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Waiting for the Intra-Afghan Dialogue to Begin

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The COVID-19 pandemic has led to rapidly growing uncertainty at the global and regional levels. The United States has been hit particularly hard, and in the most unexpected of ways, and is now facing a serious internal crisis with a number of unknowns. Moving forward, this may lead political elites to question many of the postulates of Washington’s domestic and foreign policies, which had until recently seemed unshakable and immune to erosion.

And now Trump, trying to get ahead of events and ride his luck into the November elections, has announced that a plan for social change is in the works. Speaking recently to graduates of the West Point Military Academy, the President unexpectedly announced that the U.S. military would “no longer rebuild other countries” and “solve other people’s conflicts,” which is noteworthy because the country’s leaders typically use this occasion to publicly formulate the main postulates of the United States’ foreign and military policies. Let us recall, for example, the South Asian concept (the so-called AfPac) put forward by Barack Obama during a speech at West Point in 2008. The primary objective of AfPac was to withdraw U.S. troops from Afghanistan in a phased and painless manner (to the extent that this was possible) while at the same time partially shifting the focus of U.S. policy in the region to resolving the longstanding conflict between the central authorities in Kabul and the Taliban movement. However, Washington was unable to achieve any real progress in either of these areas during Obama’s presidency (the George W. Bush administration was equally unsuccessful here).

The issue of Afghanistan has become a real headache for Donald Trump. When he came to office, he vowed to put an end to the Afghan adventure of his predecessors, without harming the pro-American regime in Kabul. But before any real progress could be made in this direction, the United States first had to engage in difficult negotiations with the Taliban, which began in the autumn of 2018 and clearly raised the ire of the central government in the Afghan capital. The Taliban had initially insisted on the unconditional withdrawal of U.S. contingents from the country and wanted nothing to do with the government of Afghanistan, expecting, and not without good reason, that it would simply capitulate in the face armed and aggressive opponents. In the end, after 18 months of shuttle diplomacy on the part of Special Representative for Afghanistan Reconciliation Zalmay Khalilzad, the parties finally came to an agreement in February 2020 and signed a joint document stating that, in exchange for the withdrawal of troops, the Taliban would launch a dialogue with Kabul on the division of power and cut all ties with the terrorist structures of al-Qaeda.

Both sides claimed that they had got the better end of the deal. Washington balanced the agreement by promising that it had not abandoned its military and political obligations to Kabul. For their part, the Taliban consolidated their military and political status as one of the sides in the Afghan conflict, speaking on behalf of the unrecognized Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan (although the reaction to the agreement on the part of the Taliban movement’s military commanders was somewhat mixed). All this notwithstanding, the Taliban, as before, were content to sit back and wait for the coalition government in Kabul to quickly collapse. And these were not empty hopes, as the internal strife within the ruling elite threatened to give the Taliban exactly what they wanted. The contradictions led to yet another large-scale political crisis following the hotly contested presidential elections in 2019. Just like the last election in 2014, opposition leader Abdullah Abdullah did not recognize the legitimacy of the results that saw Ashraf Ghani retain his position as the country’s president and set about organizing his own parallel government. The dispute remained unresolved until March 2020, when Washington threatened to suspend its rather generous financial assistance.

Under the new agreement, several ministerial posts were handed over to Abdullah’s supporters, while Abdullah himself was named Chairman of the Supreme National Reconciliation Council, making him the second-highest ranking official in the country. The Council’s mandate includes holding negotiations with the Taliban movement, although any agreements made as a result of these talks will have to be approved by the President. In this regard, it is entirely possible that Abdullah’s status may become politically vulnerable due to the unpredictability and numerous pitfalls of the upcoming intra-Afghan negotiations. The fact that Abdullah’s appointment was met without any real enthusiasm by the Taliban could also be an important factor here, although they did confirm that they were willing to negotiate, nonetheless. At the same time, the Taliban did not want the negotiations to take place on neutral territory and successfully lobbied for them to be held in Doha, where the previous agreements with the United States had been hammered out, and where the organization maintains its political office.

