With the representatives of the United States, China, Pakistan and Afghanistan meeting in Kabul this week, it is for the first time that the most important quadrilateral peace talks have been held in Afghanistan. The talks have discussed ways for moving forward on peace negotiations with the Taliban.
The talks are being held in the backdrop of deadly violence that continues to escalate in Afghanistan. According to the United Nations, more than 11,000 civilians were killed or injured in violence in the country in 2015. The Afghan army has suffered heavy casualties in its battles with the Taliban, which control or influence around 20 percent of Afghanistan.
As expected, the Afghan government continues to suffer major military setbacks. Recently, the government withdrew forces from the Musa Qala district in Helmand province, ceding control to the Taliban. On the other hand, reports of fighting continue to pour in from Dahana-e-Ghori district northwest of Kabul.
At the same time, the Ashraf Ghani government totters on the brink with its inability to present a cohesive stance on issues, lack of decision making and coordination among different factions, corruption, infighting among various government factions besides other lingering issues.
The top US commander in Afghanistan has already stated that "Afghanistan has not achieved an enduring level of security and stability that justifies a reduction of our support in 2016."
General Campbell in his testimony before the Senate Armed Services Committee said that building up the Afghan military was "akin to building an airplane while in flight" and added a reduction to 5,500 troops would only allow for a "very limited" training mission. Meanwhile, the former commander of US forces in Afghanistan, Gen. David Petraeus, has demanded more US airstrikes to bolster the Afghan forces in their fight against the Taliban. Due to the new rules of engagement following the departure of most US troops, Americans do not provide close air support to the Afghan military.
While understanding the background of the crisis, what the quadrilateral powers have to check is the Indian role as spoilers of peace in Afghanistan and negotiate the maze accordingly.
The Indian nexus with TTP leaders like the late Hakimullah Mahsood and revelations of Latifullah Mehsood, connection with Mulla Fazlullah and the APS incident, exploitation of Baloch sub nationalists, Ajeet Doval’s offensive-defensive doctrine, covert support for Daesh in Afghanistan, anti-Pakistan statements of the BJP leadership, supporting the ETIM against China Pakistan Economic Corridor are known to most people and could also prove to be spoilers to the Afghan peace talks. With the start of 2016, suddenly the frequency of terrorist incidents in Pakistan increased manifold, indicating the annoyance of the spoiler after her proxies were uprooted from the Pakistani soil.
We don’t have to look far how deep India’s involvement is in Afghanistan. Former US defence secretary Chuck Hagel in his famous remarks admitted: “India for some time has always used Afghanistan as a second front, and India has over the years financed problems for Pakistan on that side of the border. And you can carry that into many dimensions, the point being (that) the tense, fragmented relationship between Pakistan and Afghanistan has been there for many, many years."
Notwithstanding the complexities of the situation, the people of Afghanistan are tired of the protracted proxy warfare, strife and lawlessness in their country and are desirous of peace. Let’s check the spoilers and give Afghans a radical reversal in fortune. Let’s give peace a chance.