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Afghan Peace Process and India – Explained, Pointwise

Introduction

The Afghan peace process aims at ending the ongoing civil war between the Taliban and the Afghanistan government. The US administration has proposed a new peace plan to the Afghan government and the Taliban. This Peace Plan might be helpful to curtail violence and bring lasting peace to Afghanistan. 

Background of the Afghan peace process
  • The U.S. and Taliban signed an agreement for “Bringing Peace to Afghanistan” on February 29, 2020, at Doha. (also called Doha agreement).
  • Features of Doha Agreement
    • Troops Withdrawal: The US and NATO will withdraw their troops from Afghanistan. All the troops will be out of Afghanistan within 14 months.
    • Taliban: Taliban will not allow any of its members to use the soil of Afghanistan to threaten the security of the United States and its allies.
    • Prisoners: Exchange of prisoners between the Afghan government and the Taliban will be done to build trust.
    • Sanctions Removal: As per the Doha agreement, US and UN sanctions on the Taliban leaders will be removed.
Need of a new Afghan peace process
  • The Taliban had warned that if the US does not abide by the Doha agreement deadline (May 1, 2021), the Taliban will step up fighting.
  • On the other hand, the Afghan Army lacks the capacity to control the Taliban without US support.
  • Further, the Taliban and the Afghan government started peace talks in Doha last year, but no solution has reached. 

Hence, a new plan was desired to break the deadlock and prevent the complete takeover of Afghanistan by the Taliban.

About the new Afghan peace plan of Biden administration

The Biden administration is pursuing actively in establish a peace plan between the Afghan government and the Taliban. Few important points of such peace process are,

  1. UN Summit: United Nations will convene a meeting of the foreign ministers from China, Russia, Pakistan, Iran, India, and the United States. It will develop a “unified approach” to peace in Afghanistan.
  2. Withdrawal of Troops: The peace plan has kept open the possibility that the 2500-odd US troops in Afghanistan might stay on for a while. 
    • Under the Doha agreement with the Taliban, the US had promised to withdraw all troops by May 1 this year.
  3. Turkey to Organise a meeting: The United States has asked Turkey to convene a meeting of the Afghan government and the Taliban to finalise a peace settlement.
  4. Taliban to Reduce Violence: The US has asked the Taliban to accept an immediate agreement to reduce violence for 90 days. This will provide the space for the peace initiative.
  5. Inclusive Interim Government: the US has asked the Afghan Government and Taliban to move towards a permanent and comprehensive ceasefire and form an interim unity government.
Challenges to Afghan Peace Process
  1. Afghan administration has consistently been critical of the U.S.’s direct outreach to the Taliban. They perceive it as an act undermining the legitimacy of the Afghan Government.
  2. The Afghan President reiterated that the transfer of power will be done only through elections. But the Taliban wants a power transfer before participating in polls.
  3. Taliban is aware of the lower potential of Afghan forces. So they are leveraging it for demanding arbitrary privileges.
  4. The fragmentation of Taliban forces is another obstacle in peace. It is possible that some of them may continue to engage in violence and impacting the Afghan peace process.
  5. Similarly, it would be difficult for the US to hold the withdrawal process. As a lot of financial stress of the Afghan government is borne by the US. According to the US Department of Defence, the total military expenditure in Afghanistan (from October 2001 until September 2019) was $778bn.
  6. The US is of the view that Pakistan is strategically more important to the U.S. than Afghanistan. 
    • Instead of pressuring Pakistan to refrain its support to the Taliban, the US is seeking Afghan government support for a power-sharing arrangement with the Taliban.
Why is the Afghan peace process is important for India?
  • Security: A stable Afghanistan is crucial for regional and domestic security and stability for India. 
  • Connectivity: The most important role of Afghanistan is always considered as India’s gateway to Central Asia. It implies continental outreach. 
    • For instance, Connectivity with Afghanistan and Central Asia is the primary reason for India’s engagement with Iran to develop Chabahar port.
  • Strengthening regional foothold with the diversification of engagements: Increasing strategic engagements with Afghanistan is beneficial for India in widening the engagement with other countries in the region. 
    • For example, India’s relations with Iran at present are dominated by oil. By engaging with Afghan and Iran India can diversify its trade interests.
  • Energy ambitions: Peaceful Afghan is essential to address the energy needs of India. This is evident by Afghanistan’s essential position in the TAPI (Turkmenistan, Afghanistan, Pakistan, India) pipeline.
  • Trade: Afghanistan can help India export its products to Europe and help in gaining foreign exchange. The railway line from Chabahar to Zahedan in Afghanistan envisages connecting New Delhi with Iran, Afghanistan, Central Asia and Europe.
What are the challenges in front of India?
  • India refused to recognise the Taliban regime of 1996-2001. Instead, India supported the ‘Northern Alliance’ in fighting the Taliban in Afghanistan.
    • The ‘Northern Alliance’ was a united military front that came to formation in late 1996 after the Taliban took over Kabul. They fought a war with the Taliban in 2001 and ended the Taliban’s rule over Afghanistan. 
  • India has long held the position of dealing only with the elected government in Kabul. India supports an Afghan-led, Afghan-owned, and Afghan-controlled peace process.
  • There has been a high degree of mistrust on Taliban since the Hijack of an Air India flight to Kandahar in 1999. Further Taliban’s proximity to Pakistan has also hampered the Indo-Taliban relations.
  • The Doha Agreement is silent on other terrorist groups. Such as anti-India terrorist groups like Lashkar-e-Taiba, Jaish-e-Mohammed.
  • Further, supporting the Taliban will be a betrayal for the people of Afghanistan. The Taliban can go back to medieval practice and establish an Islamic republic based on Sharia. This will result in denying the hard-earned rights of the Afghan peoples.
India’s policy towards the Afghan Peace process
  • Peace and reconciliation: India is encouraging an Afghan-led, Afghan-owned broad-based, and inclusive process of peace and reconciliation.
  • Strengthening democratic institutions in Afghanistan: India has focused on strengthening democratic institutions through various efforts like inaugurating the new Afghan Parliament. India also announced an additional USD 1 billion assistance for capability building in spheres such as education, health, agriculture, skill development, etc.
  • Soft power: India is focusing on soft power methods (that involve winning hearts and minds) to strengthen cultural and political relations with Afghanistan. India’s contribution to the development of cricket in Afghanistan is such an example.
  • No military intervention: India is not in favor of using the military in Afghanistan. It was reflected in the recent rejection of the USA proposal to India to intervene militarily. India is in favor of no boots in Afghanistan.
Suggestions to improve Afghan peace process
  • Considering the advances made by the Taliban and the continuance of civil war for more than a decade, the Afghan President has to take support from regional powers including India. This will strengthen the Afghan government’s bargaining power in negotiation.
  • The world leaders should take a robust step against terrorism by adopting the Comprehensive Convention on International Terrorism (proposed by India at the UN in 1996).
  • India must step up to assist materially to those who want to defend the Afghan republic. This will mark the arrival of India as the superpower and as an arbiter in settling international disputes.
Conclusion

The objective of the Afghan peace process should be to bring about a just and durable peace through political negotiations. The world leaders must cooperate to ensure an Afghan-led, Afghan-owned and Afghan-controlled peace process. Because that only will bring lasting peace in the region and strengthen regional security.

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