Is Afghanistan making a mistake by excluding India from the peace process?
The International Crisis Group, an independent, non-profit, non-governmental organisation for resolving conflicts around the world recently convened a meeting on Peace and Security in Afghanistan under the aegis of Pugwash Conferences on Science and World Affairs, on January 23 and 24, 2016, in Doha, Qatar. This was the second kind of such meeting organised by Pugwash to explore possible solutions to end the bloodshed in Afghanistan.
At the Doha meeting, around 55 participants were present to discuss the possibility of hammering out a framework for a national reconciliation in Afghanistan. In a surprising development, the representatives of the Afghan Taliban, who had attended the conference, expressed their willingness to find a peaceful solution to end the internecine conflict in Afghanistan which had completely destroyed the economy.
What was a welcome development, to end this three decade long conflict, was the fact that the representatives also assured cooperation on various issues such as women’s rights and allowing US forces to stay in Afghanistan. They also expressed their willingness to any power sharing agreement that can be worked out by the government.
Furthermore, this will set the tone and tenor of the Quadrilateral Coordination Group, formed last year, with the governments of Afghanistan, China, Pakistan and the United States tasked to find a peaceful and lasting solution to end the crisis. The group is scheduled to meet on February 6th in Islamabad.
If the Afghan Taliban agree to implement the assurances given in Doha, we may see the Afghan Government agreeing for a power sharing mechanism as a part of the National Reconciliation process. It must also be mentioned that one of the reasons for the Afghan Taliban changing their tack is due to enormous pressure brought on it by the Pakistan Army.
Shift in Political Landscape
The political scene in Afghanistan has undergone a major shift ever since Ashraf Ghani was elected as president, succeeding Hamid Karzai, who was president for over a decade.
Hamid Karzai, a great friend of India, had always looked towards India for military assistance and developing infrastructural projects. In a far reaching policy formulated in 2005, he included India as Afghanistan’s security and strategic partner.
President Ashraf Ghani, in a courageous outreach to Pakistan after assuming office, sought their help in bringing the Afghan Taliban to the negotiating table. The president probably realised that without Pakistan’s help he would not be able to initiate a dialogue with the Taliban.
His sudden warming up to Pakistan had come as a big jolt to India, as Afghanistan always considered India as a friend and a strategic partner. Moreover, India had always considered Afghanistan as a perfect foil to Pakistan and had been assisting many infrastructural projects, apart from supplying arms and ammunitions. The Afghan military personnel also received training in India.
The second step he took was to make his first trip as president to China, where he sought China’s help to mediate talks with the Taliban. The Afghan president knows that China has a great influence over Pakistan and will do its utmost to persuade Pakistan to use its influence not only in reigning in the Taliban, but also to persuade the Taliban to be part of the new government.
Setting up of Peace and Reconciliation Process
Thirdly, the Afghan president has given his total support to the Chinese recommendation of creating a peace and reconciliation forum, where representatives from Afghanistan, Pakistan, China, and the United States will find ways to restore peace and stability in the troubled region.
China has considerable interest in the region since its ambitious strategic initiative of the One Belt, One Road. Moreover, a stable Afghanistan will help them tap into the rich mineral deposits in Afghanistan. A stable Afghanistan can weaken the Islamist militants fomenting trouble in the Chinese region of Xinjiang, which borders both Afghanistan and Pakistan.
Mr Ghani, who had earlier served in the cabinet of former President Hamid Karzai, is aware of the challenges in managing the trilateral relationship. In a recent move, he suspended India’s offer of military hardware, supply of helicopters and training of Afghan cadets. Instead he approached Pakistan to provide training to the Afghan cadets.
In a quid-pro gesture, the president has agreed to come down heavily on Tehrik-e-Taliban, an umbrella organisation of various Islamist militant groups based along the Afghan border. This outfit has been indulging in various acts of terror in Pakistan, including the terror attacks on the Army Public School in Peshawar, where over 144 innocent children had died.
General Raheel Sharif recently visited Afghanistan and met with the president, prime minister and other senior military leaders in order to discuss plans to end cross-border terrorism, especially organisations operating from Afghanistan. General Raheel has promised to bring the Afghan Taliban to the negotiating table in order to end the bloody conflict in the region. Further, he has taken steps to act against the Islamic organisations involved in terror attacks in Afghanistan.
With the new tête–à–tête with Pakistan, the Afghan president is likely to reduce India’s involvement in Afghanistan. Moreover, under pressure from Pakistan, he has already suspended the supply of helicopters and other military equipment.
Although, China’s inclusion in the peace process is a welcome step in bringing lasting peace and stability in the region, the peace process would have had a larger impact if India had been included in the process, as India enjoys tremendous goodwill with Afghanistan.
India should extend all possible cooperation for the peace process
Even if Afghanistan does not take India’s help, India should extend its full cooperation to the peace initiative, as a stable Afghanistan would bring lasting peace and prosperity in the entire region. India should realise that as international terrorist organisations are trying to gain a foothold in Afghanistan, it would make sense to support the Afghan Taliban, despite ideological differences.
Additionally, a peaceful Afghanistan will bring to fruition the much awaited pipeline from Iran.
If India and Pakistan can also forge close cooperation, we will be unfolding a new chapter in the region not only for peace in the region, but also to bring prosperity to the people of South and Central Asia.
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