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Tashkent Declaration 2: Phony Peace Harbinger for Afghanistan?

Dr. Bawa Singh

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Could Tashkent be as a city of peacemaking for Afghanistan as it did in case of Indo-Pak (1965 War)? The First Tashkent Declaration was a peace agreement signed between India and Pakistan on 10 January 1966 to resolve the Indo-Pak War (1965). Now, the war theatre has changed to Afghanistan Conflict (2001-18), may be called Af-Pak. Why Af-Pak, as Pakistan conceives Afghanistan its strategic backyard vis-à-vis India and vice-versa Afghanistan alleges Pakistan for providing safe sanctuaries to Taliban and Al-Qaeda, operating from its territory. Realizing the security concerns spillover across the border, Uzbekistan has reoriented its foreign policy towards Afghanistan particularly under its ‘Neighborhood First’ policy. Therefore,  once again Tashkent has become witness to the peacemaking process of Afghanistan under the banner of an international conference, more precisely Tashkent Declaration2 (26-27 March 2018).

For establishing peace in Afghanistan, several peacemaking mechanisms like Kabul Process, the Heart of Asia-Istanbul Process, the SCO-Afghanistan Contact Group, the Regional Economic Cooperation Conference on Afghanistan (RECCA) have been put in place. Now, the question is, how Uzbekistan can play an important role in Afghanistan peace-making? Could the Tashkent Declaration 2 could become a peace harbinger for Afghanistan?  Despite sharing long historical, civilizational relations and plus collective long border (2190 km) after Pakistan (2430 km), Afghanistan has not been figured prominently in Central Asia’s regional diplomacy radar as it had not played any important role in the conflict resolution of the former. The diplomatic relations (1991) between Tashkent and Kabul had been enervated after taking over the Taliban regime in Afghanistan. Afghanistan has become turbulent given the sectarian fighting and involvement of external actors and hence, it had become major security concerns for the neighboring countries including Uzbekistan. The Tajik Civil War (1992-1997) had multiplied the security concerns of  Uzbekistan. Therefore, in anticipation of more security concerns across the border, the “Friendship Bridge” between Tashkent and Kabul was closed (24 May 1997). In this background, however, Uzbekistan had maintained the enervated political and strategic engagements with Afghanistan.

Notwithstanding its passive foreign policy towards the neighbouring countries including Afghanistan, keeping the security concerns in view, Uzbekistan has taken the step like an establishment of “Six Plus Two Group on Afghanistan,” (1997). Tashkent has signed several agreements including the transit, road construction, electricity, agriculture, security etc. with Afghanistan. On the other hand, it had also extended strategic cooperation with the global players engaged in peacemaking, peacebuilding, and peacekeeping for Afghanistan. The first step in this direction on part of Uzbekistan was to reopen the Friendship Bridge (2002). Secondly, it had provided an airbase Karshi-Khanabad and Termez for the US and Germany respectively to assist the ISAF to fight against the terrorism. It had also allowed the passage for supply lines of the Northern Distribution Network.

Aftermath of the changing political regime in Uzbekistan, a paradigmatic shift has taken place in its foreign policy. When Uzbekistan President Mirziyoyev came to power (2016), he had reoriented his foreign policy. With his neighbourhood first policy, he made Central Asia including Afghanistan as a top priority agenda of his foreign policy. The President had hosted the first round of political consultations of the foreign ministers of both the countries (January 2017) for extending cooperation in respect of Afghanistan peace process. For the further improvement of relations with Afghanistan, the Special Representative of the Uzbek President for Afghanistan has been appointed.

Tashkent Declaration 2

Hosting the International Conference for Afghan peacemaking process validates its the Neighbourhood First policy of Uzbekistan.  The theme of the conference hosted by Tashkent, ‘Peace Process, Security Cooperation and Regional Connectivity’ on Afghanistan is a major question for the strategic commentators. How much part of the theme may be converted into reality? In this conference,  about 20 countries had participated in the peacemaking process. Despite the absence of Taliban in this meeting,  Uzbekistan and  Afghanistan have been hoping to strengthen the regional cooperation and consensus to end the two decades long Afghanistan ethnic conflict. While speaking in the conference, Uzbek President Mirziyoyev said, “Our country has been an active party to almost all the international forums including the Kabul Process, the Moscow Format, the Heart of Asia – Istanbul Process, the International Contact Group on Afghanistan, the SCO-Afghanistan Contact Group, the Regional Economic Cooperation Conference on Afghanistan (RECCA) to address the Afghan crisis.”

