20th Nov, 2018
- In a significant departure from India’s stand on engaging the Taliban, the government for the first time participated at a “non-official” level, sending two former senior diplomats to attend talks on the Afghanistan peace process which was held and hosted by Russia.
- The talks, known as the “Moscow format” included a “high-level” delegation from the Taliban as well as a delegation of Afghanistan’s “High Peace Council”, along with twelve countries.
- It was introduced in 2017 on the basis of the six-party mechanism for consultations among special representatives from Russia, Afghanistan, China, Pakistan, Iran and India.
- The Moscow format meeting’s main objective is to facilitate the national reconciliation process in Afghanistan and secure peace in that country as soon as possible.
- The 2018 meeting in Moscow was second in this format. It was co-chaired by both Russia and Afghanistan.
Afghanistan Peace Process:
- The idea of reconciliation with the Taliban has been around since Taliban insurgency grew 2005 onwards.
- The British started doing side deals with local Taliban commanders and with the help of the Germans and the Norwegians, they began to persuade the U.S. to work for a political outcome.
- After being elected in 2008, President Barack Obama ordered a full-scale review of the U.S.’ Afghanistan policy.
- Operation Enduring Freedom (US’ Global war on terrorism which primarily started in Afghanistan but now covers other nations too) formally ended in December 2014, handing over primary responsibility for combat operations to the Afghan security forces even as the insurgency gained ground.
- Insurgency could not be contained as long as sanctuaries existed in Pakistan and the carrot and stick policy with Pakistan had cost the U.S. $33 billion but failed to change Pakistan’s policy.
- After prolonged negotiations, a Taliban office opened in Doha in June 2013 to promote talks and a peace process, though later closed under pressure of USA and Afghan Government.
- A new initiative, Quadrilateral Coordination Group, involving the U.S., China, Pakistan and Afghanistan was launched in January 2016 and as a roadmap Pakistan was to use its influence to get the Taliban to the negotiating table.
- The situation continues to worsen as the Afghan government controls barely half the country, with one-sixth under Taliban control and the rest contested.
- S. President Donald Trump’s South Asia policy announced in 2017 aimed at breaking the military stalemate by expanding the U.S. and NATO presence, putting Pakistan on notice and strengthening Afghan capabilities.
- Its failure can be seen as the violence this year has also put 2018 on course to be the deadliest year for Afghan civilians, with an average of nine people killed every day, according to UN data.
India – Afghanistan Ties: In 1950, India signed a Treaty of Friendship with Afghanistan which also permitted opening of consulates in each other’s country.
Areas of cooperation-
- Close Strategic partnership: In October 2011, India was the first country Afghanistan signed a strategic partnership agreement with.
- Defense assistance: It has been modest and based on specific requests by the government of Afghanistan. The cumulative level of committed Indian assistance to Afghanistan amounts to $2 billion.
- Development assistance: Surveys conducted by various Afghan and foreign news agencies over the years show that the Afghan people ranked Indian assistance as the most suitable because of the positive role India played in the development programme of Afghanistan. For instance, Salma dam helped the economy of the region.
- Non-interference: The Afghans appreciate that India had never interfered in their internal affairs.
Areas of conflict:
- In 1965 and 1971 wars, Afghanistan was non-committal and did not support India.
- On the Kashmir issue, Afghanistan has not publicly supported India.
- India has not joined the debate on the Durand Line.
- Slow and tardy completion of projects in Afghanistan by India has been a problem.
- Tensions between India and Pakistan cast a shadow over Afghanistan, with India’s development assistance under attack.
- China is trying to build a rival military base in Afghanistan, driven by the desire to secure itself from Islamist groups.The developments, along with the faltering peace process, made the task of holding parliamentary elections in October 2018 much more challenging. Same is true for upcoming Presidential elections in April 2019.
Current Obstacles in Afghanistan Peace Process
- Taliban: 2017 saw a spike in violence, with the Taliban carrying out a set of coordinated assaults around Afghanistan, rejecting an offer of a three-month ceasefire by President Ashraf Ghani and laying siege to Ghazni city.
- Pakistan: Afghanistan government accuses Pakistan of treating the terrorists in hospitals close to the Afghan-Pakistan border, while Pakistani fighters, including from the Lashkar-e-Toiba were found to be among the insurgents operating on Afghanistan territories.
- Saudi Arabia: It is using its power to influence Pakistan and Taliban and their activities to involve Iran its eastern frontier of Afghanistan.
- USA: The USA administration’s collision course with Iran is another hurdle to realizing its South Asia policy. As Iran is an alternative route for landlocked Afghanistan’s trade routes to the sea, which would help India’s desire to circumvent Pakistan by developing the Chabahar port.
- Growing U.S.-Russia tensions are creating space for proxies for both on Afghan soil.
- The attacks by al-Qaeda and IS-related terror groups have their roots in the larger war between Iran and the Arab world.
USA’s policy towards Afghanistan: Based on its revised South Asia policy of 2017, it envisages
- more pressure on Pakistan,
- no early U.S. withdrawal from Afghanistan,
- robust military action on counterterrorism and
- a greater role for India.
India’s approach towards Afghanistan Peace Process
- India supports all efforts at peace and reconciliation in Afghanistan that will preserve unity and plurality, and bring security, stability and prosperity to the country.
- India's consistent policy has been that such efforts should be Afghan-led, Afghan-owned, and Afghan-controlled and with participation of the Government of Afghanistan.
- India would have preferred a direct process between the Afghan government and the Taliban, but since that is less possible, a regional process like Moscow format is the next best option.
Way Forward for India:
- It is necessary that the Indian government spells out clearly its policy towards talks with the Taliban.
- India must focus on assisting Afghanistan to ensure that the country’s elections are as peaceful and participative as possible.
- India could assist Afghanistan in training of National Security Forces as per their requirement and supplying much-needed spare parts and such equipment as is possible without deployment of Indian troops in Afghanistan.
- The energy basket of Asia needs to be exploited for benefits of both the countries like TAPI pipeline
- India’s development assistance has been the source of its considerable influence and goodwill among Afghan citizens so the outlay for 2017-18 which is far lower than its commitment in 2015-2016 should be revised.
- Expeditious action on completion of the Chabahar port will help in increasing Afghanistan’s contacts with India and the outside world.
Defeating terrorism in Afghanistan needs every stakeholder to put aside differences, and acknowledge that the current situation is a danger to all.
“Peace in Afghanistan remains elusive but India’s engagement demonstrates commitment to the idea of a stable, independent and peaceful Afghanistan.”Analyse the statement in the light of recent Moscow format.