INDIA AND TALIBAN
23 June, 2021 8:17 pm
NSA Ajit Doval is likely to meet his Afghan counterpart Hamdullah Mohib on the sidelines of the two-day SCO(Shanghai Cooperation Organization (SCO) NSAs meeting that began Wednesday in Tajikistan.
Both NSAs are expected to discuss the role that India is “planning” to play in Afghanistan after the departure of the US troops by 11 September, amid a significant spike in Taliban’s offensive in the last few months that has claimed key cities in northern Afghanistan.
According to the highly-placed sources, both NSAs are also expected to discuss how India will be engaging with the Taliban leaders while it remains firm on its stance of supporting an Afghan-led, Afghan-owned and Afghan-controlled peace process.
The meeting between the two NSAs comes at a time when India is believed to have begun direct talks with the Taliban leaders as their chances of coming into power in Afghanistan become imminent.
The SCO meeting
The two-day conference in Dushanbe will also see participation from the NSAs of China, Pakistan, Russia, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan and Uzbekistan.
Sources also said the SCO NSAs meet may also settle the recent imbroglio surrounding Mohib’s “brothel house” remark, after which Pakistan decided to bypass him in Afghan talks.
Later this week, Afghan President Ghani and their key peace and reconciliation leader Abdullah will be meeting US President Joe Biden as they have been invited at the White House Friday.
The meeting is expected to discuss “the enduring partnership between the United States and Afghanistan as the military drawdown continues”, according to a White House statemen.
Taliban captures Afghanistan’s main border crossing with Tajikistan
A day after Pentagon spokesman John Kirby said the US military could slow down its withdrawal from Afghanistan due to the gains made by the Taliban, AFP quoting officials reported that the Taliban had captured Afghanistan’s main border crossing with Tajikistan.
The development comes as Taliban and Afghan forces clashed on Monday outside Kunduz city which was a former stronghold of the militant outfit.
The seizure of Shir Khan Bandar, in the far north of Afghanistan about 50km (30 miles) from Kunduz city, is the most significant gain for the Taliban since it stepped up operations on May 1 when the US began the final stages of its troop withdrawal.
The attack comes as the UN special envoy on Afghanistan warned that Taliban fighters have taken more than 50 of 370 districts in the country since May and that increased conflict “means increased insecurity for many other countries, near and far”.
WHY IT HAPPENED?
BECAUSE OF PENTAGON’S STATEMENT
Pentagon could slow down its military withdrawal from Afghanistan due to gains made by Taliban militants, Press Secretary John Kirby said on June 21. While the September 9 deadline to pull out all the troops remains in place, Kirby said that the “pace, scope and scale” of withdrawal could be adjusted based on condition in the war-torn country.
“The situation in Afghanistan changes as the Taliban continues to conduct these attacks and to raid district centres as well as the violence, which is still too high. If there needs to be changes made to the pace, or to the scope and scale of the retrograde, on any given day or in any given week, we want to maintain the flexibility to do that,” Kirby told reporters.
TALIBAN ASKS FOR ‘GENUINE ISLAMIC SYSTEM’ THROUGH AFGHAN PEACE TALKS
Meanwhile, the Taliban has said it remains committed to peace talks and wants a “genuine Islamic system” that would make provisions for women’s rights in line with cultural traditions and religious rules, in the aftermath of the withdrawal. The statement comes amid a dramatic surge in violence around the country and an increase in its spring offensive and attempted to siege more areas.
“We understand that the world and Afghans have queries and questions about the form of the system to be established following the withdrawal of foreign troops,” said Mullah Abdul Ghani Baradar, the head of the Taliban’s political office, in the statement. “A genuine Islamic system is the best means for the solution of all issues of the Afghans,” he said.
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“An Indian delegation made a “quiet visit” to the Gulf nation of Qatar to meet with the Taliban, a senior Qatari government official stated on Monday.”
“I understand that there has been a quiet visit by Indian officials to speak to the Taliban”.
