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September 9, 2019

Horizon of peace in Afghanistan makes India unhappy


September 9, 2019

Peace is likely to return to Afghanistan in the medium term, perhaps after facing lots of hiccups and jerks on the bumpy road. US Special Envoy for Afghanistan Zalmay Khalilzad is likely to be successful in his efforts to strike a deal with the Taliban following a roadmap to end the 18-year prolonged conflict. Safe exit for most US forces will be ensured while Taliban would guarantee that in future the Afghan territory won’t be used by foreign militants against the US and the country won’t pose a security threat to the rest of the world. There would be “comprehensive peace agreement” and not a “withdrawal agreement”, according to US sources. Meanwhile, violence too has surged in the war-torn country but that was expected.

It is important to note that the US, along with China and Russia, has welcomed the involvement of Pakistan in the peace process. Pakistan’s role in stablizing Afghanistan has once again emerged as central and crucial. On the other hand, India has been mostly ignored by the US and other powers in talks with Taliban, magnifying the sense of unease in New Delhi. New Delhi had sent two former Indian diplomats to participate in Moscow round of talks with the Taliban at a non-official level. It has called for all initiatives and processes to include “all sections of the Afghan society, including the legitimately elected government” – something which is not happening at the moment.

An era of peace and stability in the war-ravaged country is not acceptable to India as it will end the role of its proxies being used against Pakistan. It claims that last time when the US had left Afghanistan in 1990s, Indian “security interests”, whatever they were, were severely compromised. It also fears that its investments in Chahbahar, Iran, and in Afghanistan itself would go waste. The Modi government has already cut its allocation to Chabahar Port to $6.5 million from $1.5 billion as changing ground realities in Afghanistan has upset the Indian apple cart.

According to Indian writer, Harsh V Pant: “Many in India will find in these developments a reason to blame the Trump administration. But that’s a trope New Delhi should avoid. Washington has its own interests in Afghanistan that it is trying to protect. New Delhi continued to insist that it wants to invest only its soft power in Afghanistan but the fact that it succeeded was due to the American security umbrella. But when it came to the crunch, it had to rely on others for hard power projection, even when its own civilians were targeted. For a nation that is looking to be recognised as a leading global power, that’s not a very comfortable position to be in. Being too risk-averse in foreign policy has its own set of costs. There is too much at stake and New Delhi should become more proactively involved in the peace process and not be shy of drawing its own red-lines. After all, India too can play the role of a disruptor if its interests are ignored.” Yes, disruptor is the key word here.

Former US Senator Chuck Hagel, while serving as chair of the US President’s Intelligence Oversight Board, said in 2011 that he essentially agreed with Pakistan’s accusations against India. “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,” he had said.

Meanwhile, Pakistan remains a steadfast partner of Afghanistan in the joint efforts to defeat all designs aimed at perpetuating instability in the region and is receiving ‘wide acknowledgment and appreciation’ from the stakeholders for its facilitatory role in the Afghan peace process. Islamabad’s efforts to facilitate the concerned groups to continue negotiations for an Afghan-led and Afghan-owned solution to the conflict have been recognized while the country supports international efforts meant for a durable and sustainable peace in Afghanistan. The phrase “Afghan-owned, Afghan-led” peace process, coined by Pakistan several years ago, has now been adopted as an international guiding principle in charting the collective way forward to achieving peace and reconciliation in Afghanistan, it has been reported.

Modi’s action plan drawn in 2014 was to declare Pakistan a state sponsor of terror, scale down diplomatic ties with Pakistan, scale down economic ties with Pakistan, hurt Pakistan along the LoC for alleged infiltration and ceasefire violations. Down the line, the plan is in tatters with the world now looking at held Kashmir closely. US cozying up to Pakistan is a disturbing development for New Delhi but there is no escaping it.

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