While Trump did not explicitly mention Afghanistan at West Point, he did not have to. Everybody understood what he was talking about. All the more so because the President had discussed his intention to pull troops out the country before the elections in November. Only time will tell whether or not he will actually do it. The thing is, if we do not see any real steps made in the intra-Afghan process, then the Americans will find it increasingly difficult to put on a happy face. This is what makes the joint call of the special representatives of Russia, China, Iran and Pakistan for foreign troops in Afghanistan to “withdraw in an orderly and responsible manner to ensure a smooth transition” published on May 18, 2020, particularly relevant. Both the government of Afghanistan and U.S. officials have made it clear that they are ready to open the intra-Afghan dialogue, which could take place very soon. In fact, discussions are already underway in Kabul regarding the rules of the meeting and the creation of its working and administrative bodies. Meanwhile, several external actors who have a vested interest in Afghanistan’s future have gone to great lengths to show the world that they should be the ones to host the negotiations.

In the midst of all this, almost no one is talking about what the main substantive content of the negotiations should actually be. To begin with, the talks should not revolve around the division of power (that is, what powers each side will be vested with and what state and other structures they will control). Instead, they should focus on the very political, ideological and economic basis of the future power structure in Afghanistan.

Right now, Kabul and the Taliban have diametrically opposite views on this issue. For example, the central government calls for a republican form of government based on the principles of moderate Islam and respect for the fundamental documents of modern international law. Meanwhile, the Taliban continues to promote the concept of building a fundamentalist Islamic emirate, something that it reiterated following the recent negotiations with the United States. And it does this despite the fact that the overwhelming majority of external actors (both inside and outside the region) have unequivocally stated that the Taliban’s claims to sole rule in Afghanistan are unacceptable. Given all this, it would seem that the only way for the parties to come to an agreement on the future state structure of the country is if concessions are made on both sides.

The international and regional community could, and indeed should, play a big role in this process. We are talking primarily here about countries in the immediate vicinity of, or in close proximity to, Afghanistan, as well as about the European Union. All these countries have been keeping a close eye on events in Afghanistan over the years, and during this time, they have developed a number of common approaches to how they see the future of the country, with unconditional respect for its sovereignty and territorial integrity. The consultations between the members of the tripartite group consisting of the United States, Russia and China set up to more or less coincide with the launch of U.S.–Taliban negotiations proved instrumental in moving the process forward. Russia then pushed for the mechanism to be expanded to the 3-plus format to include Iran and Pakistan, but Washington’s desire to isolate Tehran from the Afghan problem as much as possible meant that the proposal did not have its intended effect.

At the same time, a number of structures have been set up in recent years both inside and outside the region that have, among other things, set out the common positions of all the participants in the intra-Afghan dialogue. In this regard, alongside the launch of this dialogue, it may be worthwhile to hold an international conference where all interested parties from outside the region could come together to reaffirm their stances on the problem of intra-Afghan reconciliation. Such an event may go a long way in preventing the future negotiations from getting bogged down in low-priority, fleeting issues that will take attention away from real, long-term problems.

From our partner RIAC

Ambassador Extraordinary and Plenipotentiary of the Russian Federation. Senior Research Fellow at the Institute of International Research, MGIMO University, RIAC member.

South Asia

The Need for Feminist Foreign Policy in India

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As more and more research is being done, there is a definitive link that connects gender equality with international prosperity and welfare; giving an equal opportunity for half the population can’t be just out of moral obligation. It is necessary for the economy and security of a nation. Currently, with resources that are in short supply, the way to maintain a good governance, growth in the economy, health, peace and security is to invest in women and girls. Various countries are promoting gender equality through development, diplomatic and security activities. Countries like Sweden, Canada, France and Mexico have adopted a comprehensive foreign policy that advances gender equality called “Feminist Foreign Policy.” India as a rising great power has to consider a more inclusive foreign policy.

Gender is hardly recognized or given importance when it comes to policy conversations, even though it plays a significant role in peace and security. It is often considered that it side-tracks the main problems with regard to international security and great power competition. However, there is no need for the contradiction between the two. A sign to see how far gender equality is embedded in society is to know the number of women in leadership positions, specifically in departments of security or even the academic study of security where the number of women is less.

