As international talks with the Taliban leadership gain momentum, India’s foreign policy establishment is still not clear over its involvement with Taliban
Peace talks for Afghanistan
- Two Simultaneous Negotiating Processes for Afghanistan is going on. Long-time rivals Russia and the United States have backed separate negotiations with different stakeholders.
- U.S. peace envoy Zalmay Khalilzad has held a series of direct talks with Taliban negotiators in the Qatari capital, Doha, from January 21-26, culminating in the basic framework of a possible peace deal.
- Russia held a meeting ‘Moscow Format’ to discuss Afghan question in which India was represented unofficially by former diplomats, which marks a drastic shift from rejection to unofficial talks with Taliban.
• It was a meeting of world leaders, held in Moscow, Russia, in November 2018, to discuss future of Afghan polity, Taliban’s role in it and the Taliban’s acceptability among world leaders.
• Earlier the meeting was called off due to non-participation of the Afghan government, this time meeting was open also to non-government representatives.
• Deliberations took place on a number of issues surrounding the Taliban and its role in Afghanistan.
• The Afghan government did not send any officials, but four members of the Kabul-based High Peace Council (HPC) attended the event.
• India was represented in ‘Moscow Format’ by former diplomats non-officially. The choice of delegates allowed India and Afghanistan distance and deniability about the Taliban.
Issues with Peace talk
- The Taliban continues to carry out terror attacks in Afghanistan even as its leadership talks with the U.S.
- The peace talk is held in the absence of the Afghanistan government. Taliban has rejected “direct talks” with the Afghan Government as it lacks legitimacy.
- There is a growing sense among Afghans that their concerns have remained secondary in United States-Taliban talks. Talk with the Taliban increased the fear of loss of security and freedom among the vulnerable groups of women, ethnic minorities, and civil society.
- The workings of Taliban politics are poorly understood. More precise knowledge of the Taliban’s internal dynamics is important for achieving progress towards a viable political solution.
- Two simultaneous negotiations with the US and Russia appears as a return of great game in Afghanistan
- Non-involvement of neighbouring countries of India, Iran and China.
India and Afghanistan peace process
Initially, India denies any support to peace talks with Taliban but later India has given acceptance to talk with Taliban symbolically. India sends “non-official” representation to the Moscow talks with the Taliban. Army Chief General Bipin Rawat also suggested that India should “jump on the bandwagon” and engage the Taliban.
Reason for India’s soften stand on Taliban
- India has always been seeking an “Afghan-led, Afghan-owned and Afghan-controlled” peace process and settlement but as international talks with the Taliban leadership gain momentum India soften its stance.
- Recently Taliban offer dialogue, promising to safeguard India’s investments in Chabahar and promises to protect minorities, including Hindus and Sikhs, in Afghanistan.
- Also, US announced its withdrawal of troops from Afghanistan which made India worried about the prospect of chaos and civil war, akin to the scene after the previous U.S. pullout in the early 1990s that cut India out and brought the Taliban to power in Kabul with Pakistan’s support.
- It is felt that it is time India recognized and negotiated with the Taliban to protect its huge investments
- Geopolitically non-involvement of India in talk with Taliban would consolidate Pakistan’s position in the future of Afghanistan which already has good relations with the Taliban
- World over, Russia and Iran also soften its earlier stand over the Taliban and engage in peace talks
Issues with talk with Taliban
- It is against consistently held moral principle and India’s stand on speaking to a non-state actor that espouses terrorism. India had earlier refused to support a 2007 initiative of former Afghan president Hamid Karzai to engage the “good Taliban” in the peace process.
- It may impact India’s relation with the democratically elected Afghan government.
- Taliban did not recognise the Durand Line when they were ruling Afghanistan the last time this pose a serious security threat
Much has changed inside Afghanistan in the last two decades as it has in the world outside. While Afghan security forces have suffered many losses in the past year, it is unlikely that the Taliban would today be able to overrun and hold Kabul or any other big Afghan city as it did before.
It is unlikely that the Taliban will be able to endanger Indian interests in the country, given the special place. India enjoys special place amongst thousands of Afghans who have studied in India, youth and women supported by Indian development projects, and hundreds of military officers trained in the country.
It is necessary that Indian strategists don’t lose sight of the bigger picture i.e. India’s longstanding relationship with the people of Afghanistan and its interest in Afghanistan before holding any direct talk with the Taliban.