Find­ing a diplo­matic way through po­lit­i­cal in­sta­bil­ity

In­dia, a lead­ing player in Afghanistan’s de­vel­op­ment, will have to think about the Tal­iban fac­tor

Governance Now - - DIPLOMACY - Ra­jen Harshé

As an emerg­ing global power and the most pow­er­ful state in south Asia, in­dia has been peren­ni­ally con­cerned about pro­tracted po­lit­i­cal in­sta­bil­ity and re­sul­tant so­cial tur­moil in Afghanistan dur­ing the past few decades. in­deed, in­dia’s en­gage­ment in the realm of de­vel­op­ment co­op­er­a­tion, since the over­throw of the Tal­iban regime in 2001, has in­creased sig­nif­i­cantly as it has al­ready in­vested over $2 bil­lion in Afghanistan. The par­lia­ment build­ing in Kabul, the salma hy­dro­elec­tric dam in Herat and in­dia’s sup­port in build­ing the Afghan Na­tional Agri­cul­tural sci­ences and Tech­nol­ogy univer­sity and its mul­ti­ple cam­puses are a few ob­vi­ous man­i­fes­ta­tions of this co­op­er­a­tion. in­dia started se­cu­rity co­op­er­a­tion with Afghanistan in 2011 and has also de­liv­ered rus­sian-made mi 25 at­tack he­li­copters to the lat­ter. Over the years, three sig­nif­i­cant fac­tors have cu­mu­la­tively shaped the indo-afghan part­ner­ship.

First, thanks to its geostrate­gic lo­ca­tion, Afghanistan is a gate­way to three ma­jor Asian re­gions – south Asia, West Asia and Cen­tral Asia. es­pe­cially, its sheer lo­ca­tion can pro­vide ac­cess to markets of re­source rich states of Cen­tral Asia. The ter­ri­to­rial space of Afghanistan has al­ways fa­cil­i­tated trade of com­modi­ties in­clud­ing drugs and arms. sadly, the econ­omy of Afghanistan is vir­tu­ally shaped by pop­pies or ‘red gold’. its opium in­dus­try em­ploys over 3 mil­lion peo­ple. ear­lier, the war­lords in in­tra-state/fac­tional con­flicts had also used drugs to pay for weapons. sec­ond, Afghanistan it­self is en­dowed with var­i­ous min­eral re­sources, in­clud­ing gold, cop­per, ura­nium, oil, iron ore, cobalt and nat­u­ral gas. Third, in­dia des­per­ately re­quires po­lit­i­cal sta­bil­ity in Afghanistan, ow­ing to its grow­ing in­volve­ment. in fact, the multi-eth­nic state in Afghanistan has been wit­ness­ing a bit­ter fight be­tween the demo­crat­i­cally elected de jure po­lit­i­cal regimes and Tal­iban forces that rep­re­sent rad­i­cal is­lam. At this junc­ture, ac­cord­ing to the Tal­iban’s own ver­sion, which is sup­posed to be al­most ac­cu­rate, the Tal­iban con­trols 34 dis­tricts fully and in an­other 167 dis­tricts they are con­test­ing the govern­ment by con­trol­ling ar­eas of 40 to 99 per­cent.

Ter­ror­ist ac­tiv­i­ties of the Tal­iban have been boosted by Pak­istan. ir­re­spec­tive of its os­ten­si­ble com­mit­ment to war against ter­ror, Pak­istan has al­ways aided the Tal­iban through agen­cies like the in­ter-ser­vices in­tel­li­gence (isi) in the pur­suit of serv­ing its am­bi­tions in in­dia and Afghanistan. The Haqqani net­work, re­spon­si­ble for hun­dreds of at­tacks on the us and Afghan forces, has been well in­te­grated within the struc­tures of the Tal­iban. un­like the pre­ced­ing us ad­min­is­tra­tions that surely showed aware­ness of Pak­istan’s du­plic­i­tous/du­bi­ous role in the war against ter­ror, the Trump ad­min­is­tra­tion has em­phat­i­cally cho­sen to iden­tify Pak­istan as a part of the Afghan prob­lem and not the so­lu­tion to the prob­lem. in fact, dur­ing mod­itrump Wash­ing­ton meet of June 2017, not only did Trump ex­press con­cern over po­lit­i­cal in­sta­bil­ity in Afghanistan but in­dia and the usa also showed de­ter­mi­na­tion to com­bat ter­ror­ism in south and south-west Asia. The usa de­clared syed salahud­din, the leader of the Hizbul mu­jahideen, a global ter­ror­ist while ap­pre­ci­at­ing in­dia’s pos­i­tive role in Afghanistan. in the process of ad­vanc­ing its foot­print in Afghanistan, in­dia is con­strained to ne­go­ti­ate with strife-torn Afghanistan as well as

shift­ing stances of al­liances and counter-al­liances among ma­jor ac­tors that are at work in Afghanistan. un­sur­pris­ingly, most global as well as re­gional pow­ers, in­clud­ing the usa, China, iran, rus­sia, in­dia, and Pak­istan, are in­volved in in­flu­enc­ing de­vel­op­ments in Afghanistan. in­dia’s forth­com­ing moves in Afghanistan could be vi­su­alised by as­sess­ing the roles played by all these pow­ers.

