It is not often that a war torn country gets a lucrative opportunity to turn the clock back, the intra Afghan peace talks ostensibly aimed at ending the almost two decade old civil war in Afghanistan which has battered the country’s economy and polity offers.
The intra Afghan talks are happening after a lot of jousting and discord marked by routine armed clashes between the Taliban and the Afghan armed forces, routine killing of civilian and the resulting disruption of peace.
Peace at last?
The much anticipated intra Afghan talks perhaps sets the tone for the perpetual and nimble footed enforcement of peace in Afghanistan. Afghanistan has borne the brunt of external interference in the last four decades starting with the Soviet invasion of 1979 followed by the covert interference of the U.S., Pakistan, etc. They poured not only billions of dollars in Afghanistan to carry out ‘jihad’ but were successful in preventing the ‘domino effect’ of communism in South Asia but it came at an enormous cost for ordinary Afghans.
When the Taliban was driven out of power in 2001 after ruling the country with an iron fist for five years, the invasion by the U.S. and other coalitional forces seemed to providing a new dawn of development for Afghanistan. Alas, the ordinary Afghans continued to face the horrific specter of death, economic underdevelopment, mass poverty etc. In this context the intra Afghan peace talks firmly sets the pace for the arrival of peace in the war torn country.
Peace talks-advantage India?
India has been the highest contributor towards rebuilding the Afghan economy, investing close to $3 billion since 2002. It has executed notable projects such as the Salma Dam project, the Afghan parliament and the Zaranj Delaram highway in 2005. All these indicate that India is one of the major players in Afghan domestic and foreign affairs.
When External Affairs Minister S. Jaishankar said that the Afghan peace talks must be “Afghan led, Afghan owner and Afghan determined,” it has clearly demonstrated that India has taken an upper hand in Afghanistan vis-à-vis Pakistan and China. Clearly the Afghan government is miffed at Pakistan fomenting and supporting terrorism on Afghan soil. The exit of America, however, highlights that Afghanistan could again become the center of great power competition between India, Pakistan and a new entrant China.
It is however clear that since India enjoys the goodwill of ordinary Afghans, Pakistan’s nefarious designs will be foiled despite the distinct possibility that the Taliban will be in a much more suitable position to bargain with the Afghan government which it dismisses as a puppet of Western powers and has vowed to overthrown and establish an Islamic emirate.
Pressing concerns still remain
There still remain many pressing concerns which New Delhi must resolve before playing a meaningful role in the Afghan peace process.
Firstly, Pakistan remains a potent force in Afghanistan. It is the ideological and logistical godfather of the Taliban, Tilak Devasher, in his seminal book, “Pakistan-Courting the Abyss,” had pertinently highlighted that Pakistani deep state-ISI continues to provide arms and monetary support to the Taliban despite the latter being a proscribed terror group under the UN 1267 sanctions committee. The author also went on to highlight that besides the Taliban the dreaded Haqqani Network is also on the payroll of the ISI. India needs to be careful and must continue to expose Pakistan’s nefarious designs before the FATF to try and put an end to Pakistan’s support to terrorism.
Secondly, ISIS has established a strong presence in the eastern parts of the country and has demonstrated its capacity to carry out large scale terror strikes deep within the heart of Kabul and other cities in Afghanistan; besides this the ISIS has been trying to radicalize and recruit local youth from India as well. India, therefore, must remain on its guard. The central government must enforce the Maharashtra model of terror renunciation and reconciliation to prevent radicalization of its youth.
Thirdly, India must ensure that the sanctity of the Feb. 29 peace accord signed between the Afghan Taliban and the U.S. is upheld in letter and spirit, New Delhi should pressurize the Taliban in following the peace accord to its core particularly the provision that Afghanistan must not be allowed to be used a launch pad for launching terror attacks across South Asia.
Being the world’s largest democracy and a growing economic and military power India must play an important role in rebuilding, and resurrecting Afghanistan, it must be mindful that it doesn’t play the big brother here, otherwise India’s hard won diplomatic progress will be wasted.
(The author is a freelance columnist.)