afghanistan.
  • India has found itself cut out of several quadrilateral arrangements: the main negotiations held by the “Troika plus” of the United States-Russia-China-Pakistan that pushed for a more “inclusive government” including the Taliban.
  • The alternative grouping of Russia-Iran-China-Pakistan that formed a “regional arc” that has today seen them retain their embassies in Kabul.
  • Neither India’s traditional strategic and defence partner, Russia, nor its fastest growing global strategic partner, the United States, thought it important to include India.
  • It is time to accept that India is in need of a new diplomatic strategy.

Way forward for India

1) Leveraging its position at the UN

  •  India needs to begin by rallying the United Nations, to exert its considerable influence in its own interest, and that of the Afghan “republic”, which is an idea that cannot be just abandoned.
  • Next, India must take a leading role in the debate over who will be nominated to the Afghan seat at the UN depending on the new regime in Afghanistan committing to international norms on human rights, women’s rights, minority rights and others.
  • As Chairman of the Taliban Sanctions Committee (or the 1988 Sanctions Committee), India must use its muscle to ensure terrorists such as Sirajuddin Haqqani must not be given any exemptions: on travel, recourse to funds or arms.

2) India’s engagement with Afghanistan

  • The question of whether India should convert its back-channel talks with the Taliban and with Pakistan in the past few months into something more substantive remains to be debated.
  • This becomes more important as India now faces a “threat umbrella” to its north, including Pakistan’s cross-border terrorism, Afghanistan’s new regime and China’s aggression at the Line of Actual Control.
  • A more broad-based and consultative process of engaging all political parties would be required.
  • While not directly dealing with the Taliban, India must ensure stronger communication with those who are dealing directly, including leaders such as former Afghanistan President Hamid Karzai, to ensure its interests.
  • As a part of its engagement, India must consider whether to revive its assistance to the resistance, which at present includes Ahmad Shah Massoud Jr., Amrullah Saleh, Abdul Rashid Dostum and Atta Mohammad Noor.

3) Engagement with the Afghan people

  • The Government must embrace its greatest strength in Afghanistan — its relations with the Afghan people — and open its doors to those who wish to come here.
  • In particular, India must continue to facilitate medical visas for Afghan patients and extend the education visas for students who are already admitted to Indian colleges.

Conclusion

It is India’s soft power, strategic autonomy or non-alignment principles and selfless assistance to those in need, particularly in its neighbourhood, that has been the strongest chords to its unique voice in the world. The moment to make that voice heard on Afghanistan is now.

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Foreign Policy Watch: India-Afghanistan

The legal challenges in recognising the Taliban

Note4Students

From UPSC perspective, the following things are important :

Prelims level: Not much

Mains level: Paper 2- International recognition of a government

Context

The Taliban’s takeover of Afghanistan has triggered a new debate in international law on the issue of recognising an entity that claims to be the new government of a state.

Legal challenge of recognising a government

  • Questions of recognition do not arise when the change of government within a state occurs when political power is transferred through legal means.
  • However, things are different when the change of government happens through extra-legal methods like ousting the sitting government using unconstitutional means.
  • China and Russia, two of the five permanent United Nations Security Council members, have seemingly shown readiness to recognise a Taliban-led government.
  • Whereas countries like Canada have opposed it.
  • Recognition of governments under international law is vital for several reasons.
  • Recognition of government Vs. Recognition of State: Malcolm Shaw, the international lawyer, writes, “a change in government, however, accomplished, does not affect the identity of the State itself.”
  • Thus, in the current debate, the issue is not about the recognition of Afghanistan, whose legal personality remains intact it’s about the recognition of government.

Two doctrines in Internation laws for recognising a government

1) Effectiveness

  • According to this principle, to recognise a government means to determine whether it effectively controls the state it claims to govern.
  • Under this doctrine, it is immaterial how the new government occupied office.
  • Since there is hardly any doubt that the Taliban now effectively controls Afghanistan, as per this test, it would be recognised as Afghanistan’s government for international law and thus, international relations.

2) Democratic legitimacy

  •  According to this doctrine, recognition of a government also depends on whether it is the legitimate representative of the people it claims to govern.
  • The end of the Cold War, the subsequent spread of democracy in the world, and the growing demand for universal respect for human rights gave an impetus to this doctrine in the last three decades.
  • This doctrine has led many countries to bestow de jure recognition (legal recognition) on governments in exile in place of governments exercising effective control.
  • Two recent examples include recognition by some states of Yemen’s government in exile since 2015.
  • Second, the Nicolás Maduro government in Venezuela is not recognised by several countries due to the alleged lack of democratic legitimacy.
  • The Taliban regime, despite exercising effective control over Afghanistan, lacks democratic legitimacy.
  • Thus, it would fail to be recognised as the legitimate representative of Afghanistan if the doctrine of democratic legitimacy is applied.
  • Nevertheless, there is no binding legal obligation on countries to withhold recognition citing democratic legitimacy.
  • Thus, if Russia and China were to formally recognise the Taliban regime due to its effective control of Afghanistan, it would be consistent with international law.

Way forward for India

  • India will have to find a way to engage with the Taliban given India’s huge investments in Afghanistan and stakes in the South Asian region.
  • India should adopt a clear policy that it will deal with the Taliban simply because it is the de facto government, not because it is a legitimate one.
  • This principle should be followed for bilateral relations and also for multilateral dealings such as within the South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation.

Consider the question “What are the doctrines in international law in recognising the government of State? What should be India’s course of action in dealing with the Taliban in Afghanistan?” 

Conclusion

Given the Taliban’s brutal past, India is within its right to withhold de jure recognition of the Taliban regime. However, India has to devise a policy to deal with the Taliban as a de facto government.

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Foreign Policy Watch: India-Afghanistan

India must bet on patience in Afghanistan

Note4Students

From UPSC perspective, the following things are important :

Prelims level: Cities in Afghanistan

Mains level: Paper 2- Implications of Taliban control over Afghanistan

Context

Notwithstanding the current triumphalism in Pakistan at “overthrowing” the US-backed order in Kabul and “pushing” India out of Afghanistan, India can afford to step back and signal that it can wait.

Uncertainties about the future

Two interconnected political negotiations unfolding are likely to determine Afghanistan’s immediate future.

