Amidst peace talks between the Afghan government and the Taliban, which started in the Qatari capital, Doha, on September 12, 2020, Dr Abdulla Abdullah, Afghanistan’s former Chief Executive and presently Chairman of the High Council for National Reconciliation paid a five-day visit to India. The visit is seen as a consensus building exercise in the region for the ongoing peace process. Dr Abdullah’s visit on India’s invitation adds to the series of high-level engagement between India and Afghanistan lately. Before him, United States Special Representative on Afghan Reconciliation, Zalmay Khalilzad, and prominent Afghan leader, Abdul Rashid Dostum, visited India during September.
Dr Abdullah met Prime Minister Narendra Modi, External Affairs Minister Dr. S. Jaishankar and National Security Advisor, Ajit Doval, seeking assurance and support for the ongoing Afghan peace talks. The Indian leadership categorically expressed “full support” to the Afghan-Taliban talks. Last month, Dr. S. Jaishankar addressed the inauguration of the peace talks via video conferencing reiterating India’s cooperative stance while endorsing the principle of Afghan-led, Afghan-owned and Afghan-controlled negotiations. An Indian delegation was also present in-person at the inauguration of the talks in Doha. There have been widespread conjectures that Afghanistan is urging India to engage with the Taliban. India has so far been reticent on the question of directly engaging with the Taliban. Therefore, External Affairs Minister addressing the talks can be considered a significant development from the Afghan point of view.
Dr. Abdullah reiterated that India has a vital role in building the future of Afghanistan. India and Afghanistan share deep historical bonds and have emerged as steadfast strategic partners over the years. India has huge stakes in the stability of Afghanistan as it has contributed immensely towards reconstruction efforts there. It also needs to perforate the Pakistan-Taliban nexus that has relentlessly acted against India’s security interests. Consequently, India must attempt to charter a course that is cognisant of new realities. There is greater realisation than before that peace in Afghanistan is possible only by bringing on board the Taliban who invariably dominate the undercurrents in Afghan politics and the security milieu. The present intra-Afghan peace talks are being held under the aegis of the February 2020 peace deal signed between the US and Taliban. It is now seen that the US is actively engaging the Taliban to facilitate an end to its long haul in Afghanistan-one that has caused it tremendous resource drain over two decades. Given the disparateness of the Afghan political and social landscape, Indiait is essential that all stakeholders including India advocate the process to be as inclusive as possible to be able to derive a comprehensive and sustainable peace arrangement.
A noteworthy aspect is Afghan leadership reaching out to Pakistan as well, to persuade Islamabad to cooperate towards ushering in peace in Afghanistan. This is also because Pakistan shares longstanding leverages with the Taliban. Hence, Dr. Abdullah, a vocal critic of Pakistan, is now seen engaging with the Pak leadership. US Special Representative Khalilzad, too, had visited Islamabad, because of Pakistan’s connections with the Taliban. The pending US troop’s withdrawal and subsequent restoration of peace in Afghanistan is also going to be crucial in the coming weeks.
The Afghan leadership is perhaps treading a delicate balance-by simultaneously engaging with India and Pakistan given their frosty bilateral equations. While India has no reservations on Afghanistan-Pakistan cooperation, it remains to be seen how far Pakistan fulfils its commitment of not fomenting violence across the Durand Line.
Afghanistan is yet again at an inflection point. India needs to keep a close watch on the change in winds-essentially on how Afghanistan re-approaches Pakistan this time around and ensure this does not in any way further embolden Pakistan.
While India has welcomed the Afghan peace process, it has also cautioned the Afghan leadership that the process must not end up leaving ground for perpetration of violence from Afghanistan’s soil. India also raised the issue of securing the rights of minorities and women in Afghanistan thereby making its position clear on the contention around Taliban-proposed imposition of Hanafi Islam in Afghanistan.S
Script :Dr. Priyanka Singh, Associate Fellow, Manohar Parrikar Institute for Defence Studies and Analyses