According to research, women’s engagement in economics, politics, peace, and security procedures will result in stronger economic development, fewer human rights violations, and peace. Women empowerment is important for a country that aims to promote global security, increase the use of their foreign aid and continue to support stable and democratic allies. In the previous decade, numerous nations have adopted gender mainstreaming in their foreign policy. The critical areas of progress that have systematized gender equality are administration, strategy, and resource management. This comprehensive effort of bringing in gender equality in foreign policy is called as Feminist Foreign Policy. A foreign policy with a political framework focused on the security and safety of the marginalized community can be defined as a Feminist Foreign Policy.

The approach for defining and adopting a Feminist Foreign Policy will vary between counties and regions, depending on their lived experiences. However, that a conversation on Feminist Foreign Policy is an important one is under no debate, happening at a time when gender norms are evolving in our society. In the present-day scenario, there are countries around the world have laws preventing women from carrying out jobs in sectors like mining, manufacturing and construction, and millions of women live in countries where domestic violence is not punishable, gender mainstreaming in broader policy objectives and wider adoption of FFP can shape the future of our civilization.

In India’s foreign aid and assistance gender can be highlighted in bilateral as well as through multilateral institutions, directly impacting the neighborhood, as well as partners in Asia, Africa, Eastern Europe, Latin America, the Caribbean and Pacific and Small Island countries.

In a historic feat, India was elected as a non-permanent member of the United Nations Security Council on June 18, 2020.  Following that, India also became a member of the prestigious UN Commission on the Status of Women in September 2020. India committed to pay attention to its efforts on peacekeeping, peacebuilding and women’s inclusion. In August, 2021 India assumed a month long UNSC presidency where it ended with its first resolution being passed on the Afghanistan situation demanding that the territory not be used for training terrorists. India’s diplomatic framework has embraced tools for soft power. The strategic moves taken up by India can be seen as step towards uplifting women.

A feminist foreign policy would give India a chance to create a beneficial surrounding for peace, remove domestic barriers against women, and also help in building strong bilateral partnerships. With India being surrounded by adversaries along its borders, this approach would also allow India to show itself as a nation that gives importance to various issues; have a better performance in indicators and indexes that are curated to assess the development of countries and gender gap such as the Global Gender Index and Gender Inequality Index; set an example for other nations and contribute continuously towards women empowerment.

It could also be a starting point for an internal shift with regards to India’s domestic context, particularly in terms of preconceived patriarchal gender roles, in which women are seen to be inferior to men. Empirical research has mentioned that for a progressive social and economic development of a nation, gender equality is a requirement. By removing the prevailing barriers that restrict the participation of women and other communities that are marginalized, India would develop a more inclusive policy. Domestic policies need to have a gendered lens that can protect the marginalized. Without having a balance internally, a feminist foreign policy will not sustain.

An FFP will give a major boost to the country’s international relations when its committed to women empowerment and extensively build a stronger partnership with countries that have adopted feminist foreign policy, for example, countries like Mexico, Canada and Sweden or those that are supporters of gender equality. Thus, FFP would allow India to deepen its commitments and make an impact as an emerging power.

Giving importance to human security and gender issues, would put India in a better position to achieve its international power ambitions. India slipped to 140th rank from 112th in the World Economic Forum’s Global Gender Gap Index 2020 – 2021. This is primarily due to the lack of political representation, absence of technical and leadership roles, inequal income, reducing women labour force participation rate, lack of proper health care and the literacy ratio gap between men and women.

A major boost for India would be a significantly better performance in the Global Gender Gap Index. This would lead to India becoming a role model for various countries. India can be an example by achieving gender parity in a variety of social indicators that is very important to assess a country’s development.

India’s record on women’s rights—or rather, women’s oppression—makes it far-fetched to quickly and successfully take on an FFP structure. Man-centric qualities are so profoundly instilled inside Indian culture that India has barely figured out how to achieve an adjustment of the arrangement of disparity at home. Subsequently, it does not have the credibility to take up feminist qualities in its international partnerships. An FFP approach may not just help India in cultivating imaginative ways of reasoning, yet in addition permit it to expand upon its traditional perspective on security, work with various representations, and develop strong bilateral partnerships.

