Afghan Peace Talks


The political regime changes everything as we are witnessing in the case of the USA. Earlier President Donald Trump was eager to remove their troops from Afghanistan soil, and now let’s see the new New Peace Initiative (Plan) of President Joe Biden to decide on the roadmap for peace in Afghanistan. The plan says there is a Delay in Withdrawal of NATO-led U.S. allies army, remaining with 10,000 Troops in Afghanistan, which has kept open the possibility that the USA troops, currently deployed in Afghanistan, might stay on for a longer time. Let’s see the other provisions:

  • Immediate Action: The USA is pressing the Taliban to accept an immediate agreement to reduce violence for 90 days that will provide the space for the peace initiative. The USA will not be ‘dictating terms’ to the Afghan parties, but facilitating an inclusive interim government, an agreement on the ‘foundational principles’ for a new political order, and a ‘permanent and comprehensive ceasefire.
  • The USA is asking Turkey to convene a meeting of the government in Kabul (capital of Afghanistan) and the Taliban to finalize a peace settlement.
  • The plan talks about the regional conference which would be conducted under the United Nations auspices with foreign ministers of the USA, India, Russia, China, Pakistan, and Iran to discuss a “unified approach” on Afghanistan.

India’s Role in Peace Process Through “Unified Approach”

India is a strong and important player in the peace process and also acknowledged by the USA. India supports all efforts for peace and reconciliation in Afghanistan which are inclusive and Afghan-led, Afghan-owned, and Afghan-controlled. India is the country invested heavily in infrastructure developments, training security forces, and supplying them with necessary equipment under its soft skills, which also make it a major stakeholder in the stability of Afghanistan. India also hopes to have a role in setting the terms especially concerning terrorism, violence, women’s rights, and democratic values in Afghanistan.

India’s Interest in Afghanistan

  • Economic and Strategic Interest: Anyone who is in power in Afghanistan controls the land routes connecting India with Central Asia (via Afghanistan). It is a gateway to the oil and mineral-rich Central Asian republics, and itself also rich in natural resources like Iron, Copper, etc. It would also offer a lot of opportunities for Indian companies.
  • India has invested heavily in construction under its soft skills, includes the Afghan Parliament, the Zaranj-Delaram Highway, and the Afghanistan-India Friendship Dam (Salma Dam) in Herat provinces. Also India’s assistance of more than USD 3 billion in projects, hundreds of small development projects (of schools, hospitals, and water).
  • Under the tripartite agreement, India agreed to purchase attack helicopters from Belarus for Afghanistan, and will also train Afghan police. Earlier, India also donated three Mi-25 attack helicopters as a bilateral strategic partnership to counter the Taliban.
  • India and Afghanistan are strategic partners since 2011, India was the first country to chose a strategic partnership to assist in “the training, equipping and capacity building programs for the Afghan National Security Forces.” Afghanistan also insisted India to play important role in strengthening the Afghan military.
  • Connectivity initiatives: some live projects like connecting roads to Chabahar port, TAPI pipelines. India and Afghanistan establish Direct Air Freight Corridor to increase access to markets in India. The Afghanistan Pakistan Transit and Trade Agreement (APTTA) signed in 2011, allows Afghanistan access to Pakistani seaports, as well as land routes, to conduct international trade and export Afghan goods to India.
  • Security: India has been the victim of state-sponsored terrorism emanating from Pakistan-supported terrorist groups operating in the region (e,g. Haqqani network). Thus, setting up a friendly government in Afghanistan can help to tackle Pakistan-supported terrorism. A stable government in Afghanistan can also help reduce terrorism and ensure energy security with Central Asia.
  • Trade relations: India is the second-largest destination for Afghan exports, products include fruits and nuts, gums and resins, coffee, tea, and spices. Afghanistan is also the destination of Indian pharmaceuticals, tobacco, iron & steel, and electrical machinery.
  • Cultural ties: Afghanistan is an important trading and craft center, capture around 3000 Indian diasporas. After the Soviet-Afghan war (1979-89), India was the only South Asian nation to recognize the Soviet-backed Democratic Republic of Afghanistan, and also provided humanitarian aid.

Introduction

Afghanistan is a landlocked multiethnic country located in the heart of south-central Asia. It is lying along the important trade routes that connect southern and eastern Asia to Europe, and also the Middle East. The country’s forbidding panorama of deserts and mountains has laid many imperial ambitions to rest, as has the tireless resistance of its fiercely independent peoples. Independent that the country has failed to coalesce into a nation but has instead long endured as a patchwork of contending ethnic factions and ever-shifting alliances.