1) Setting up political order

  • One is focused on building a new political order within Afghanistan.
  • More than a week after President Ghani fled Kabul, there is no government, let alone an inclusive and internationally acceptable one, in sight.
  • Before Pakistan can get the Taliban to share power with other groups, it has to facilitate an acceptable accommodation between different factions of the Taliban.
  • Then there is the problem of including the non-Taliban formations in the new government.

2) Gaining international recognition

  • The international community has set some broad conditions for the recognition of the Taliban-led government.
  • Besides an inclusive government at home, the world wants to see respect for human rights, especially women’s rights, ending support for international terrorism, and stopping opium production.
  • Pakistan will hope to get some of its traditional friends like China and Turkey or new partners like Russia to break the current international consensus.
  • Pakistan and the Taliban, however, know Chinese and Russian support is welcome but not enough.
  • They need an understanding of the US and its allies to gain political legitimacy as well as sustained international economic assistance.
  • The West, too, needs the Taliban to facilitate the evacuation of its citizens from Kabul and, sooner rather than later, deliver humanitarian assistance.

How India differs from Pakistan in its approach towards Afghanistan?

  • India has never been in strategic competition with Pakistan in Afghanistan. India’s lack of direct geographic access to Afghanistan has ensured that.
  • Both their strategies have roots in the 19th-century policies of the Raj.
  • Forward policy: The Pakistan Army’s quest for strategic depth in Afghanistan harks back to the “forward policy” school that sought to actively control the territories beyond the Indus.
  • The forward policy seeks political dominance over Afghanistan in the name of a “friendly government” in Kabul.
  • Masterly inactivity: India, in contrast, stayed with a rival school in the Raj that called for “masterly inactivity” — a prudent approach to the badlands beyond the Indus.
  • India’s strategy seeks to strengthen Kabul’s autonomy vis-à-vis Rawalpindi and facilitate Afghanistan’s economic modernisation.
  • The Afghan values that India supports — nationalism, sovereignty, and autonomy — will endure in Kabul, irrespective of the nature of the regime.

Consider the question “What are the implications of the return of Taliban in Afghanistan for India? What should be India’s approach in dealing with the Taliban controlled Afghanistan?” 

Conclusion

Strategic patience coupled with political empathy for Afghan people, and an active engagement will continue to keep India relevant in Kabul’s internal and external evolution.

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Foreign Policy Watch: India-Afghanistan

The fall of Kabul, the future of regional geopolitics

Note4Students

From UPSC perspective, the following things are important :

Prelims level: Not much

Mains level: Paper 2- Afghanistan issue and its implications for India

Context

The fall of Kabul in the wake of the American withdrawal from Afghanistan will prove to be a defining moment for the region and the future shape of its geopolitics.

Implications of the US withdrawal for India

1) Increase in threat from China

  • The manner in which the United States withdrew from Afghanist created the regional power vacuum in the Eurasian heartland.
  • An axis of regional powers such as China, Pakistan, Iran, Russia, and the Taliban, have already started filling this power vacuum.
  • Advantageous for China: The post-American power vacuum in the region will be primarily advantageous to China and its grand strategic plans for the region.
  • BRI expansion: Beijing will further strengthen its efforts to bring every country in the region, except India, on the Chinese Belt and Road Initiative bandwagon, thereby altering the geopolitical and geoeconomic foundations of the region
  • The much-feared Chinese encirclement of India will become ever more pronounced.
  • Even in trade, given the sorry state of the post-COVID-19 Indian economy, India needs trade with China more than the other way round.
  • Unless India can find ways of ensuring a rapprochement with China, it must expect Beijing to challenge India on occasion, and be prepared for it.

2) Terror and extremism

  • The U.S. presence in Afghanistan, international pressure on the Taliban, and Financial Action Task Force worries in Pakistan had a relatively moderating effect on the region’s terror ecosystem.
  • There is little appetite for a regional approach to curbing terrorism from a Taliban-led Afghanistan.
  • This enables the Taliban to engage in a selective treatment towards terror outfits present there or they have relations with.
  • It is unlikely that the Taliban will proactively export terror to other countries unless of course for tactical purposes, for instance, Pakistan against India.
  • The real worry, however, is the inspiration that disgruntled elements in the region will draw from the Taliban’s victory against the world’s sole superpower.

3) Impact on India’s regional interests and outreach to Central Asia

  • The return of the Taliban to Kabul has effectively laid India’s ‘mission Central Asia’ to rest.
  • India’s diplomatic and civilian presence as well as its civilian investments will now be at the mercy of the Taliban, and to some extent Pakistan.
  • Had India cultivated deeper relations with the Taliban, Indian interests would have been more secure in a post-American Afghanistan.

4) Impact on India’s foreign policy choices

  • Shift to Indo-Pacific: Given the little physical access India has to its north-western landmass, its focus is bound to shift more to the Indo-Pacific even though a maritime grand strategy may not necessarily be an answer to its continental challenges.
  • Improving relations with neighbours: India might also seek to cultivate more friendly relations with its neighbours.
  • India has already indicated that it would not challenge the junta on the coup and its widespread human rights violations.
  • The last thing India needs now is an angry neighbour rushing to China.
  • Stability in relations with Pakistan: The developments in Afghanistan could nudge India to seek stability, if not peace, with Pakistan.
  • Both sides might refrain from indulging in competitive risk-taking unless something dramatic happens which is always a possibility between the two rivals.
  • That said, stability between India and Pakistan depends a great deal on how politics in Kashmir plays out, and whether India is able to pacify the aggrieved sections in the Valley.

Consider the question “What would be the fallout of the Taliban’s return in Afghanistan for India? What steps India needs to take to mitigate the impact on its interests?”

Conclusion

The lesson for India in the wake of these developments is clear: It will have to fight its own battles. So it must make enemies wisely, choose friends carefully, rekindle flickering friendships, and make peace while it can.

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Foreign Policy Watch: India-Afghanistan

What is Shariah Law?

Note4Students

From UPSC perspective, the following things are important :

Prelims level: Not much

Mains level: Taliban seize of Afghanistan

The Taliban have pledged that women in Afghanistan will have rights “within the bounds of Islamic law,” or Shariah, under their newly established rule.

What is Shariah?

  • Shariah is based on the Quran, stories of the Prophet Muhammad’s life, and the rulings of religious scholars, forming the moral and legal framework of Islam.
  • The Quran details a path to a moral life, but not a specific set of laws.

