A high-level delegation comprising Mullah Abdul Ghani Baradar, the head of the Afghan Taliban’s political office in Doha arrived in Pakistan this week, to discuss the way forward in the Afghan peace process with the leadership of Pakistan. This was the second visit of Mullah Baradar to Pakistan in the last 10 months. He had also visited Islamabad in October 2019, just after President Donald Trump had abruptly called off the peace talks with the Taliban, citing the militant group’s continued attacks against the US-led foreign forces in Afghanistan. The talks in Islamabad were also attended by the head of Pakistan’s Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI), Lt. Gen. Faiz Hameed. The spy agency is known for its mentorship and close ties with Afghan armed groups, especially the Taliban, since the time of the former Soviet Union’s occupation of Afghanistan in the 1980s. The Pak spy agency is believed to have used its influence with the Taliban to bring them to the table for talks and ultimately sign the February deal with the U.S.
The Taliban had said that it does not recognise the Ashraf Ghani government as legitimate; just ahead of the intra-Afghan talks. Taliban has said it views the Afghan government as a ‘western imported structure’ working for the continuation of American occupation.
Significantly, the talks between Taliban and Pakistan took place just after Islamabad put the Afghan terror group on the list of 88 individuals and groups, who support, aid, abet and finance terrorist activities! It is a well-known fact that Pakistan “remote-controls” the Taliban. It would be interesting to see how Pakistan carries on its relations with the Taliban, whom Islamabad itself has proscribed.
India and Afghanistan have a strong relationship based on historical and cultural links. India has played a significant role in the reconstruction and rehabilitation of Afghanistan. New Delhi believes that democracy and development are the key instruments to ensure that Afghanistan becomes a source of regional stability. This has been reflected in the Strategic Partnership Agreement, signed between Afghanistan and India during the then Afghan President Hamid Karzai’s visit to India in October 2011, which reinforced the strong, vibrant and multi-faceted relations between the two countries and at the same time formalized a framework for cooperation in various areas between the two countries: political & security cooperation; trade & economic cooperation; capacity development and education; and social, cultural, civil society & people-to-people relations. This agreement is a strong signal of our abiding commitment to peace, stability and prosperity in Afghanistan during this critical period of security and governance transition.
India has been involved in the rebuilding of Afghanistan since 2003. Till now India has invested over US$ 2 billion in building infrastructure like roads, schools, hospitals etc. New Delhi also built the biggest dam in Afghanistan, the India-Afghanistan Friendship Dam (formerly) Salma Dam on the Hari River. It was jointly inaugurated by Prime Minister Narendra Modi and President Ashraf Ghani. The dam’s hydroelectric plant produces 42 MW of power in addition to providing irrigation for 75,000 hectares of farmland. It also stabilizes the existing irrigation of 35,000 hectares and development of irrigation facilities to an additional 40,000 hectares of land. India is also involved in educational and skill development activities of the Afghan people.
India is closely following the developments in Afghanistan. Despite being skeptical of any kind of rushed deal, New Delhi had welcomed the pact between the US and Taliban. New Delhi has backed the Ghani government and wants the Taliban to recognize the democratic political structures in Afghanistan. During the ongoing pandemic, India has been supplying medical aid and food to Afghanistan consistently, following its policy of helping common Afghan citizens.
While the world is engaged in dealing with the COVID-19, Afghanistan is struggling both with the pandemic and the fluctuating peace process. While many Afghans see the peace effort as the best hope for ending the decades-old war with the Taliban; it remains to be seen, how committed the militant group would be to reconciliation, especially in the aftermath of the US troops withdrawal.
Script: Dr. Smita, Strategic Analyst on Af-Pak Affairs