The Tashkent Declaration had emphasized on the peace process, which is ought to be Afghan led and Afghan built. Moreover, it should be as per the peacemaking resolutions and decisions of the regional and internal organizations including UN General Assembly and Security Council. It has also urged Afghanistan government to ensure guaranteed integration of the armed opposition group into the political life of the country. The group should be acknowledged and recognized as a legitimate political force in order to ensure its instrumental role in the establishment of peace. The participating members have strongly opposed all the forms and manifestations of terrorism without any distinctions. The members have also recognized the threats like transnational terrorism, drug trafficking and organized crime as common challenges to stability and sustainable development not only of Afghanistan, rather of the region and the whole world at large. It is believed that the conference will go in a long way to contribute to Afghanistan’s successful integration into the system of trade, economic and infrastructural relations with the states of Central Asia, the effective implementation of projects and programmes of regional scale.

Tashkent Declaration 2: Could Be A Phony Peace Harbinger?

Despite several peacemaking, peacebuilding and even peacekeeping mechanisms have been put in place, the peace has remained a  distant dream. Since 2010, Afghanistan has been making several efforts and even offered several proposals to the Taliban, but it has remained crystal clear the latter had never come forwarded or shown any inclination towards talks with Afghan authorities. Even recently, Afghanistan President extended an offer to Taliban to open an office in Afghanistan to manage their talk, as well as the group, will be conceived as a political force. The hopes of talk on part of Afghanistan dashed to the ground when the Taliban clearly said no chance of talks with the Afghan government, rather expressed desire to talk only to the US officials, believing that the latter could help to end the protracted Afghan War. The report of DW (German Broadcaster) has anticipated the peace offering can be met with concerns and skepticism by the former Afghan Northern Alliance, which had played a key role in outfoxing the Taliban regime from Afghanistan.

Another knee-jerk setback to the peace process initiated by Uzbekistan was General Nicholson’s an exclusive interview with the BBC, wherein he alleged Russia’s involvement in derailing the peace process of Afghanistan. He called Russia’s role in Afghanistan as  a  “destabilizing activity.” Even he alleged that the Russian weapons are being smuggled to the Taliban.

The major challenge of the Afghan peacemaking is the geopolitical perspective. One Indian scholar has pointed out in his argument that the US has its geopolitical goal by engineering the peace process by Uzbekistan. Firstly, it will open the gateway for Afghanistan to the new world market. Moreover, by making an alliance between Afghanistan and Uzbekistan,  the access route/s through Central Asia would be available apart from lessening the former ’s dependence on Russia, Pakistan, and Iran. Secondly, it will revamp the Northern Distribution Network to supply the US-NATO bases in Afghanistan, by sidelining Russia and Pakistan. Thirdly, the US would become successful in outfoxing the great game actors like China and Russia from Central Asia. By the Tashkent Process, the US anticipated that China’s recent moves on Afghanistan could be weakened Chinese initiatives like China-Afghanistan-Pakistan (Foreign-minister level forum), the Shanghai Cooperation Organization (working group with Afghanistan) and, most important, to extend the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor into Afghanistan integrating that country with the Belt and Road Initiative.

The  Operation Enduring Freedom had launched by the Bush regime (2001), which has three major objectives like to root out the terrorist, to capture of Osama bin Laden, and the cessation of terrorist activities in Afghanistan, which are major threats not only to Afghanistan, rather the entire humanity at large. Notwithstanding the 1.5 lac boots on Afghanistan land and several peacemaking and peacebuilding mechanism in place, peace has remained a distant dream for Afghanistan. Whereas on the other hand, terrorist attacks have been increased exponentially. As per the  Annual Report of the UN Assistance Mission in Afghanistan (UNAMA), during 2017,  the killings (3,438), injured (7,015) and about civilian casualties (10,453) have taken place. The new South Asian Policy of the Trump regime has also been failed to show any positive sign in the Afghan security situation.

Conclusion

Tashkent has a past record of peacemaking for the countries such as of India and Pakistan (1966). Currently, it has taken a few steps for peacemaking for Afghanistan conflict including the International Conference (26-27 March 2018). Tashkent Declaration strongly advocated for the peace process which is led and built by the Afghans. It had suggested the guaranteed integration of the armed opposition into the Afghanistan political life. It had gone to the extent of suggesting that the same may be recognized as a legitimate political force for the success of the peace process. The main focus of the declaration was also to register strong opposition to all forms and manifestations of terrorism.