Interpreting Shariah

  • The interpretations of Shariah are a matter of debate across the Muslim world, and all groups and governments that base their legal systems on Shariah have done so differently.
  • One interpretation of Shariah could afford women extensive rights, while another could leave women with few.
  • Critics have said that some of the Taliban restrictions on women under the guise of Islamic law actually went beyond the bounds of Shariah.
  • When the Taliban say they are instituting Shariah law, that does not mean they are doing so in ways that Islamic scholars or other Islamic authorities would agree with.

What does Shariah prescribe?

  • Shariah lists some specific crimes, such as theft and adultery, and punishments if accusations meet a standard of proof.
  • It also offers moral and spiritual guidance, such as when and how to pray, or how to marry and divorce.
  • It does not forbid women to leave home without a male escort or bar them from working in most jobs.

How has the Taliban previously interpreted Shariah?

  • When the Taliban controlled Afghanistan from 1996 to 2001, they banned television and most musical instruments.
  • They established a department for the Promotion of Virtue and the Prevention of Vice based on a Saudi model.

Restrictions imposed on Women

  • Restrictions on behavior, dress, and movement were enforced by morality police officers, who drove around in pickup trucks, publicly humiliating and whipping women who did not adhere to their rules.
  • In 1996, a woman in Kabul, Afghanistan, had the end of her thumb cut off for wearing nail polish, according to Amnesty International.
  • Other restrictions include a ban on schooling for girls, and publicly bashing people who violated the group’s morality code.
  • Women accused of adultery are stoned to death.

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Foreign Policy Watch: India-Afghanistan

Understanding the strategic flux and humanitarian crisis in Afghanistan

Note4Students

From UPSC perspective, the following things are important :

Prelims level: UN Security Council

Mains level: Paper 2- Afghanistan issue

Context

The Afghan government and its defence forces have completely collapsed. The world over, television screens are full of images of the extraordinary takeover of Afghanistan by the Taliban.

Background of the US intervention in Afghanistan

  • The original trigger for the US military intervention in Afghanistan was the 9/11 attacks.
  • The objective then was to eliminate the al Qaeda sanctuaries hosted by the Taliban.
  • That goal was quickly attained, as was another one — the elimination of Osama Bin Laden in Abbottabad, Pakistan, in 2011.
  • The US was thereafter stuck into a vortex in which its mission oscillated between counter-terrorism and counter-insurgency. 
  • The military presence in Afghanistan has been questioned by the US political firmament for a decade.

Factors driving the US exit

  • China factor: The US now regards China as its principal strategic competitor.
  • China’s muscle-flexing in the East and South China Seas calls for a renewed effort by the US to protect its stakes.
  • The rise of China is the main geo-strategic threat for the US.
  • In 2001, the US had taken its eye off the ball in diverting its attention to the global war on terror.
  • Beginning with Afghanistan, it meandered through Iraq, Libya and Syria, with mixed results.
  • Taiwan: China’s recent ratcheting up of pressure on Taiwan has also sounded the alarm.

Implications of Taliban’s return for region

  • The new regime in Kabul is likely to open the door to economic investments from China.
  • At the geopolitical level, the BRI may well receive a boost, given China’s interests in connectivity that could straddle the region, from Pakistan to Iran.
  • Pakistan has shown alacrity in welcoming the change of guard in Kabul.
  • The change in Afghanistan has security implications for India and the region at large.
  • A spill-over of any chaos and instability in Afghanistan beyond its borders could give terrorism a shot in the arm.
  • It could also singe Pakistan if it does not review its malevolent practices, which favour terror as an instrument of state policy.

Way forward for India

  • India should prioritise the welfare of the Afghan people, whenever the opportunity presents itself.
  • Currently, about 2,500 Afghan students are enrolled in educational and vocational institutions across India.
  • They will no doubt wish to extend their scholarships.
  • As a close neighbour, India has keen stakes in ensuring a stable, secure and developed Afghanistan.
  • As the rotational President of the UN Security Council for August, India has an opportunity to engage important stakeholders on the way forward.
  • Beyond that too, India’s presence in the UN Security Council till the end of 2022 will provide a platform to explore options with greater flexibility.

Conclusion

The global community needs to underscore the continued participation of women in governance in Afghanistan and keep an eye on violations of human rights and international humanitarian law.

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Foreign Policy Watch: India-Afghanistan

For India, there will be no dearth of balancing opportunities in Afghanistan

Note4Students

From UPSC perspective, the following things are important :

Prelims level: Not much

Mains level: Paper 2- Implications of situation in Afghanistan for India

Context

The rapid fall of Afghanistan after the withdrawal of the US sent shockwaves across the region.

Cause of concern for India

  • The Taliban’s entry into Kabul, marks the beginning of a new phase in the relationship between Afghanistan and India.
  • Recent developments in South Asia certainly point to a recurring dynamic between Afghanistan and India.
  • The restoration of Taliban rule in Afghanistan with Pakistan’s support undoubtedly presents some very serious potential challenges for Indian security.
  • However, a measure of strategic patience could help India cope with the adverse developments in Afghanistan and find ways to secure its interests in the near future.
  • For India, a bigger question mark will be about the Taliban’s renewed support for international terrorism and Pakistan’s re-direction of jihadi groups that have allegedly fought with the Taliban towards India.

Afghanistan from 1979 to 2001 and how it changed the subcontinent

  • At the end of 1979, the Soviet Union launched a massive military invasion to protect a communist regime in Kabul.
  • The US and Pakistan responded by unleashing a religious jihad that compelled Russia to withdraw by 1989.
  • Pakistan’s critical role in the Afghan war against Russia allowed Pakistan to secure the political cover for the country’s acquisition of nuclear weapons.
  • The Pakistan army turned the jihadi armies to gain control of Afghanistan and launched a proxy war against India, especially in the Punjab and Kashmir regions.
  • The turbulence of the 1990s saw deepening conflict between India and Pakistan.
  • Al Qaeda, hosted by the Taliban, launched terror attacks against the US on September 11, 2001.
  • Swift US retribution brought an end to Taliban rule and compelled Pakistan to reconsider its policies.
  • After 2001, there has also been a significant expansion of the India-US strategic partnership.
  • By the end of the decade, though, the Pakistan Army had swung back to its default positions — renewed support for the Taliban in Afghanistan.
  • Pakistan also teased an increasingly war-weary Washington into a negotiation with the Taliban for a peace settlement.