Afghanistan has long been a prize sought by empire builders, and for millennia great armies have attempted to subdue it, leaving traces of their efforts in great monuments now fallen to ruin. Its modern boundaries were established in the late 19th century, and modern Afghanistan became a pawn in struggles over political ideology and commercial influence. The First Anglo-Afghan War of 1838–1842 was the first unsuccessful attempt to conquer the area by the British. Soviet-Afghan War, in late December 1979, and other subsequent armed struggles, a surviving Afghan communist regime held out against Islamic insurgents (1989–92), and, following a brief rule by mujahideen groups, an austere movement of religious local students—the Taliban—rose against the country’s governing parties and warlords and established a theocratic regime (1996–2001) that soon fell under the influence of a group (Al-Qaida) of well-funded Islamists led by an exiled Saudi Arabian, Osama bin Laden.

The Taliban regime collapsed in December 2001 in the wake of a sustained U.S.-dominated military campaign aimed at the Taliban and fighters of bin Laden’s al-Qaeda organization after the incident of 9 November 2001, an attack on World Trade Center. Soon thereafter, anti-Taliban forces agreed to a period of transitional leadership and an administration that would lead to a new constitution and the establishment of a democratically elected government and overthrown strict government based on Sharia Laws. During the USA regime in Afghanistan, the Taliban always tried to recapture power by the frequent insurgency. Factors that aggravated the Afghan problem are Intervention by global and regional powers, such as the United States of America, Russia, Al-Qaeda, ISIS, and the Taliban.

However, in 2014 the United States of America decided for a peaceful exit, which will be left Afghanistan with a fragile government, and no military support. The agriculture-based economy would be at the mercy of Islamic radical fundamentalists, the Taliban and Al-Qaida once considered a terrorist group. The USA is trying to ensure normal conditions to rule in Afghanistan for the government and Taliban, for that it is organizing Afghan Peace Process such as Quadrilateral coordination groups, trilateral, Doha Peace accord, and Ceasefire agreement, which involves U.S., China, Pakistan, and Afghanistan to establish direct talks with neighbors and government of Afghanistan, and the Taliban.

The US realized that the Taliban insurgency could not be defeated as long as it enjoyed safe havens in Pakistan, the US changed track and sought Pakistan’s help to get the Taliban to the negotiating table. The negotiations began in September 2018 with the appointment of Ambassador Zalmay Khalilzad to initiate direct talks with the Taliban.

Background

NATO took the lead of the International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) in Afghanistan on 11 August 2003. Mandated by the United Nations, ISAF’s primary objective was to enable the Afghan government to provide effective security across the country and develop new Afghan security forces to ensure Afghanistan would never again become a haven for terrorists. From 2011, responsibility for security was gradually transitioned to Afghan forces, which took the lead for security operations across the country by summer 2013. The transition process was completed and Afghan forces assumed full security responsibility at the end of 2014 when the ISAF mission was completed. A new, smaller non-combat mission (“Resolute Support”) was launched on 1 January 2015 to provide further training, advice, and assistance to the Afghan security forces and other institutions. During the period Afghan National Army provided the security was not strong, and this was time with the minimum US army presence in Afghanistan.

Gradually, the Taliban was becoming strong in their areas, and continuously increasing areas under its control. To capture power continuously involves an insurgency against the US army and the Afghan government. In 2014 Donald Trump’s promised to end America’s “endless wars” in the greater Middle East region was one of the central themes of the election campaign in 2016. To implement the same the US government is trying to fix a deal.

Earlier Taliban Peace Process was not joined by India besides other neighbors of Afghanistan. Although the role of India in building Afghanistan is incredible, and that let the USA realize its mistake, and forced to send its representative Zalmay Khalilzad to meet India’s foreign minister. The Quadrilateral Peace Process, now includes Pakistan, Afghanistan, China, and the USA along with India. Although, India was not willing to join the peace process because it was against the inclusion of militant groups i.e. Taliban to the table, as Pakistan was behind the strength of the Taliban. However, India was forced by other nations, and now it is the members.

Intra Afghan Peace Process seemed to be aimed at regaining diplomatic momentum and re-asserting India’s position on an “Afghan-led, Afghan-owned and Afghan controlled” peace process. However, instead, it had become a U.S.-led and Taliban-controlled process with nobody claiming ownership or responsibility was signed in Doha was to be accepted by the Afghan Government. The deal was having 4 objectives to end violence by declaring a ceasefire, intra-Afghan dialogue for a sense of lasting peace, the Taliban cut ties with terrorist organizations such as al Qaeda, and U.S. troop withdrawal by April 2021.

Failure of USA’s strategy

USA forces are western or foreign to the indigenous population, irked the regional tribal, and nomadic population (Pashtuns, Turks, and Persians). The indiscriminate use of airpower or infrastructure building, and supported of Pakistan’s spy agency to Taliban. America is leaving under its America First Policy, and willing to withdraw the troops, and it had also increased the troops under the new AfPak policy.