In the midst of fast-paced developments relating to the Afghan peace process, a senior Qatari diplomat said at a webinar organised by the Arab Center in Washington DC on Monday that he believed the Indian side was engaging with the Taliban as the group could be a key component in the future of Afghanistan.
Mutlaq bin Majed al-Qahtani, who is the Special Envoy of Qatar’s foreign minister for counter-terrorism and conflict resolution, told the webinar that he believed the Indian side was engaging with the Taliban as the group is seen as a “key component” in any future government in Afghanistan.
HOW MANY VISITS DONE BY MEA JAISHANKAR?
The Indian outreach is largely being led by security officials and has been limited to Taliban factions and leaders perceived as being outside the sphere of influence of Pakistan and Iran. People familiar with developments said on condition of anonymity that the first contacts with Mullah Baradar were established in Qatar, where the Taliban has a political office.
External affairs minister S Jaishankar made three transit halts in Doha, Qatar, during his recent visits to Kuwait and Kenya. During the first halt on June 9, Jaishankar met Qatari National Security Adviser Mohamed Bin Ahmed Al Mesned, shortly before al-Qahtani held separate meetings with US special envoy Zalmay Khalilzad and Taliban negotiators the same day.
During another transit halt on June 15, Jaishankar met Qatari foreign minister Mohammed bin Abdulrahman Al-Thani and minister of state for defence Khalid bin Mohammad Al Attiya. He also held talks with US special envoy Khalilzad and exchanged perspectives on Afghanistan and the region.
WHAT HAS MINISTRY OF EXTERNAL AFFAIRS SAID?
The Ministry of External Affairs (MEA), however, declined to comment on Qahtani’s statement. There has been no official word or confirmation by the MEA on any engagement with the Taliban leadership since the Doha talks began or even before.
WHAT EXACTLY IS INDIA TRYING TO DO?
India pushing for comprehensive ceasefire in Afghanistan amid reports of its contact with Taliban
India is pushing for a comprehensive ceasefire in Afghanistan amid a massive spike in violence in that country and reports of its contact with the Taliban for the first time in the backdrop of a renewed push for the Afghan peace process.
The reports of India reaching out to the Taliban emerged as the US looked to complete the withdrawal of its forces from Afghanistan by September 11, ending a nearly two-decade of its military presence in the war-ravaged country.
WHY IS INDIA DOING SO?
Afghanistan “should not become a place for a proxy [war] among any countries”, it is in the interest of both India and Pakistan to have a more stable Afghanistan.
India has been a major stakeholder in the peace and stability of Afghanistan. It has already invested close to USD three billion in aid and reconstruction activities in the country. India reached out to certain Taliban factions that are perceived to be outside the sphere of influence of Pakistan and Iran.
WHY IS QATAR IMPORTANT HERE?
The Taliban and the Afghan government are holding direct talks in the Qatari capital city Doha to end 19 years of war that has killed tens of thousands of people and ravaged various parts of the country. Qatar has been playing a role in the Afghan peace process.
The Qatar government has hosted the Taliban’s main office in Doha since 2013, and is the organiser of the Intra Afghan Dialogue or Afghan-Taliban talks that were inaugurated in September last year. External Affairs Minister S. Jaishankar had participated in the inauguration ceremony for the talks, while an Indian delegation led by MEA’s Joint Secretary for Iran-Pakistan-Afghanistan J.P. Singh had attended the ceremony in Doha.
India’s official policy has been to not recognise the Taliban in any way, with the Afghan government accorded the recognition as the only legitimate stakeholder in the war-ravaged country.
When Taliban were invited to talks with Afghan government representatives in Moscow, India had sent retired diplomats as observers, rather than officials in the delegation.
During the official signing of the Doha agreement last year, India’s ambassador to Qatar had attended the ceremony. When the intra-Afghan talks began in September 2020, India sent a senior diplomat to Doha, while Indian foreign minister S. Jaishankar attended through video link.
This is the second time that an official of a Gulf kingdom has mentioned an Indian diplomatic initiative which is largely kept under wrap by New Delhi.
