RSTV: THE BIG PICTURE- AFGHANISTAN TALKS HIT ROADBLOCK
U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo called Afghan President Ashraf Ghani to express disappointment over the postponement of talks with the Taliban and to condemn the insurgent group’s recent announcement of a “spring offensive.” Some 250 Afghan politicians and civil society figures had been due to meet with Taliban negotiators in Doha for the intra-Afghan dialogue. It would have marked the first time that Taliban and Kabul government officials sat together. But the meetings were abruptly cancelled amid disagreements about the size and composition of the Afghan delegation. The US State Department said in a statement that Pompeo called Ghani and condemned the Taliban’s announcement of starting another offensive in the spring. Pompeo also said that the talks present an important opportunity to advance peace
The US policy on Afghanistan in 2017 was considered a paradigm shift. Its core objectives were to help the Afghan National Defence and Security Forces stabilize the security situation, gain the momentum against the Taliban, and prevent the Islamic State from gaining a foothold in Afghanistan.
However, the decision to withdraw the troops. Such decisions have once again underscored Trump’s unmatched tendency to shock his own administration for pursuing an isolationist and anti-interventionist foreign policy to appease its core political base.
Impacts on India’s strategic interests due to America’s withdrawal:
- Rise of Taliban:
- India has two main interests in Afghanistan, which are, preventing any extremist group from taking over Afghanistan, and maintaining economic cooperation with the Afghan government and civil society.
- The Taliban has refused to negotiate with the current Afghan regime, deeming it to be illegitimate.
- The fears of Afghanistan returning to its heroin-sustained war-lordism are high probability.
- Increased Pakistan leverage:
- The reason for Taliban’s resilience is the support and succour it receives from Rawalpindi. Pakistan’s leverage in Afghanistan is set to grow.
- India’s Afghanistan policy has a major objective to curtail Islamabad’s influence in Kabul and deny Pakistan’s state and non-state agents leverage to plot against Indian interests.
- Instable Kashmir:
- The US withdrawing troops from Afghanistan could affect the Kashmir Valley as terrorist outfits may feel empowered.
- Geopolitics in Asian Heartland:
- India’s problems are exacerbated because American withdrawal comes at a time when its views on Afghanistan are at significant variance with other traditional regional partners like Russia and Iran.
- China is already making inroads into Afghanistan with her BRI project. The process will be further easier.
- Turkey is also eying an opportunity to play its role to safeguard the interests of Afghanistan’s Turkmen-Turkic community
- Commercial Interests:
- India’s Afghanistan policy’s another objective is to gain access to vast energy markets in Central Asia, is also at stake.
- India has presence in Afghanistan after the construction of the Chabahar Port in Iran and the highway that links it to Kabul.
- Indian infrastructure projects of Salma dam, Parliament building, infrastructure projects will be at stake.
- The recently started trade initiative between Afghanistan and India will be wiped out.
Why Afghanistan is important for India?
- Afghanistan serves India’s security and economic interests.
- Afghanistan is tied to India’s vision of being a regional leader and a great power, coupled with its competition with China over resources and its need to counter Pakistani influence.
- India’s ability to mentor a nascent democracy will go a long way to demonstrate to the world that India is indeed a major power, especially a responsible one.
- The pipeline project TAPI (Turkmenistan-Afghanistan-Pakistan-India), which seeks to connect an energy-rich Central to South Asia, will only see the light of the day if stability is established in Afghanistan.
- India’s interest in Afghanistan relates to its need to reduce Pakistani influence in the region.
- New Delhi needs Kabul to get a better view of Islamabad and hence it is pertinent that it fosters positive relations.
- For access to the landlocked Central Asian countries that border Afghanistan.
- The country is home to resource deposits worth one trillion dollars, according to the US Geological Survey.
India’s policy towards peaceful Afghanistan :-
- India’s development assistance has been the source of its considerable influence and goodwill among Afghan citizens.
- Major projects, such as the Salma Dam and Parliament building in Kabul, that began in 2008-09, have now been completed.
- Last year India and Afghanistan agreed to initiate an ambitious and forward-looking ‘New Development Partnership’, according to which India agreed to take up 116 high-impact community development projects to be implemented in 31 provinces of Afghanistan, including in the fields of education, health, agriculture, irrigation, drinking water, renewable energy, flood control, micro-hydropower, sports infrastructure and administrative infrastructure.
- India has been giving a lot of non-lethal military assistance. In 2016 four MI 25 attack helicopters were given to Afghanistan.
- India is the biggest regional donor to Afghanistan and fifth largest donor globally with over $3 billion in assistance.
- India has built over 200 public and private schools, sponsors scholarships and hosts Afghan students.
- India has shied away from involving itself in full scale war in Afghanistan.
India needs to reassess the policy due to the complexity in the situation of Afghanistan due to the following reasons :-
- Continuous attacks :-
- Recently there has been a spike in violence, with the Taliban carrying out a set of coordinated assaults around Afghanistan, rejecting an offer of a three-month ceasefire by President of Afghanistan and laying siege to Ghazni city.
- The violence this year has also put 2018 on course to be the deadliest year for Afghan civilians, with an average of nine people killed every day, according to UN data.