Way forward for India

  • Patience: Like all radical groups, the Taliban will have trouble balancing its religious ideology with the imperatives of state interests.
  • India would want to carefully watch how this tension plays out.
  • Watch the relation between Pakistan and Taliban: Equally important is the nature of the relationship between the Taliban and Pakistan.
  • The Taliban is bound to seek a measure of autonomy from Pakistan, India will have to wait.
  • Prepare for cross-border terror: India must fully prepare for a renewal of cross-border terror, but there is a lot less global acceptance of terrorism today than in the permissive 1990s.
  • No major power would like to see Afghanistan re-emerge as a global sanctuary of terror.
  • The world has also imposed significant new constraints on Pakistan’s support for terror through mechanisms like the Financial Action Task Force.
  • Unlike in the 1990s, when Delhi simply absorbed the terror attacks, it now shows the political will to retaliate forcefully.
  • Regional geopolitical alignment: It is also important to note that the US and the West will continue to have a say in shaping the international attitudes towards the new regime.
  • The Taliban and Pakistan appear to be acutely conscious of this reality.

Conclusion

For a patient, open-minded and active India, there will be no dearth of balancing opportunities in Afghanistan.

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Foreign Policy Watch: India-Afghanistan

Needed, a more unified Asian voice for Afghanistan

Note4Students

From UPSC perspective, the following things are important :

Prelims level: SCO

Mains level: Paper 2- Role of Central Asia in Afghanistan

Context

As the United States and the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) end their presence in Afghanistan and set off a churn in the neighbourhood, Central Asia is emerging as a key player.

Challenges India faces in playing a leading role in Afghanistan

  • Events of the past few years, and the decisions of Russia, the US and China have kept India out of a leading role in Afghanistan.
  • India’s original hesitation in opening talks with the Taliban has cut India out of the current reconciliation process.
  • India’s efforts to build on trade with Afghanistan, shore up development projects and increase educational and training opportunities for Afghan youth have been appreciated, but these cannot grow bigger due to a number of factors.
  • The end of any formal dialogue between India and Pakistan since 2016 and trade since 2019, have resulted in Pakistan blocking India’s over-land access to Afghanistan.
  • India’s alternative route through Chabahar, though operational, cannot be viable or cost-effective also long as U.S. sanctions on Iran are in place.
  • India’s boycott of the Chinese Belt and Road Initiative (BRI) in 2017, and now tensions at the Line of Actual Control make another route to Afghanistan off-limits.
  • The U.S. has announced a formation of a “Quad” on regional connectivity — U.S.-Uzbekistan-Afghanistan-Pakistan that does not include India.

Why Central Asian countries are interested in Afghanistan?

  • The hope is that the Central Asian window, with the “Stans” (five Central Asian republics of Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Turkmenistan, Tajikistan and Uzbekistan) will open new possibilities for India.
  • Calculations of Central Asian neighbours are three-fold:
  • The first is that prosperity for these land-locked countries can only flow from access through Afghanistan to the closest ocean, i.e. the Indian Ocean.
  • Second, that all transit through Afghanistan depends on guarantees of safe passage from the Taliban, backed by the group’s mentors in Pakistan.
  • Third, each of the “Stans” are now a part of China’s BRI, and tying their connectivity initiatives with Beijing’s will bring the double promise of investment and some modicum of control over Pakistan.

Way forward for India

  • Given the odds, India’s room for manoeuvre with these five countries on Afghanistan appears limited but not without hope.
  • Work on common concerns: To begin with, India and the Central Asian States share common concerns about an Afghanistan overrun by the Taliban.
  • Their common concerns are the worries of battles at their borders, safe havens for jihadist terror groups inside Afghanistan and the spill-over of radicalism into their own countries.
  • Support financially: It is necessary for India to work with them, and other neighbours to shore up finances for the government in Kabul, particularly to ensure that the government structure does not collapse.
  • Cooperation on anti-terrorism: As part of the SCO’s Regional Anti-Terrorist Structure (RATS), India must also step up its engagement with the Central Asian countries on fighting terror.
  • India can support the Afghan National Defense and Security Forces (ANDSF) in terms of airpower.
  • Better ties between neighbours: South Asia must learn from Central Asia’s recent example in knitting together this region more tightly, a task that can only be completed with better ties between India and Pakistan.
  • India’s furtive discussions with the Taliban leadership in Doha make little sense unless a less tactical and more strategic engagement with Pakistan is also envisaged.

Conclusion

Countries of Central Asia and South Asia need to find a more unified voice, as they have in recent weeks. Afghanistan’s future will affect both regions much more than it will the distant global powers that currently dominate the debate.

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Foreign Policy Watch: India-Afghanistan

‘Open talks’ with the Taliban is India’s strategic necessity

Note4Students

From UPSC perspective, the following things are important :

Prelims level: Mazar-e-Sharif, Kandahar

Mains level: Paper 2- Engaging the Taliban

Context

With over a third of Afghanistan’s more than 400 districts under Taliban control, the talk-to-the-Taliban option is indeed the best of the many less than perfect options available to India.

India need a reset in its Afghanistan policy

  • India has ‘temporarily’ closed its consulate in Kandahar.
  • This follows the decision to suspend operations in the Indian consulates in Jalalabad and Herat.
  • India’s decision to partially “withdraw” from Afghanistan shows that betting only on the government in Kabul was a big mistake,
  • It also shows that India realises the threat the Taliban poses to Indian assets and presence in Afghanistan.
  • To safeguard its civilian assets there as well as to stay relevant in the unfolding ‘great game’ in and around Afghanistan, India must fundamentally reset its Afghanistan policy.
  • India must, in its own national interest, begin ‘open talks’ with the Taliban before it is too late.
  • Open dialogue with the Taliban should no longer be a taboo; it is a strategic necessity.

Reason for avoiding open talks with Taliban

  • There are at least five possible reasons why India appears to want to keep the Taliban engagement slow and behind closed doors.
  • First, if India chooses to engage the Taliban directly, it could make Afghanistan President Ashraf Ghani, to look towards China and the Shanghai Cooperation Organisation (SCO) for national security and personal political survival.
  • Second, India is also faced with the dilemma of who to talk to within the Taliban given that it is hardly a monolith.
  • Third, given the global opprobrium that Taliban faced in its earlier avatar and the lack of evidence about whether the outfit is a changed lot today, New Delhi might not want to court the Taliban so soon.
  • Fourth, there is little clarity about what the Taliban’s real intentions are going forward and what they would do after ascending to power in Kabul.
  • Fifth, it would not be totally unreasonable to consider the possibility of Pakistan acting out against India in Kashmir if India were to establish deeper links with the Taliban.