Notwithstanding the several peacemaking initiatives, the socio-economic challenges, ethnosectarian disputes, organized crimes and criminality, killing of soldiers and civilians, attacks of green over blue, exponentially growing rate of desertion among the Afghan soldiers, increasing control over geographical covers of  the non-state actors, and absence of peace are some of the existential threats, which have multiplied during the last two decades for Afghanistan. Even the latest meeting of the senior officials (The Heart of Asia – Istanbul Process, 19 April 2018) took, wherein a  delegation of the Uzbekistan Foreign Ministry had participated. In this meeting, again the participant countries had ruminated over the issues like security and the regional economic cooperation in general and the strengthening the confidence-building measures were in particular, for the stabilization and socio-economic recovery of Afghanistan.

Until geopolitics and mediation of third parties prevail, Tashkent Conference’s lofty and idealistic goals such as ‘peace, security, and regional connectivity’ would be like castles in the air. The people and politics of Afghans have to be wise enough to understand the great game led by external players, otherwise,  Tashkent Declaration could be a phony peacemaking process. Had these goals become part of Afghan people’s lives!!

Dr. Bawa Singh is teaching in the Centre for South and Central Asian Studies, School of Global Relations, Central University of Punjab, Bathinda, India-151001. bawasingh73[at]gmail.com

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South Asia

Kashmir Issue at the UNGA and the Nuclear Discourse

Haris Bilal Malik

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The Kashmir issue has more significance in view of the nuclearization of South Asia as many security experts around the world consider Kashmir a potential ‘nuclear flashpoint’ between India and Pakistan. The revocation of the special constitutional status of Kashmir by the BJP government on August 5, 2019, also referred to as Jammu and Kashmir Reorganization Act 2019 and the subsequent lockdown in Kashmir has since considerably increased political and diplomatic tensions between India and Pakistan. India’s recent moves and actions in Kashmir have once again internationalized the Kashmir dispute. This was evident during the UN General Assembly’s 74th Session, where the Kashmir issue remained a crucial agenda item for several countries.

During this year’s session prominent leaders of the world condemned Indian brutalities in Kashmir. Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan criticized the international community for failing to pay attention to the Kashmir conflict and called for dialogue to end this dispute. Malaysian Prime Minister Dr. Mahathir Mohamad said that Kashmir “has been invaded and occupied” by India despite the UN resolution on the issue. Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi also discussed the issue and called for a peaceful resolution of the dispute based on the UN Charter and Security Council resolutions. Based on the grave importance of Kashmir as a potential ‘nuclear flashpoint’ between India and Pakistan, Prime Minister Imran Khan, while addressing the UNGA warned the world community about the dangers of a nuclear war that according to him might break out over Kashmir due to Indian atrocities. The current situation appears to be the most critical time for both the countries and the region as both countries are nuclear-armed.

However, unfortunately, the Indian leaders and media perceived Prime Minister Imran Khan’s warning as a nuclear threat and termed it as ‘brinkmanship’. Contrary to this perspective, it is worth mentioning here that the Indian leadership itself is involved in negative nuclear signaling and war hysteria against Pakistan in recent months. For instance, the 2019 Indian General Election campaign of Prime Minister Modi was largely based on negative nuclear signaling comprising of several threats referring to the possible use of nuclear weapons against Pakistan. Furthermore, as an apparent shift from India’s ‘No First Use’ (NFU) policy, on August 16, 2019Indian Defence Minister Rajnath Singh, while on a visit to the Pokhran nuclear test site paid tribute to the late former Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee and asserted that India might review its NFU policy. He stated that a change in future circumstances would likely define the status of India’s NFU policy. Since then there is no official denial of this assertion from India which indicates that India might abandon its NFU policy.

Moreover, India’s offensive missile development programs and its growing nuclear arsenal which include; hypersonic missiles, ballistic missile defence systems, enhanced space capabilities for intelligence, reconnaissance, and surveillance and the induction of nuclear-powered ballistic-missile-capable submarines clearly indicate that India’s nuclear weapons modernization is aimed at continuously enhancing its deterrence framework including its second-strike capabilities vis-à-vis Pakistan. This is also evident from India’s military preparations under its more recent doctrines such as the 2017 Joint Doctrine of the Indian Armed Forces (JDIAF) and the 2018 Land Warfare Doctrine (LWD)which are also based upon more proactive offensive strategies and indirect threats of pre-emptive strikes against Pakistan.