Before adopting a Feminist Foreign Policy, India also needs to bring a change within the policies of the country. It is crucial for women to shape the outcomes and can’t just be receptacles, especially in peacebuilding, reconstruction and rebuilding. There are more women joining the Indian Foreign Service, but the Ministry has to make sure that they are taken up to the highest rank. The thought that women can’t handle challenging issues must be changed.

A feminist foreign policy would provide equal opportunity and basic human rights to women, girls, and other marginalised communities. A feminist foreign policy will aid India’s bilateral and multilateral alliances, as well as its attainment of great power status. For a feminist foreign policy to succeed, a country must first establish gender equality within its borders.

 Gender is clearly a significant factor in India’s development assistance. It must, however, be expanded to include other aspects of economy and security. Gender equality must be implemented within India. More women in government are needed.

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South Asia

Crisis in Sri Lanka and The India-South Asia Challenges: Way Forward

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Authors: Dr Aditya Anshu and Nipun Tyagi*

Lot of articles and theories which are describing the current state of Sri Lanka and major factors that contributed towards the deteriorating performance of Sri Lankan economy. The ongoing Sri Lankan crisis has been examined by experts from global economic perspective and regional security but India as a country faces multi-faceted challenges, which must be managed sensibly. The approach of India should be balanced and crafted politically as well as diplomatically to protect the strategic Indian interest in Indo pacific region and to counter the influence of China and its expansionist policy.

To believe economist and experts on Sri Lanka, the blame initially was colored upon the COVID 19 pandemic for economic fall and disparity that engulfed the Island nation. It was argued trade has been adversely hit, the foreign remittances from the tourist were near to none, which possibly caters biggest foreign currency deposit. To add, the series of deadly bomb blast in 2019 at Colombo could be direct possible connection towards the decreasing number of tourists in Sri Lanka. Hitherto no expert or possible specialist cared to argue the failure of Rajapaksa brothers far-right nationalist policy of last 10 years was creating a liability trap for Sri Lanka along with creating deep cleavage in peaceful multicultural society.

The ramifications of the ongoing war between Ukraine and Russia are also creating difficulties and is one of the other prominent factors for the sluggish economic conditions of Sri Lanka. The Russia – Ukraine war has further exacerbated the economic calamity of the country as Russia is the second biggest market to Sri Lanka in tea exports. On the other hand, Sri Lanka’s tourism sector is heavily reliant upon these two nations for the tourist arrivals. As a result, the Ukrainian crisis has further created an adverse graph of already ailing economy of Sri Lanka. 

When Rajapaksa-led governments, liaising with extremist Buddhist ideology, entered with full majority in Sri Lankan political regime post 2009. This resulted in the end of over the ground ethnic persecution of Tamil and other minorities community. However, the persecution and intimidation continued in more subtle and systematic way for Tamils and other minority groups resulting division, hate and selective development. Being anti-minority became the symbol of jingoistic nationalism which helped Rajapaksa winning elections for next two decades.

On the Indian domestic front, Congress and other opposition parties are comparing Indian economy and its slothful growth with Sri Lankan crisis and blaming government for inflation, food crisis, rising unemployment and imbalance of economic situations. Significantly, inter-religion conflicts, caste division, income disparity and rising unemployment in India has been severely criticized by opposition parties and civil society groups drawing similarity of parallel class conflicts in Sri Lanka during the period of 1990 till now. The political parties alleged that ruling BJP is adopting the same Sri Lankan pattern to prosecute the minorities and ignoring economic turbulence which can be resulted for crashing Indian economy in the long run. But in view of scholars and academics it would be too early to comment on the opposition political parties assertion on government and about the Indian economy’s performance, nevertheless India needs to seriously monitor the situation with caution that is developing in Sri Lanka on various-fronts.