Reasons India should engage with the Taliban openly

  • Wide international recognition: Whether we like it or not, the Taliban, is going to be part of the political scheme of things in Afghanistan, and unlike in 1996, a large number of players in the international community are going to recognise/negotiate/do business with the Taliban.
  • Countering Pakistan: The Taliban today is looking for regional and global partners for recognition and legitimacy especially in the neighbourhood.
  • So the less proactive the Indian engagement with the Taliban, the stronger Pakistan-Taliban relations would become.
  • A worldly-wise and internationally-exposed Taliban 2.0 would develop its own agency and sovereign claims including perhaps calling into question the legitimacy of the Durand Line separating Pakistan and Afghanistan, something Pakistan was always concerned about. T
  • The Taliban would want to hedge their bets on how far to listen to Pakistan.
  • That is precisely when New Delhi should engage the Taliban.
  • Security of civilian assets: India needs to court all parties in Afghanistan, including the Taliban if it wants to ensure its security of its civilian assets there.
  • It makes neither strategic nor economic sense to withdraw from Afghanistan after spending over $3 billion, something the Government seems to be prepared to do
  • Being a part of Afghanistan’s future course: If India is not proactive in Afghanistan at least now, late as it is, Russia, Iran, Pakistan and China will emerge as the shapers of Afghanistan’s political and geopolitical destiny, which for sure will be detrimental to Indian interests there.
  • Continental grand strategy:  Backchannel talks with Pakistan and a consequent ceasefire on the Line of Control, political dialogue with the mainstream Kashmiri leadership, secret parleys with Taliban all indicate that India is opening up its congested north-western frontier.
  •  Except for the strategic foray into the Indo-Pacific, India today is strategically boxed in the region and it must break out of it. Afghanistan could provide, if not immediately, India with such a way out.

Consider the question ” India’s Afghan policy is at a major crossroads; to safeguard its civilian assets there as well as to stay relevant in the unfolding ‘great game’ in and around Afghanistan, New Delhi must fundamentally reset its Afghanistan policy. Comment.” 

Conclusion

In the end, India’s engagement with the Taliban may or may not achieve much, but non-engagement will definitely hurt Indian interests.


Back2Basics: Durand Line

  • Durand Line, boundary established in the Hindu Kush in 1893 running through the tribal lands between Afghanistan and British India, marking their respective spheres of influence.
  • In modern times it has marked the border between Afghanistan and Pakistan.
  • The acceptance of this line—which was named for Sir Mortimer Durand, who induced ʿAbdor Raḥmān Khān, amir of Afghanistan, to agree to a boundary—may be said to have settled the Indo-Afghan frontier problem for the rest of the British period.

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Foreign Policy Watch: India-Afghanistan

China’s role in stabilising Afghanistan

Note4Students

From UPSC perspective, the following things are important :

Prelims level: Not much

Mains level: Paper 2- Limits on China's role in Afghanistan

Context

Amid the gloom that has enveloped Afghanistan, one hope for many countries has been China’s potential role in stabilising it.

Factors that call for China to play role in Afghanistan

  • Scope for India-China cooperation: In the past, even India thought that Afghanistan would be a natural area for India and China to work together.
  • But little came out of the understanding after the Wuhan summit in 2018.
  • Northern neighbours: Afghanistan’s northern neighbours, Turkmenistan, Uzbekistan, and Tajikistan all have expanding political and economic ties with China but have traditionally relied on Russia for their security.
  • They might support a larger role for Beijing in Afghanistan in partnership with Russia.
  • Iran, Kabul’s western neighbour, also has deepening ties with China.
  • Bilateral cooperation with the U.S.: Washington, now locked in an escalating confrontation with Beijing, sees Afghanistan as a potential area of bilateral cooperation. 
  • Role of Pakistan: Beijing is indeed critical in Pakistan’s plans for Afghanistan.
  • Afghan leaders have also been eager to draw China’s BRI into their plans for economic modernisation.
  • China was also important for Kabul’s political calculus in limiting Pakistan’s quest for dominance.

Two challenges in China playing role in stabilising Afghanistan

1) Caution in Chinese policy

  • The first relates to the deep sources of caution in Chinese policy.
  • Neither the prospect of mining Afghanistan’s natural resources nor the vanity of being the newest superpower will compel China to rush into the Afghan vacuum.
  • China has deep concerns about Taliban’s ideology and its potential role in fomenting instability in its restive Muslim-majority province, Xinjiang. 
  • Beijing cannot depend on its special relationship with the Pakistan army to ensure the security of China’s frontiers as well as its investments in Afghanistan.
  •  The growing attacks on CPEC projects in Pakistan, underline the difficulty of pursuing economic development amid endemic violence.

2) Priorities of Taliban

  • The second set of problems relate to the priorities of Taliban.
  • It remains to be seen whether the economic development of Afghanistan is a top priority for the Taliban or not.
  • Also, is it open to let in foreign capital and all the baggage that comes with it?
  • More fundamentally, there is no clarity on the role of economic modernisation in Taliban’s fierce insistence on the creation of an Islamic emirate in Afghanistan.

Conclusion

It is against this backdrop that the chances of China playing a major role in stabilising Afghanistan remain slim.

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Foreign Policy Watch: India-Afghanistan

Explained: India’s Afghan investment

Note4Students

From UPSC perspective, the following things are important :

Prelims level: Read the attached story

Mains level: India-Afghan relations

As the Taliban push ahead with military offensives across Afghanistan, preparing to take over after the exit of US and NATO forces, India faces a situation in which it may lose all its stakes.

India-Afghan ties

  • After a break between 1996 and 2001, when India joined the world in shunning the previous Taliban regime (only Pakistan, the UAE, and Saudi Arabia kept ties).
  • One-way New Delhi re-established ties with the country in the two decades after the 9/11 attacks was to pour in development assistance, under the protective umbrella of the US presence.
  • India built vital roads, dams, electricity transmission lines and substations, schools and hospitals, etc. India’s development assistance is now estimated to be worth well over $3 billion.
  • And unlike in other countries where India’s infrastructure projects have barely got off the ground or are mired in the host nation’s politics, it has delivered in Afghanistan.