As evident from the above-mentioned developments, it seems likely that India aspires to increasingly project itself as a regional hegemon and a potential superpower. The BJP government under Prime Minister Modi inspired by the Hindutva ideology is taking offensive measures under the notions of ‘a more Muscular or Modern India’ based on strong military preparedness. In such circumstances, Pakistan’s threat perception would likely remain increasingly inclined towards its eastern border. Pakistan due to its economic constraints would also likely face considerable difficulties in competing with India toe to toe with respect to its military modernization plans. Pakistan is already punching well above its weight, and nuclear deterrence would be the only way through which Pakistan can maintain a precise balance of power to preserve its security. This could only be carried out by deterring India with the employment of both minimum credible deterrence and full-spectrum deterrence capabilities. This posture clearly asserts that since Pakistan’s nuclear weapons are for defensive purposes in principle, they are aimed at deterring India from any and all kinds of aggression.

Hence, at the present India’s forceful annexation of occupied Kashmir and the resultant nuclear discourse at the UNGA has further intensified Pakistan-India tensions. Under present circumstances, the situation could easily trigger another politico-military escalation between India and Pakistan. Prime Minister Modi has bet his political reputation on his move to annex the region and his political career is on the line. The same way Pakistan’s politico-military establishment is equally unlikely back down from its stance on Kashmir. It would be difficult for both countries to come down from the escalation ladder because politico-military reputations would be at stake at both ends. Consequently, Pakistan might be forced to take action before India’s modernization plans get ahead and might respond even sooner.

The nuclear discourse in Prime Minister Imran Khan’s speech against the backdrop of the Kashmir crisis at such a high forum like UNGA would likely keep the issue internationalized. The situation demands the UN fulfill its responsibility of ensuring peace and to prevent billions of people from the dangers of a nuclear war. However, Indian blame game, aggressive behavior and offensive nuclear signaling against Pakistan all present a clear warning of nuclear war. It would greatly limit the prospects for international mediation especially by the United Nations whose resolutions on Kashmir clearly provide a right of self-determination to decide Kashmir’s future.  

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1.2 trillion rupees on the move: Modi’s greatest piece of purchase yet

Sisir Devkota

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Last week, the RBI (Reserve Bank of India) was taken aback by more than a surprise. Just when it was dealing with the uncomfortable series of events that led to the transfer of surplus 1.2 trillion rupees into the government of India; social media erupted. It quickly realized that losing the battle regarding the transfer would only add fuel to the hoax of closing down nine commercial banks. RBI enjoys considerable amount of autonomy and independence in the largest democracy, and still, it had to kneel down to Modi’s alleged quick fix.

The RBI would have to vouch for the government in times of need, it is primarily what is expected of the institution; but there was a great deal of discomfort in how the government justified it. A committee set up under the ex-governor, Mr Bimal Jalan, cited how central banks would not need so much of surplus to carry out their affairs. Effectively, it was an order, not a request, which became the underlying discomfort behind RBI’s hesitancy in adhering to the views of capital transfer committee. Not that anyone expected the central lender to protest longer, it did however, request Mr Jalan to reconsider the decision at the face of various consequences. To say the least, it was embarrassing for a premier financial institution to be put under the public eye. The social media hoax was another ridicule of the sickly RBI. In the tales of grand conquests, the victorious army steals the wealth from the losing party. Similarly, the BJP led government in India are redefining all forms of state tools in favour of their interests.

Stolen wealth is most often than not used to correct economic blunders. Just like in the tales of grand conquests, the decision to transfer national wealth from the reserve bank is nothing new. It is nevertheless baffling, that the money transfer is looping in the same direction. While the BJP government in India were imposing a comprehensive GST (Goods and Service Tax) policy, they would not have anticipated complaints from large industries over decreased consumer consumption. For a party that is now known to redefine the legitimacy of governance, falling prey to NBFC’s (Non-bank Financial Companies) incompetence or bankruptcy is a visible defeat. Unlike many other soaring economies, there are large group of subsidiary lenders operating in India. On hindsight, economic policies are barely creating tunnels through which the capital is getting recycled in the same loop. Revenues are not generating further revenues. It is merely closing down on its self-inflicted gap.

The Security and Exchange Board of India (SEBI) almost played with fire. Uncharacteristically, it proposed a framework to work together with the RBI in order to claim outstanding defaults from high value clients. The RBI was never going to agree with a defaming offer as such but the incident did fuel the argument of capital shuffling. It only makes the bluff look more real. A strategic plan to counter all measures that would have blocked the transfer of trillions. As Mr Jalan sheepishly implied how the importance of central bank and what is does is only limited to the public perception, RBI fought a fix in between larger or rather dangerous political agendas. Consolidating requests from SEBI to only fall into the whims of the government shows the lack lustre personality of the central funding institution. For the time being, Narendra Modi has his way, a theft of national treasure-like his opposition colleague Rajiv Gandhi expressed in the media. However, there will also be a far-fetched evaluation of Modi’s actions. A move of 1.2 trillion rupees in the same pot. Not by any means, a cunning cover up.