Bitter history of India-Taliban Relations

  • IC-814 hijack in 1999 (India’s passenger plane was hijacked and taken to Kandahar in Afghanistan- under the control of Taliban) made India release terrorists — including Maulana Masood Azhar who founded Jaish-e-Mohammed that went on to carry out terror attacks on Parliament (2001), in Pathankot (2016) and Pulwama (2019).
  • India never gave diplomatic and official recognition to the Taliban when it was in power during 1996-2001.
  • However, as the Taliban’s role in the Afgan peace process becomes inevitable, India started to make some strides towards the Taliban.
    • Earlier, India was part of the Moscow-led talks with the Taliban in November 2018, which two former Indian diplomats attended as “non-official representatives”.
    • India is now moving to diplomatically engage with the Taliban. India’s presence at the agreement-signing ceremony is the first sign of a possible diplomatic opening.
  • Also, the Taliban perceived India as a hostile country, as India had supported the anti-Taliban force after the 9/11 attacks.

Challenges in the Deal

  • One-Sided Deal: The fundamental issue with the U.S., and Taliban engagement that deliberately excluded the Afghan government because the Taliban do not see the government as legitimate rulers. Also, there is no reference to the Constitution, rule of law, democracy, and elections in the deal.
    • Taliban is known for its fundamentalist religious laws, banishing women from public life, shutting down schools and unleashing systemic discrimination on religious and ethnic minorities, etc, and also no willingness to give up its sanctuaries in Pakistan.
  • The lifting of the US military footprint and the return of a unilateral Taliban could set the stage for the next round of civil war that has hobbled the nation since the late 1970s.
    • The Taliban is using violence to harass and undermine the Afghan National Defense and Security Forces and the Afghan government, but remain at a level it perceives is within the bounds of the agreement.
    • The report expressed skepticism about whether the Taliban had cut ties with Al Qaeda and other terrorist groups, proved by UN reports. Further, there are many fragmented Taliban leaders who are under the most wanted list of the US.
  • In this context, India needs to strategically frame a policy to secure it’s security and economic interests emanating from Afghanistan.

Impact of the Deal on Other Stakeholders

  • US: It doesn’t recognize Taliban as a state under the name of Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan (key demand of Taliban).
  • Pakistan: The deal provides the strategic advantage to Pakistan, who is a long-time benefactor of the Taliban.
  • China: After the launch of the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC), Pakistan is seen as more of a protectorate state of China. Thus, China may leverage Pakistan’s influence on the Taliban, to propel its strategic projects like the Belt and Road Initiative.
  • Iran: Although, India and Iran may have differing views on the US presence there, but both are aware of the challenges once the Taliban gain authority and the current regime in Afghanistan weakens as a result.
    • The Chabahar port is the most tangible symbol of India-Iran- Afghanistan trilateral cooperation. However, China’s potential involvement in the Chabahar project has unmistakable strategic implications for India, it should look forward to the fast completion of the project.
  • Russia: Although Russia’s interests in Afghanistan are in conflict with that of the US’, it’s role in the regional security matrix is not of a disrupter, but of a balancer.
    • Thus, India should engage Russia to play a key role in Afghanistan. But, here also an alliance-like relationship between Russia and China may jeopardize India’s interests in Afghanistan.
    • However, a good relationship with Russia can keep China in check.

Impact of this Deal on India

This deal alters the balance of power in favor of the Taliban, which will have strategic, security, and political implications for India:

  • India has a major stake in the continuation of the current democratic Afghanistan government in power, which it considers a strategic asset vis-à-vis Pakistan.
  • The withdrawal of US troops could result in the breeding of fertile ground for various anti-India terrorist outfits like Lashkar-e-Taiba or Jaish-e-Mohammed, which could also trigger regional instability. It may worsen the condition with the poor capacity of Afghan forces.
  • Its consequences for India may upsurge violence in Jammu and Kashmir such as what happened in past during IC 814 hijacking. The future agreements for the Chabahar port or INSTC programs would halt, as an adverse national government will halt.
  • Another problem would be the refugee crisis to other neighboring nations including India, which would also impact India’s energy security and regional ties.

Way Forward

An independent, sovereign, democratic, pluralistic and inclusive Afghanistan is crucial for peace and stability in the region. Also, there is a need for the global community to fight against the global concern of terrorism. In this context, it high time to adopt the Comprehensive Convention on International Terrorism (proposed by India at UN in 1996).

Peace in the country is crucial for almost every other country in the region. Therefore, India must give a diplomatic push to a coalition of regional powers for ensuring peace in Afghanistan after the US exit. In this pursuit, India should engage with regional power like Iran and Russia.

(Pictures from google)

Published by Neel Kamal

My name is Neelkamal. Here, I will provide the content effective for everyone who want to learn more and more. And if you want, I am open for your suggestion to write on. I have done M.Sc in Biotechnology and also read about the Political, Social, Environmental issues. So, my blog will surrounds upon topics related to these subjects.

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