Af­ter the war on ter­ror­ism went into full swing, the usa-led North At­lantic Treaty or­gan­i­sa­tion (NATO) forces worked con­sis­tently to con­tain the Tal­iban ad­vances and to sta­bilise demo­cratic in­sti­tu­tions in Afghanistan. The Afghan Na­tional se­cu­rity Force (ANSF) re­ceived train­ing as well as com­bat equip­ment to counter the Tal­iban forces. With the roughly 1,30,000 NATO forces on ground, the Karzai regime (2001-14) felt more se­cure to pro­mote de­vel­op­men­tal ac­tiv­i­ties. How­ever, the obama ad­min­is­tra­tion had set a time­line for the with­drawal of the usa’s forces af­ter 2014 so that Afghanistan can man­age their own af­fairs. Af­ter 2014, the num­ber of usa forces was dras­ti­cally re­duced to roughly 9,000, which not merely added to the in­se­cu­rity of the po­lit­i­cal regime in Afghanistan, but also of its friends such as in­dia. Be­sides, the Tal­iban felt en­cour­aged to launch a fresh of­fen­sive on the govern­ment. The steady with­drawal of a mil­i­tary su­per­power such as the usa has and will cre­ate a power vac­uum in Afghanistan and West Asia. The usa is frus­trated in its Afghan ven­ture. in spite of spend­ing bil­lions of dol­lars, the Af-pak re­gion still re­quires its troops to beef up se­cu­rity. even af­ter ac­cept­ing the usa’s mone­tary sup­port to counter ter­ror­ism, as Trump has as­serted, Pak­istan has not ceased to sup­port ter­ror­ist ac­tiv­i­ties covertly through the isi. Hence, the usa will be still con­strained to carve out its own strat­egy and space by send­ing ad­di­tional troops.

China has been clearly averse to the usa’s pres­ence in Afghanistan. since 2010, China has been in­creas­ing its in­vest­ments in Afghanistan. For in­stance, the met­al­lur­gi­cal Cor­po­ra­tion of China (MCC) pledged $3.5 bil­lion to de­velop cop­per mines in Ay­nak. The Chi­nese in­volve­ment in the spheres of se­cu­rity and de­vel­op­ment in Afghanistan could be un­tan­gled thus. The Chi­nese are aware of the con­nec­tion be­tween ma­jor ter­ror­ist or­gan­i­sa­tions such as Al Qaeda and the Tal­iban and the lat­ter’s ca­pac­ity to fuel in­sur­gen­cies. in fact, a sec­tion of uighurs of Xin­jiang is linked to rad­i­cal is­lamic el­e­ments in Pak­istan, Afghanistan and Tal­iban. China has pre­ferred to ne­go­ti­ate with the Tal­iban. more­over, China has also em­barked on am­bi­tious projects such as one Belt one road (obor) and China Pak­istan eco­nomic Cor­ri­dor (CPEC). it has opted to in­vest $50 bil­lion to build CPEC. For China, Pak­istan is a bridge to es­tab­lish link with Afghanistan via the Karako­ram High­way, apart from the haz­ardous Cen­tral Asian route. like China, iran too has op­posed the usa’s pres­ence in Afghanistan. Apart from trad­ing and sup­port­ing re­con­struc­tion ef­forts, Iran is op­er­at­ing in Afghanistan through shia com­mu­ni­ties among the Hazaras and Quiz­ibash eth­nic groups. The is­lamic rev­o­lu­tion in iran of 1979 and the over­all is­lamic ori­en­ta­tion of iran has ap­pealed to rad­i­cal is­lamic groups al­though iran had sup­ported North­ern Al­liance in its fight against the Tal­iban.

iron­i­cally, sev­eral years af­ter its with­drawal from Afghanistan, rus­sia is steadily be­com­ing a part of the geopo­lit­i­cal quag­mire in Afghanistan.

Af­ter 2014, the num­ber of USA forces was dras­ti­cally re­duced to roughly 9,000, which not merely added to in­se­cu­rity of the po­lit­i­cal regime in Afghanistan but also of its friends such as In­dia. Be­sides, the Tal­iban felt en­cour­aged to launch fresh of­fen­sive on the govern­ment.