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Walking the tight rope: India’s Diplomatic Strategy in the Middle East

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India’s diplomatic corps have been resolutely articulating India’s stances and furthering its interests in the international fora where multiple challenges emanating from historical and contemporary contexts are being faced. One important factor which India’s astute foreign policy makers have faced is the complicated and crucial engagement with the Middle East. There are multiple facets to India’s engagement in the contemporary context that add to this complexity. One, India’s old adversary and neighbor Pakistan has upped the ante in its diplomatic blitzkrieg especially within the Muslim world. Second India’s has varied strategic interests in the warring Middle East factions. Third, the economic interdependencies and the crisis in the international trade in the Trump era has further complicated India’s position as an economic actor in the region. While there are various constituent elements of India’s Middle East outreach, the contemporaneous concerns relate more to its relationship with the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia, Islamic Republic of Iran and the Republic of Turkey.

India and Saudi Arabia have historically engaged in deep and multi-dimensional political, economic, cultural, defence and strategic cooperation. Saudi Arabia has long been an important Indian trade partner; the Kingdom remains a vital source of energy for India, which imports almost a fifth of its crude oil requirement from Saudi Arabia. Enhanced security cooperation has added a new dimension in the bilateral ties between New Delhi and Riyadh. Recently, Indian PM Narendra Modi was conferred with the highest civilian award of the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia even as the top leadership continues to send signals of deep comradarie and solidarity.

With the ascent of the crown prince Mohammad Bin Salman, various layers in this important diplomatic relationship have surfaced. This has happened in a particularly peculiar geopolitical and geostrategic context where both countries have faced tough challenges to their internal stability and international position. While Kingdom of Saudi Arabia is still emerging from the consequences of the massive attack in its oil fields as well as the widespread criticism of humanitarian crisis in Yemen at the international fora, India is grappling with international criticism and discourse about the situation in Kashmir in context of dilution of its political autonomy as well as prolonged information and communication blackout.KSA has had a mediating role in the Indo-Pak tussle since Pulwama and how this hyphenation has led to competitive photo-ops of diplomatic support. Even as KSA has stood by Indian leadership’s vital interests. However, the Pakistani leadership has been relentless in its attempts to appeal to the leader of the Islamic world for vital economic and diplomatic support, especially in context of the Kashmir situation. Even as Saudi Arabia has managed this delicate equation with deftness, it has given in to Pakistan’s economic demands while making a symbolic gesture of closeness by offering the private jet to Pakistani Prime Minister for his visit to the West.  It doesn’t help that the Indian economy is going through a rough phase. However, the audacious announcement to invest $100 Billion in the fledgling Indian economy is a bold testament of the veritable and vibrant economic partnership between New Delhi and Riyadh. It is pertinent to note that in the contemporaneous challenges that the countries face, Iran as well as Pakistan emerge as key actors that affect the bilateral engagement in a pronounced manner.

Iran is India’s historic ally and third largest supplier of crude oil. However, the India-Iran relationship transcends oil. India, with an investment of $500 million, aims to develop Iran’s Chabahar port as a transit hub for Afghanistan, Central Asia, and the International North-South Transport Corridor (INSTC). Additionally, India is developing two gas fields, namely Farzad-B gas field located in Tehran and the South Pars field located between Iran and Qatar. These projects clearly highlight India’s long-term engagement with Iran. However, India’s muted response to US pressure has been causing slight tension in the bilateral relationship. Even though the top-level bilateral meeting between Indian premier Modi and his Iranian counterpart Hassan Rouhani was successful to diffuse tensions to an extent. The crisis in Yemen, oil trade and even India’s action in Kashmir continue to affect the relationship.

In this context, the challenges emanating from Turkey are also a sign of worry. Even as Turkey has remained an old ally of Pakistan and a supporter of the ‘Kashmiri’ cause, its open support for a rather lonely Pakistan should cause some worry in India’s strategic circles. This is because India has fine diplomatic relations with Turkey and has considerable economic and trade interests.

However, oil being an important consumer and agricultural good in India’s economy, it is important to secure its interests to have access to reliable and affordable Iranian crude oil. The trade negotiations and engagements with the US haven’t had any headway even as the threat of sanctions for buying oil from Iran continues. India could emerge as a trouble-solver in this context especially since this KSA-Iran conflict in oil supply context has global implications. PM Modi’s personal chemistry with the US leadership could be useful in this context.

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