A soft corner

  • Afghanistan is vital to India’s strategic interests in the region.
  • It is also perhaps the only SAARC nation whose people have much affection for India.
  • Taliban takeover would mean a reversal of nearly 20 years of rebuilding a relationship that goes back centuries.

Projects across the country

[1] SALMA DAM

  • Already, there has been fighting in the area where one of India’s high-visibility projects is located — the 42MW Salma Dam in Herat province.
  • The hydropower and irrigation project, completed against many odds and inaugurated in 2016, is known as the Afghan-India Friendship Dam.
  • In the past few weeks, the Taliban have mounted attacks in nearby places, killing several security personnel.
  • The Taliban claim the area around the dam is now under their control.

[2] ZARANJ-DELARAM HIGHWAY

  • The other high-profile project was the 218-km Zaranj-Delaram highway built by the Border Roads Organisation. Zaranj is located close to Afghanistan’s border with Iran.
  • With Pakistan denying India overland access for trade with Afghanistan, the highway is of strategic importance to New Delhi, as it provides an alternative route into landlocked Afghanistan through Iran’s Chabahar port.

[3] AFGHAN PARLIAMENT

  • The Afghan Parliament in Kabul was built by India at $90 million.
  • It was opened in 2015; PM Modi inaugurated the building.
  • A block in the building is named after former PM AB Vajpayee.

[4] STOR PALACE

  • In 2016, Afghan President Ashraf Ghani and PM Modi inaugurated the restored Stor Palace in Kabul, originally built in the late 19th century.
  • It is famous for the 1919 Rawalpindi Agreement by which Afghanistan became an independent country.

[5] POWER INFRA

  • Other Indian projects in Afghanistan include the rebuilding of power infrastructure such as the 220kV DC transmission line from Pul-e-Khumri, the capital of Baghlan province to the north of Kabul.
  • Indian contractors and workers also restored telecommunications infrastructure in many provinces.

[6] HEALTH INFRA

  • India has reconstructed a children’s hospital it had helped build in Kabul in 1972 —named Indira Gandhi Institute for Child Health in 1985 — that was in shambles after the war.
  • ‘Indian Medical Missions’ have held free consultation camps in several areas.
  • Thousands who lost their limbs after stepping on mines left over from the war have been fitted with the Jaipur Foot.
  • India has also built clinics in the border provinces of Badakhshan, Balkh, Kandahar, Khost, Kunar, Nangarhar, Nimruz, Nooristan, Paktia and Paktika.

[7] TRANSPORTATION

  • According to the MEA, India gifted 400 buses and 200 mini-buses for urban transportation, 105 utility vehicles for municipalities, 285 military vehicles for the Afghan Army.
  • It also gave three Air India aircraft to Ariana, the Afghan national carrier, when it was restarting operations.

[8] OTHER PROJECTS

  • India has contributed desks and benches for schools, and built solar panels in remote villages, and Sulabh toilet blocks in Kabul.
  • New Delhi has also played a role in building capacity, with vocational training institutes, scholarships to Afghan students, mentoring programmes in the civil service, and training for doctors and others.

Various ongoing project

  • India had concluded with Afghanistan an agreement for the construction of the Shatoot Dam in Kabul district, which would provide safe drinking water to 2 million residents.
  • Last year, India pledged $1 million for another Aga Khan heritage project, the restoration of the Bala Hissar Fort south of Kabul, whose origins go back to the 6th century.
  • Bala Hissar went on to become a significant Mughal fort, parts of it were rebuilt by Jahangir, and it was used as a residence by Shah Jahan.

Bilateral trade

  • Despite the denial of an overland route by Pakistan, the India-Afghanistan trade has grown with the establishment in 2017 of an air freight corridor.
  • In 2019-20, bilateral trade crossed $1.3 billion.
  • The balance of trade is heavily tilted — exports from India are worth approximately $900 million, while Afghanistan’s exports to India are about $500 million.
  • Afghan exports are mainly fresh and dried fruit.
  • Some of this comes overland through the Wagah border; Pakistan has permitted Afghan trade with India through its territory.
  • Indian exports to Afghanistan take place mainly through government-to-government contracts with Indian companies.
  • Exports include pharmaceuticals, medical equipment, computers and related materials, cement, and sugar.
  • Trade through Chabahar started in 2017 but is restricted by the absence of connectivity from the port to the Afghan border.

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Foreign Policy Watch: India-Afghanistan

Regional powers and the Afghanistan question

Note4Students

From UPSC perspective, the following things are important :

Prelims level: SCO members

Mains level: Paper 2- Afghanistan after the US withdrawal

Context

A regional conclave of foreign ministers taking place in Dushanbe this week under the banner of the Shanghai Cooperation Organisation (SCO) should give us a sense of the unfolding regional dynamic on Afghanistan.

SCO addressing challenges in Afghanistan

  • Geography, membership and capabilities make the SCO an important forum to address the post-American challenges in Afghanistan.
  • The SCO was launched 20 years ago by China and Russia to promote inner Asia stability. 
  • The current members of the SCO are China, Russia, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan, Uzbekistan, Pakistan, and India.
  • The SCO has four observer states — Iran, Afghanistan, Mongolia and Belarus.
  • The idea of a regional solution to Afghanistan has always had much political appeal.
  • But divergent regional strategic perspectives limit the prospects for a sustainable consensus on Afghanistan.

Implications of the US exit for the region

  • The quiet satisfaction in Moscow, Beijing, Tehran and Rawalpindi at the US’s exit from Afghanistan, however, is tinged by worries about the long-term implications of Washington’s retreat
  • Regional players have to cope with the consequences of the US withdrawal and the resurgence of the Taliban.
  • Neither Moscow nor Beijing would want to see Afghanistan becoming the hub of international terror again under the Taliban.
  • For China, potential Taliban support to the Xinjiang separatist groups is a major concern.
  • Iran can’t ignore the Sunni extremism of the Taliban and its oppressive record in dealing with the Shia, and Persian-speaking minorities.
  • Pakistan worries about the danger of the conflict spilling over to the east of the Durand Line, and hostile groups gaining sanctuaries in Afghanistan.