The first and the foremost issue which needs to be handled cautiously will be that of displaced migrants landing on Indian shores. The impact of the Sri Lankan crisis can increase the burden of refuges towards India. It will be very challenging for India to absorb the possible migration from Sri Lankan for food, shelter, and job opportunities; creating clusters in southern cites in which they can be deprived of basic human needs and rights. To cater women and children will not only be tasking for India but also can create a situation like Rohingya crisis. The proximity of Sri Lankan peoples to southern Indian states can help them to enter Indian territories which may disturb the sovereignty, regional stability, and could be the cause of national security of the country. “There is no accurate data on the number of refugees, but India has about 400,000 refugees including 238,222 recognized and documented refugees according to the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) Report, 2021.

The second issue of concern for Indian government is to handle security challenges, regional security, peace and maintenance of law and order in India and South Asia. There are several reports which indicated the presence of Islamic State (IS) and other terror outfits active in southern states of India which can manipulate and employ the poor migrants landing on Indian shores for terror and illegal activities.  Investigation in a series of cases by the National Investigation Agency (NIA), a federal agency to counter terror has revealed numerous times about the strong presence of Islamic State (IS) in the southern states of India.  The Ministry of Home Affairs confirmed in the Rajya Sabha (Upper House) of Parliament on 16 September 2020 about 17 cases registered related to the presence of Islamic State (IS) by in southern States of Telangana, Kerala, Andhra Pradesh, Karnataka, and Tamil Nadu resulting to arrest of 122 accused.

There is no doubt that deep set networks for terror finance, extreme ideology and human resources connected with Sri Lanka exist in parts of Southern India. It is already evident after the terror events of 2019 in Sri Lanka and activation of all these will spell potential threat to security of South-Asia in general and India in particular.  The IS and other terrorist organization may take the advantage of internal violence and fragile administrative capability in Sri Lanka and can become serious threats for India’s national security.

To extend further, it would be very dangerous for the country like India to have the political and economic instability in neighboring countries as near as Sri Lanka. This might trigger a ‘domino-effect’ in the region, creating socio-economic imbalance in South-Asia.  The recent political and economic changes in Sri Lanka have created a threat for India’s vision for regional stability and security in South-Asia region.  In 2014 government of India launched Act East policy focusing on boosting economic co-operation, building infrastructure for greater connectivity, improving important strategic & security ties, and Greater focus on defense cooperation with East and Southeast Asia countries. India’s ‘Neighborhood First’ policy towards Sri Lanka had resonated with Sri Lanka’s ‘India First’ foreign and security policy in 2020. Therefore, the role of India becomes very important as well as challenging, to help the Sri Lanka maintain its peaceful internal order and to counter the debt trap policy of China.

Geopolitical experts have also argued that India can make use of this opportunity to revamp its diplomatic ties with Sri Lanka, which have been at distant owing Sri Lanka’s proximity with China under Rajapaksa’s rule. It would be strategically and geopolitically important for India to extend assistance to Sri Lanka during this crisis times for a better and conducive atmosphere in southern Indian ocean area.

Sri Lanka’s economic collapse may be an opportunity for India to swing the pendulum back with massive financial assistance to Sri Lanka. This has been followed up with India’s four-pronged economic and financial assistance approach to Sri Lanka. It includes credit lines for the import of food, fuel, and medicines; currency swaps to boost foreign exchanges; modernization; and holistic investments, in the sectors of renewable energy, ports, logistics, infrastructure, connectivity, and maritime security.

As a friendly and cooperative neighbor, India must carry multiple role and responsibility for Sri Lanka’s political stability, economic recovery, and strategic security where with right-intent diplomatic strategy is the key to determining India’s geopolitical influence in the region to counter interventionist China and its not so friendly policies. We cannot ignore the fact that turmoil in Sri Lanka is always perceived to influence India. That was in a speech by the then US Defence Secretary Robert Gates in the 2009 edition of the “Shangri La Dialogue”, when he said, “We look to India to be a partner and net provider of security in the Indian Ocean and beyond…”. It  is the time for India to come forward and prove it .

*Nipun Tyagi is scholar of Defense & Strategic Studies and Currently looks the International Office at Bennet University, India.

