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RSTV: THE BIG PICTURE- THE AFGHANISTAN PUZZLE & INDIA

RSTV

Introduction:

India welcomed the power-sharing deal announced by Afghanistan between President Ashraf Ghani and his rival Abdullah Abdullah, which ended months of political discord triggered by last year’s disputed presidential election. The Ministry of External Affairs said India hoped the political agreement and creation of a council for national reconciliation will result in renewed efforts for establishing enduring peace and stability, and putting an end to externally-sponsored terrorism and violence in Afghanistan. According to the deal, Ghani will stay as the president while Abdullah will helm the High Council of National Reconciliation (HCNR) with executive authority and his team will have a 50 per cent share in the cabinet. The HCNR has been mandated to lead future peace talks, including with the Taliban.

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.

Power Sharing deal and Significance:

  • Mr Ghani will stay on as president.
  • Dr Abdullah will lead peace talks with the Taliban, should they get under way.
  • The deal calls for Abdullah to lead the country’s National Reconciliation High Council and some members of Abdullah’s team would be included in Ghani’s Cabinet.
  • The Reconciliation Council has been given the authority to handle and approve all affairs related to Afghanistan’s peace process. 
  • The deal comes as Afghan authorities are hoping to enter peace talks with the Taliban to end years of violence.
  • It is hoped the deal in the capital Kabul will help to maintain the balance of power that existed before last year’s disputed presidential election.
  • India has welcomed the deal. It has called for renewed efforts for establishing enduring peace and stability, and putting an end to externally-sponsored terrorism and violence in Afghanistan.
  • Economically, it is a gateway to the oil and mineral-rich Central Asian republics.
  • Afghanistan has also become the second-largest recipient of Indian foreign aid over the last five years.

India’s policy towards peaceful Afghanistan:

  • The Afghanistan wants India to be involved not in internal politics but because we are the most important power in the region and an emerging power.
  • 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’s position on Taliban:

  • The Taliban has reinforced its intent to engage with India by nudging its readiness to accept Kashmir as India’s internal affair amid a new round of international diplomacy to encourage a broad- based political settlement in Afghanistan.
  • The Taliban are clearly sending a signal that they want to open a channel of communication with India.
  • India refused to recognise the Taliban regime of 1996-2001 and rather supported the ‘Norther Alliance’ in fighting the Taliban in Afghanistan
  • India has long held the position of dealing only with the elected government in Kabul, and has always considered the Taliban a terrorist organisation backed by Pakistan
  • India supports an Afghan-led, Afghan-owned and Afghan-controlled peace process.
  • Kandahar Hijack of 1999 and Taliban’s proximity to Pakistan’s deep state has also embittered the Indo-Taliban relations.
  • However, India’s refusal to engage with Taliban will give Pakistan a free hand to use it as a proxy in India’s internal matters.
  • Given India’s regional and global positions, it is appropriate for India to engage with all the key players in Afghanistan, not only in terms of the government but also in terms of political forces, society and the Afghan body politic
  • India’s position on non-engagement with Taliban has reduced its role in international diplomatic efforts. US wants India to have more active role, other than economic and humanitarian, in the peace process.

Need for corrective diplomatic action

  • India has been excluded from the Afghanistan peace process many times including the recent meeting (6+2+1 grouping).
  • As per foreign policy specialists, India must play a role in the Intra-Afghan talks. It is common knowledge that the bloody Taliban regime in Afghanistan is backed up by Pakistan.
  • Any decrease in democratic strength of Afghanistan and increase in Taliban influence will not bode well for India.
  • A Taliban government in Kabul does not augur well for India’s security in the Kashmir region. It may become a launch pad for violent attacks on India.
  • IC-814 hijacking should be a reminder for India that corrective actions are needed and to open diplomatic channels with Taliban, as it is getting powerful in the region. Else, India will find itself isolated and pushed to the margins in West Asia.
  • India’s Strategic interests converges with Afghanistan, especially economic and geostrategic interests. Trade through Chahbahar and further Zarenj Delaram would provide more market for Indian goods and vice versa.
  • Geostrategically India must prevent Afghanistan from becoming a second front for Pakistan in future skirmishes or an eventuality of a war.