In April, UAE’s ambassador to the US, Yousef Al Otaiba, stated that the Gulf nation played a role “in bringing Kashmir escalation down and created a ceasefire, hopefully ultimately leading to restoring diplomats and getting the relationship back to a healthy level”.
WHY IS INDIA TALKING WITH TALIBAN?
WHAT RISKS INDIA HAVE AFTER TALIBAN LEAVES AFGHANISTAN?
1.The first risk has to do with terrorism. While the U.S.-Taliban agreement states that the Taliban will prevent terrorist outfits from operating on Afghan soil, there is little clarity on how the agreement will be verified and enforced.
2.The second risk has to do with the growing influence of Pakistan’s Inter-Services Intelligence Directorate, which shares an undeniable link with the Taliban, especially the Haqqani group.
3. The third risk to India’s long-term interests in Afghanistan has to do with the increasing political instability in Kabul. Notwithstanding a power-sharing agreement signed between Afghan President Ashraf Ghani and former chief executive Abdullah Abdullah, on May 17, 2020, it is clear that such alliances cannot be taken at face value.
WHAT CAN INDIA DO?
continued Training and Investments: India should provide more military training to Afghan security forces and invest in longer-term capacity-building programs. It should actively support and invest in the National Directorate of Security (for example, by providing training and sharing intelligence). Finally, given the continued levels of violence and the impact of the coronavirus on the Afghan economy, India should expand its development assistance.
Working With and Through Others: India should look to broaden its engagements with Iran and Russia, explore opportunities for cooperation (as limited as they might be) with China, and find common ground with the United States on Afghanistan’s future. This does not mean forcing competing interests to align; it means investing in a wider diplomatic initiative with the view to carve out areas of convergence.
Afghanistan, India, and Pakistan After US Withdrawal
Pakistan shares a treacherous, 2,670-kilometer border with Afghanistan. The mountainous border region has long served as a safe haven for many militant groups including the Afghan Taliban. The group ruled Afghanistan from 1996 to 2001 and offered sanctuaries to al-Qaeda. Since the early 1990s, Pakistan has supported the Taliban in Afghanistan in an attempt to push its regional security interests. Pakistan was one of the few countries that established diplomatic relations when the Taliban’s government came to power in Kabul.
While the U.S. invasion of Afghanistan in 2001 may have forced the Taliban out of power, the group has fought to expel international troops from Afghanistan in a bid to return to power, something that Pakistan has always wanted and supported despite international backlash.
For decades, Pakistan has supported militant groups in Afghanistan rather than elected governments. This policy choice has created an image problem for Pakistan in Afghanistan and elsewhere, making Pakistan part of the problem rather than a solution. Arguably, U.S. forces’ withdrawal from Afghanistan offers Pakistan an opportunity to reorient its international image by playing a key role in encouraging regional cooperation to ensure stability in Afghanistan. The development offers Pakistan an opening to demonstrate to the international community that the country has made a clean break from its previous pattern of supporting militant groups in Afghanistan.
“Pakistan will have to build trust with all Afghan ethnicities and political forces, rather than just being seen as ‘Taliban supporters’ or by many Afghans as ‘Taliban sponsors’,” Hassan Abbas, the author of “The Taliban Revival: Violence and Extremism on the Pakistan-Afghanistan Frontier,” told The Diplomat.
Since the beginning of the peace talks three years ago, Pakistan has earned a good reputation by playing an effective role as a mediator. However, this effort on Islamabad’s part may have also exposed the limits of the country’s influence on the group. Pakistan reportedly told the Taliban recently that the group may lose its support if it doesn’t show flexibility in the ongoing peace process. “Enough is enough” were the words reportedly used by the Pakistani leadership to convey its displeasure to the Taliban.
HOW WILL TALKS WITH TALIBAN HELP INDIA?
Establishing ties with Afghanistan’s most powerful non-state actor could put New Delhi in a better position to convey and negotiate its goals and interests in Afghanistan