Three factors that drive India’s Afghan policy

  • The US exit means a new constraint on Delhi’s ability to operate inside Afghanistan.
  • There is also the danger that Afghanistan under the Taliban could also begin to nurture anti-India terror groups.
  • If India remains active but patient, many opportunities could open up in the new Afghan phase.
  • Three structural conditions will continue to shape India’s Afghan policy.
  • One is India’s lack of direct physical access to Afghanistan.
  • This underlines the importance of India having effective regional partners.
  • Second, it remains to be seen if Pakistan’s partnership with China and the extension of the China Pakistan Economic Corridor into Afghanistan can address Pakistan’s inability to construct a stable and legitimate order in Afghanistan.
  • Third, the contradiction between the interests of Afghanistan and Pakistan is an enduring one.
  • While many in Pakistan would like to turn Afghanistan into a protectorate, Afghans deeply value their independence.
  • All Afghan sovereigns, including the Taliban, will inevitably look for partners to balance Pakistan.

Way forward for India

  • India must actively contribute to the SCO deliberations on Afghanistan, but must temper its hopes for a collective regional solution.
  • At the same time, Delhi should focus on intensifying its engagement with various Afghan groups, including the Taliban, and finding effective regional partners to secure its interests in a changing Afghanistan.

Conclusion

India should pursue the regional solution to Afghanistan challenge after the US exit while increasing the engagement with the various players in Afghanistan including the Taliban.

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Foreign Policy Watch: India-Afghanistan

What lies ahead for Afghanistan after US exit?

Note4Students

From UPSC perspective, the following things are important :

Prelims level: Not much

Mains level: Turmoil in Afghanistan with US exit

The US troops are departing away after coordinating the 20-year-long war in Afghanistan, effectively ending their military operations in the country.

Why did the US invade Afghanistan?

  • Weeks after the 9-11 terrorist attacks, the US declared war on Afghanistan.
  • It was then ruled by the Taliban.

Terror then gets safe heaven

  • Al-Qaeda’s leaders and key operatives fled to safe havens in Pakistan.
  • The US rejected an offer from the Taliban to surrender and vowed to defeat the insurgents in every corner of Afghanistan.
  • In 2003, US announced that major military operations in the country were over.
  • The US focus shifted to the Iraq invasion, while in Afghanistan, western powers helped build a centralized democratic system and institutions.
  • But that neither ended the war nor stabilised the country.

Why is the US pulling back?

  • The US had reached the conclusion long ago that the war was unwinnable.
  • It wanted a face-saving exit.

What are the terms of US exit?

  • Before the Doha talks started, the Taliban had maintained that they would hold direct talks only with the US, and not with the Kabul government, which they did not recognize.
  • The US effectively accepted this demand when they cut the Afghan government off the process and entered direct talks with the insurgents.
  • The deal dealt with four aspects of the conflict — violence, foreign troops, intra-Afghan peace talks and the use of Afghan soil by terrorist groups such as al-Qaeda and the IS.
  • According to the agreement, the Taliban promised to reduce violence, join intra-Afghan peace talks and cut all ties with foreign terrorist groups, while the US pledged to withdraw all its troops.

Present situation in Afghanistan

  • After the agreement was signed, the US put pressure on the Afghan government to release thousands of Taliban prisoners — a key Taliban precondition for starting intra-Afghan talks.
  • Talks between Taliban representatives and the Afghan government began in Doha in September 2020 but did not reach any breakthrough.
  • At present, the peace process is frozen. And the US is hurrying for the exit.
  • The Taliban reduced hostilities against foreign troops but continued to attack Afghan forces even after the agreement was signed.
  • Kabul maintains that the Pakistan support for the Taliban is allowing the insurgents to overcome military pressure and carry forward with their agenda.

Pakistani role in reviving Taliban

  • Pakistan was one of the three countries that had recognized the Taliban regime in the 1990s.
  • The Taliban captured much of the country with help from Pakistan’s ISI.
  • After the 9/11 attacks, Pakistan’s military dictator Musharraf, under pressure from the Bush administration, cut formal ties with the Taliban and joined America’s war on terror.
  • But Pakistan played a double game. It provided shelter to the Talabani leaders and regrouped their organization which helped them make a staged comeback in Afghanistan.
  • Pakistan successfully expected these groups to launch terror activities against India.

Again in the spotlight

  • A violent military takeover of Afghanistan by the Taliban may not serve Pakistan’s core interests.
  • It wants to check India’s influence in Afghanistan and bring the Taliban to Kabul.
  • But a violent takeover, like in the 1990s, would lack international acceptability, leaving Afghanistan unstable for a foreseeable future.
  • In such a scenario, Pakistan could face another influx of refugees from Afghanistan and strengthening of anti-Pakistan terror groups, such as the Tehrik-i-Taliban.
  • From a strategic point of view, Pakistan would prefer the Taliban being accommodated in power through negotiations and a peaceful settlement.
  • But it’s not clear whether Pakistan has the capacity to shape the post-American outcome in Afghanistan.

Why is India reaching out to the Taliban?

  • India had made contacts with the Taliban in Doha. New Delhi has not denied reports of its outreach to the Taliban.
  • India has three critical areas in dealing with the Taliban:
  1. One, protecting its investments, which run into billions of rupees, in Afghanistan;
  2. Two, preventing a future Taliban regime from being a pawn of the ISI;
  3. Three, making sure that the Pakistan-backed anti-India terrorist groups do not get support from the Taliban.

Is the Afghanistan government doomed?

  • The American intelligence community has concluded that Kabul could fall within six months.
  • None of the global leaders are certain about the survival of the Afghan government.

Taliban is pacing its action

  • One thing is certain — the American withdrawal has turned the balance of power in the battleground in favour of the Taliban.
  • They are already making rapid advances, and could launch a major offensive targeting the city centers and provincial capitals once the last American leaves.

Future of Afghanistan

There seems three possibilities:

  1. One, there could be a political settlement in which the Taliban and the government agree to some power-sharing mechanism and jointly shape the future of Afghanistan. As of now, this looks like a remote possibility.
  2. Two, an all-out civil war may be possible, in which the government, economically backed and militarily trained by the West, holds on to its positions in key cities. This is already unfolding.
  3. A third scenario would be of the Taliban taking over the country.

Any nation planning to deal with Afghanistan should be prepared for all three scenarios.