Ba­si­cally Rus­sia has been fight­ing the is­lamic state (is) in syria and it wants to en­sure that Afghanistan does not be­come a safe haven for the is. Not sur­pris­ingly, it is the threat of the is that has brought the Tal­iban and rus­sia closer. rus­sians can also use the Tal­iban to put pres­sure on Wash­ing­ton. mean­while, the Tal­iban has opened its of­fice at Doha in 2013 to talk to ex­ter­nal pow­ers. rus­sia, China and Pak­istan, in their tri­lat­eral diplo­matic meet­ing in De­cem­ber 2016, had sup­ported a plea to re­move the un ban on Tal­iban lead­ers. sub­se­quently, in march 2017 the Chi­nese hosted a Tal­iban del­e­ga­tion, sent from the Doha of­fice, led by chief sher Ab­bas stanikazi. By now, rus­sia, China, Pak­istan and even the usa are keen to bring the Tal­iban on the ne­go­ti­at­ing ta­ble. Fur­ther­more, Nor­way has started me­di­at­ing be­tween the con­tend­ing par­ties in Afghanistan. The Tal­iban Afghans have met the Nor­we­gians in oslo, Karachi and Bangkok.

The idea of ini­ti­at­ing dia­logue with the Tal­iban or dis­cern­ing be­tween the ‘good’ and ‘bad’ Tal­iban is con­trary to in­dia’s con­sis­tent stance on ter­ror. in­dia has been un­com­pro­mis­ing in its con­dem­na­tion of ter­ror­ist forms of vi­o­lence, in­ter­nally (maoists/ji­hadists) as well as ex­ter­nally. And yet, in­dia can hardly over­look the fact that over 60,000 armed men are with the Tal­iban that has cap­tured al­most 40 per­cent of the land in Afghanistan. more­over, other ma­jor pow­ers do wel­come mul­ti­lat­eral process of dia­logue with the Tal­iban. in the light of its ex­ist­ing in­vest­ments and long-term in­ter­ests, in­dia too can­not en­tirely rule out the process of dia­logue be­tween the Ghani regime and the Tal­iban. in may 2017 the Ghani regime had suc­cess­fully brought Gul­bud­din Hek­mat­yar, leader of Hizb– i-is­lami, to the ne­go­ti­at­ing ta­ble. in­fa­mously char­ac­terised as butcher of Kabul in the 1990s, Hek­mat­yar was a war­lord for some but cer­tainly a des­ig­nated ter­ror­ist for the usa-led coali­tion. Hek­mat­yar ap­pre­ci­ated in­dia’s de­vel­op­ment ef­forts in Afghanistan. in­dia’s en­voy to Kabul man­preet Vohra and Hek­mat­yar sat down to dis­cuss peace and sta­bil­ity in Afghanistan in May 2017. In ef­fect, In­dia shared flag with Hizb-i-is­lami on stage. since Pak­istan con­tin­ues to deny in­dia ac­cess to Afghanistan through its ter­ri­tory, in­dia is work­ing on cir­cum­vent­ing the Pak­istan route by mak­ing the Chaba­har port op­er­a­tive in iran to reach Afghanistan.

in sub­stance, sev­eral ques­tions beg an­swers if at all in­dia be­gin dia­logue with Afghan Tal­iban. For in­stance, what could be the terms of ref­er­ence? While par­tic­i­pat­ing in the power-shar­ing process, will the Tal­iban be ready to es­chew vi­o­lence in any form? Will the Tal­iban fol­low the con­sti­tu­tion of the is­lamic repub­lic of Afghanistan or would they still vi­su­alise them­selves as the is­lamic emi­rate of Afghanistan and opt to fol­low the sharia law? Haven’t the Tal­iban’s links with isi and de­struc­tive role that the lat­ter has played in Kash­mir af­fected In­dia ad­versely? Keep­ing un­de­ni­able in­flu­ence of Pak­istan over the Tal­iban and Quetta shura, in­dia will have to de­sign its pol­icy quite cau­tiously within a long term frame with­out los­ing sight of the cur­rent sit­u­a­tion of flux and chang­ing do­mes­tic re­al­i­ties of Afghan pol­i­tics.

And yet, In­dia can hardly over­look the fact that over 60,000 armed men are with the Tal­iban, who have cap­tured al­most 40 per­cent of the land in Afghanistan. In the light of its ex­ist­ing in­vest­ments and long-term in­ter­ests, In­dia too can­not en­tirely rule out the process of dia­logue be­tween the Ghani regime and the Tal­iban.

COUR­TESY: Beluchis­tan/flickr

The Chaba­har bay. For In­dia, the port here aims to pro­vide an al­ter­na­tive for trade with Afghanistan.

Afghanistan chief ex­ec­u­tive Ab­dul­lah Ab­dul­lah calls on prime min­is­ter Naren­dra Modi in New Delhi on Septem­ber 28.

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