- Pakistan factor :-
- The major challenge is the cooperation of regional players. Peace in Afghanistan and the wider region can only be achieved through a multilateral mechanism involving the US as well as major regional players, including Pakistan, Russia, Iran, China, India and Saudi Arabia.
- Despite six months of concerted American punitive actions on Islamabad, the Pakistan establishment is not shutting down support for Taliban fighters.
- The role of Pakistan is going to expand significantly, with the US depending upon it to implement the interim deal. This will be a diplomatic victory for Pakistan.
- US role:-
- A period of adjustment has become essential following US President unilateral announcement that US is pulling its troops out of the conflict-ridden country.
- Another development is the “framework” deal between the US and Afghan Taliban after six days of discussions at Doha.
- The Afghan war has already become the longest war in US history. With the passage of time, the conflict has not only become more intense – it has also become more complicated
- Iran factor :-
- US administration’s collision course with Iran is another hurdle to realising its South Asia policy. Iran is a neighbour to both Afghanistan and Pakistan, and any action against Tehran will have consequences on the region.
- US is also against Iran which is important to give access to the sea to landlocked Afghanistan through Chabahar port- which is in India’s interests etc.
- Islamic state:-
- After losing occupied territories in and around Mosul, IS is now slowly enlarging its presence in neighbouring countries, particularly Afghanistan. It is now targeting mainly the Shias and the Hazara minority, joining forces with the Taliban thereby changing the dynamics of the war in Afghanistan.
- Russia proposed an international conference on Afghanistan with the participation of all neighbours of Afghanistan including Iran, Pakistan, and India, but the US did not attend citing possible growing Russian military association with the Taliban.
- Control of Afghan government:-
- The Afghan government controls barely half the country, with one-sixth under Taliban control and the rest contested.
- Most significant is the ongoing depletion in the Afghan security forces because of casualties, desertions and a growing reluctance to join
- Afghanistan launched the Kabul Process for Peace and Security Cooperation and also made an unconditional dialogue offer to the Taliban. The Taliban rejected his overture, declaring that they were ready to engage in direct talks only with the Americans.
Indian interests would be hurt :
- India is completely anchored on President Ghani and that is our limitation too because Ghani is getting marginalized and due to which India too is getting marginalized.
- More fighting and political instability in Afghanistan would be damaging, as much for Indian interests as for regional stability.
- Delhi is concerned about the vital role that all the powers are giving to Pakistan. Iran and Russia, two of India’s closest allies during the Northern Alliance’s battle against the Taliban regime in the 1990s, seem out of sync with Indian interests.
- An emboldened Taliban is sure to impinge on security scenario in India’s troubled Kashmir Valley. The outfit seems positioned to emerge as the ideological bulwark of Kashmir’s renewed insurgency.
- US criticism of India’s Afghan policy and his plans to exit could cast serious doubt on the US’s role as a strategic ally for India.
What should India do:-
- India must focus on assisting Afghanistan in every manner possible to ensure that the country’s sorts are as peaceful and participative as possible.
- Afghan Centric Peace Process, day by day Taliban is getting its hold strong in which Pakistan plays double role.
- On the military front as well, India must move quickly to provide helicopters as well as engineering/tech support for Afghan hardware.
- Indian government must realise that its consistent undermining of the South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation (SAARC) because of problems with Pakistan is also weakening Afghanistan’s engagement with the subcontinent, which India had worked hard to foster
- For regional security there must be closer involvement of regional powers in international efforts to ensure non-interference and a stable Afghanistan; this also requires involvement of the Central Asian Republics, which border Afghanistan. It is important for India to coordinate its efforts with those of Russia and Iran to ensure success.
- The U.S.’s eventual pullout as Afghanistan’s peacekeeper is inevitable, close bilateral consultations should be made to help Afghanistan according to its own needs.
- Afghanistan is strategically important to Russia( North South corridor passes through it), China(Xiajiang province which is muslim dominated area shares border), Pakistan(strategic depth), Iran(Chabahar port and gateway).
- India has always supported for Afghanistan’s democracy. Use of her ‘soft power’ – ranging from telecommunications to education, community development programmes can be pushed forward.
- We need to have dialogue on serious note with China and Russia and also try convincing Americans about the negatives of withdrawal of them.
- Playing a larger role in regional security would enhance the status of India as regional powers as well as the stability of South, Central, and West Asia.
- Russia, Iran, China and India should coordinate together to deal with the problem.
- India must seek to build capacities and capabilities of Afghan nationals and its institutions for governance and delivery of public service, develop socio-economic infrastructure, secure lives and promote livelihood.
- We should be assertive and become a partner to resolve the issue rather than being a sidewatcher.
- Inactive SAARC must now be revived to strengthen the regional co-operation in South Asia.
- Tier-II diplomacy and involving other stakeholders: India, which has been against holding talks with the Taliban for a long time, finally sent two retired diplomats, at the ‘non-official level’, to join them at the Moscow peace talks.
- Continuing the efforts of implementing mega infrastructure projects, providing military equipments and training to Afghan personnel on the sidelines.
- Use of regional groupings like SCO to combat the terrorism emanating from Afghanistan.
Echoing the Afghan stand, India has been asserting that the peace process must be “Afghan-led, Afghan-owned and Afghan-controlled.”
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