List of Contents
Relevance: Understanding the Afghan issue from a regional perspective.
Synopsis: Importance of the Gulf countries in shaping the geopolitics of Afghanistan.
The Taliban has been making rapid advances across Afghanistan by resorting to widespread violence since the US began withdrawing its troops from the country on May 1. The US has already pulled back the majority of its forces and is looking to complete the drawdown by August 31.
The meetings of the “extended troika” this week in Doha, Qatar, are apparently aimed at reversing the current dangerous turn towards anarchy in Afghanistan.
- Troika-plus: Troika-plus meeting, to discuss ways to advance intra-Afghan talks in Doha, is scheduled to be held this week. Troika-plus-Pakistan meeting involves consultations between the US, Russia, China, Pakistan along with the representatives of the Afghanistan government, Taliban, and other senior Afghan leaders
- Troika: US-Russia-China troika was set up in 2019 at Moscow’s initiative to support the negotiations for a peace settlement between the Afghan government and the Taliban. It has taken an “extended” form with the inclusion of Pakistan this year.
Note: India is not a part of Troika-plus.
Gulf countries have played a significant role in shaping geopolitics of Afghanistan.
Role of gulf countries
Over the decades, different nations from the Gulf have sought to influence the outcomes in Afghanistan.
- Qatar (Doha): The capital of the tiny state of Qatar, is now the main venue for the so-called peace talks on Afghanistan. Since 2011, it has formally hosted the Taliban delegation in Doha and taken the lead in promoting the so-called peace process in Afghanistan. For Doha, this peace process was very much part of its promotion of political Islam in the Greater Middle East and the subcontinent. It has also aligned with Turkey President’s similar objectives in the region.
- Saudi Arabia & UAE: After the Soviet occupation of Afghanistan at the end of 1979, Saudi Arabia poured in significant resources to support the US-Pak mobilisation of a jihad in the 1980s against the communists in Kabul. And when the Taliban took charge of Afghanistan in 1996, Saudi and UAE were the only countries, other than Pakistan, to recognise the new political dispensation.
- Saudi Arabia and the UAE have taken a back seat in the current regional diplomacy on Afghanistan. In recent years, Saudi Arabia and the UAE had sought to promote political reconciliation in Afghanistan but had little success in nudging the Taliban towards moderation.
- Iran: Before Arabs of the Gulf gained prominence in Afghanistan, it was Shah of Iran, whose close ties with the United States had made him the main regional actor in South West Asia. Well before the oil boom, the Shah sought to build a federation of Iran, Afghanistan and Pakistan, promote regional connectivity, and lead the economic modernization of South West Asia.
- The developments in Iran — ouster of the Shah and the founding of the Islamic Republic in 1979 — and the Iran-Iraq war of 1980-88 marginalised Iran from the Afghan geopolitics in the 1980s. But not for long.
- Iran was back in the game during the 1990s as it worked with Russia and India to back the anti-Taliban coalition. Tehran also extended support for Washington’s efforts to oust the Taliban from power after the 9/11 attacks.
- But once the US declared Iran as part of the “axis of evil” in 2002, Tehran and Washington have been at odds in Afghanistan.
There are too many independent actors in the region with high stakes in Afghanistan. They will figure out ways and means to cope with the new Afghan dynamic. India’s intensifying consultations with Iran is one example. Saudi Arabia and the UAE, whose interests are threatened by Taliban’s religious extremism, are not going to sit back forever. Integration of the Gulf into India’s regional security calculus is now likely to be a permanent feature.