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South Asia

Understanding Current Economic Havoc in Pakistan

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Economic position of Pakistan is incompatible with its economic potential. It has wide range of natural resources encompassing, reserves for chemical, industrial, and textile businesses. It also possesses prevalent network of rivers i.e. support for agro-production and huge potential of hydroelectric energy generation. As well as, it has opulent mountainous ranges containing precious minerals like copper, gold, granite etc. Above and beyond, the country is rich in other economic ignitors like agro-industry, livestock, construction industry, tourism, and small manufacturing industries. Despite such huge economic capability and ingenious global-market-penetration capacity, the country still fails to turn its status as a developed economy.

Surely, one will eagerly strive to dig out the stumbling block that halts economic development in the country. Reason is apparent i.e. archaic, oblivious and biased policy mechanism, comprised of, obsolescent policy framework, egocentric political frat and inapt intervention of transnational entities in policy structure.

Policymaking fraternity in Pakistan seems inept at managing the crisis with prescience due to unawareness of modern-global policy making tools. They appear to be inexperienced in dealing with the colossal economic disorder because of frail strategic approach for resource management and lack of expertise to prioritize best choice during policy formulation. This incompetence, in policy machinery, paves the way for an unending jumble of economic crisis in the state. 

Moreover, the policies in Pakistan remained prey of vested interests of political leaders. The elected public representatives appear to be more focused on personal gains regardless of public welfare. So forth, the country’s political culture is transformed from serving people to tug of war for reigns of governance. This paradigm shift in political role of leaders created an environment of wandering competition between different political groups. On one hand certain political groups have joined together to jolt their common opponent through all possible gambits. On the other hand the latter try to revive its governance control by hook or crook. Resultantly, the economic affairs of the state are ruined by the unsympathetic leaders, who, deemed to fail in addressing the remedies to eradicate the current economic turmoil from the country.

Additionally, the transnational companies cause a severe threat to economic activity in Pakistan. They play a major role in downgrading the policy making process in the country. The companies influence the policy makers to drive the policies in their favor to boost their market share for retaining their decades-long monopoly in open market. This monopolized market structure minimizes the opportunity for new entrepreneurs and creates a gap in demand and supply of commodities. Resultantly, a market in-equilibrium appears in the country which further exaggerates the rise in prices and leave people with minimal choice of commodities.

Consequently, the above perils drowned the country into economic catastrophe. Foreign debt burden, imbalance of payments, high inflation rates, low production and depreciation of currency created a dilemma of muddle for financial institutions of the country. Most of the industries including automobile, textile, stock market, agricultural production and transportation are at the brink of fiasco. The incumbent government is looking feebly towards IMF for bailouts on hard conditions that further will increase debt burden on the ex-chequer of Pakistan. State bank reserves are declining swiftly. Consequently, tax burden on public commodities is increasing day by day. Simultaneously, consistent increase in dollar rate puts pressure on Pakistani rupee. Import of products like Mineral fuels including oil, electrical equipment, iron, steel, pharmaceuticals, Animal/vegetable fats, oils, waxes, plastics, plastic articles, organic chemicals, oil seeds, in short, each and every commodity of day to day utility has become more costly. Down to that an overall inflation is raising its head which further ignites poverty in the country. Moreover, hike in petroleum prices owing to twofold reason i.e. global price increase due to Russia-Ukraine War and IMF conditions to impose petroleum development levy, aggrandized heavy tolls on transportation, food industry and  other economic activities around the country.

 Thus, for a prosperous economic state, it is need of the hour to ponder over the above roots of the current economic turmoil and eradicate the menaces with prudence and efficient manner. Policy makers should adapt modern approaches while policy formulation. They should include most of the options with clarity and succinct way to remove all kinds of uncertainties and to prioritize the best one amongst the chosen ones for implementation. Politics should be for public service not for self-interests. Political groups should reevaluate their vision and endeavor for the country to make it a shining star in the galaxy of the world. Policy implementation should be equitable and equal. Intervention of transnational business groups and pressure groups in policy procedures should be condemned. Market competition must be supported through easy and doable policies for new entrepreneurs. So that, a healthy competition between the entities may be created to maintain market equilibrium and eradicate monopoly of fewer business units.  

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