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Foreign Policy Watch: India-Afghanistan

As the US exits, Afghanistan finds itself at the crossroads

Note4Students

From UPSC perspective, the following things are important :

Prelims level: Not much

Mains level: Paper 2- The U.S. exit from Afghanistan and its implications for the region

The article highlights the implications of the U.S. exit from Afghanistan for the region.

Status of the Afghanistan peace process

  • The Afghanistan peace process has been in disarray as the conference to be hosted by the United Nations in Istanbul, remains suspended due to the reluctance of Afghan’s Taliban.
  • Now there is some hope of breaking the impasse as the Taliban have expressed an openness to attend the Istanbul summit.
  • United States President Joe Biden is insistent on withdrawing the troops on September 11, even without any power-sharing deal between the warring parties.
  • Taliban leadership, who may feel the urgency to resuming negotiations than completely abandoning them for fear of losing the international legitimacy they enjoy at the moment.

How the U.S. exit will affect Pakistan

  • After months of negotiations, the U.S.-Taliban deal was signed in February 2020, and Pakistan took full credit for it.
  • As the U.S. military presence in Afghanistan for almost two decades had kept the U.S. reliant on Pakistan for operational and other support.
  • Pakistan smartly mobilised this factor against India.
  • With the disappearance of this lethal dependence, Pakistan faces an uphill task in conducting a viable Afghan policy.
  • Pakistan cannot keep America invested in it on military, economic, and societal fronts without partnering with the U.S. to ensure a smooth transition of power in Kabul.

Impact on China

  • The Taliban now draw support from a wide variety of regional powers, including Russia, China and Iran.
  • However, these countries too want the insurgent group to moderate its position.
  • China, which has a beneficiary of the U.S. presence in Afghanistan, seems confused as the American exit looms large.
  • The U.S. exit would leave Beijing vulnerable to its spillover effects particularly in the restive Xinjiang province.
  • That is why China has remained invested in all major regional Afghan-centric negotiations.

Implications for India

  • India has been the key regional backer of an Afghan-led, Afghan-owned and Afghan-controlled peace process.
  • India is concerned that the Taliban-dominated regime in Afghanistan might allow Pakistan to dictate Afghanistan’s India policy.
  • That is why India has underlined the need for a genuine double peace i.e. within and around Afghanistan.
  • But despite being offered a seat at Istanbul at the U.S.’s behest, India remains a peripheral player.
  • The strategic competition between the China and the U.S.,  China’s growing rivalry with India, and New Delhi’s tense relationship with Islamabad are some of the factors which will certainly affect the situation in Afghanistan as the U.S. leaves the country.

Consider the question “What are the implications of the U.S. exit from Afghanistan for the region? Examine its impact on India.

Conclusion

While the exit would bring the U.S.’s “forever war” to an end, it is unlikely to result in peace if Afghan stakeholders show their utter inability to take the process forward.

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Foreign Policy Watch: India-Afghanistan

The great Afghan microcosm

Note4Students

From UPSC perspective, the following things are important :

Prelims level: Not much

Mains level: Paper 2- Importance of Afghanistan in regional strategic matrix

The article highlights how players at 3 levels: global, regional and local level influence Afghan dynamics.

Role of global powers in Afghanistan

1) What the US exit from Afghanistan mean

  • The exit of US and NATO forces from Afghanistan underlines the end of the unipolar moment in international affairs.
  • Ending US military involvement, however, does not necessarily make Washington marginal to the future evolution of Afghanistan.
  • The US remains the most significant global power even after the end of the unipolar moment.
  • Its ability to weigh in on multiple issues is considerable.
  • President Joe Biden is under some pressure at home not to be seen as abandoning Afghanistan.
  • Nor can the US President ignore the dangers of Afghanistan re-emerging as a breeding ground for international terrorism.
  • The US will figure prominently in any Taliban strategy to win international diplomatic recognition and political legitimacy.
  • It will also need Western economic assistance for stabilising the war-torn country.

2) Russia’s role in Afghanistan

  • Russia is determined to play an important role in the future of Afghanistan.
  • As a member of the UNSC, the joint leader of the Shanghai Cooperation Organisation with China, and a major source of weapons, Russian clout is real.
  • Above all, Putin brings plenty of political will to compensate for Moscow’s loss of superpower status as we have seen across the world, from Venezuela to Myanmar and Mozambique to Syria.

3) How China will benefit from the US withdrawal

  • If the US is a distant power, China is Afghanistan’s neighbour.
  • Unlike Russia, China can deliver massive economic resources to Afghanistan under the umbrella of the Belt and Road Initiative.
  • China’s expanding relations with the different nations of the Gulf and Central Asia and a deep partnership with Pakistan lends much potential depth to Beijing’s role in Afghanistan.
  • Both Kabul and the Taliban have seen China as a valuable partner in the pursuit of their divergent interests.
  • Beijing has often talked of extending the China Pakistan Economic Corridor to Afghanistan.
  • However, China is vulnerable to the extremist politics of the region that fan the flames of religious and ethnic separatism in its Xinjiang province.

Regional powers influencing Afghan dynamics

  • One of the biggest concern about the Afghan future is the kind of influence Islamic radicals might regain in the country under Taliban rule and its consequences for the subcontinent, Central Asia, and the Middle East.
  • Pakistan and Iran, which share long physical borders, have had the greatest natural influence on land-locked Afghanistan.
  • When the Taliban ruled Afghanistan, Saudi Arabia and the UAE were the only countries other than Pakistan to recognise the government-run by its leader, Mullah Omar.
  • They have taken a back seat in the current round of Afghan diplomacy, but would certainly return to the centre stage sooner than later.
  • Meanwhile, bold Qatar and ambitious Turkey have injected themselves into the Afghan jousting.

Influence of local actors

  • The local actors in Afghanistan have agency of their own.
  • All of them know how to manipulate external powers for their own ends in Afghanistan.
  • The image of the Taliban as a creature of the Pakistan army is misleading, the Taliban is quite capable of making independent deals with the rest of the world.
  • The Taliban’s opponents, too, are likely to fight for their interests and will seek out external partners.

Consider the question “Discarding old hesitations and building new geopolitical coalitions will be critical for a successful Indian engagement with the Afghan microcosm. Comment.” 

Conclusion

Several contentions unfolding in and around Afghanistan promise to reorder the region again. Delhi needs much strategic activism to secure its interests and promote regional stability in this flux.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

 

 

 

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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.

 

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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.

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