An Indian perspective on Afghan peace-process

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Afghanistan is staring at a massive political uncertainty with the United States preparing to exit the war-torn nation by 2021. America’s withdrawal from Afghanistan could ultimately end up in the coronation of the Taliban in Kabul, hence returning to the despotic times of the Islamic Emirates of Afghanistan. Even though the ongoing intra-Afghan peace talks involving the nominees of the Afghanistan civilian government and the members of Taliban are pacing up in Doha, chances of materialising these assurances are slim. Due to the emergence of factions within the Taliban and other terrorist outfits trying to establish their bases in Afghanistan, there are possibilities of a prolonged civil war once the American forces are pulled out. The result of peace-process will have a massive impact on the region itself. Therefore the Taliban’s possible access to power in Afghanistan has worried New Delhi since Pakistan could make this an opportunity to create fresh troubles in the region to further expedite their doctrine of ‘bleed India with a thousand cuts’.

The United States entered Afghanistan in 2001 to avenge the killings of 2,977 of its citizens by an Al-Qaeda attack on the World Trade Centre. Al-Qaeda had the patronage of the Taliban and was operating from Afghanistan. America’s military invasion had lead to the removal of the Taliban government. Later Hamid Karzai got appointed as the president of the Islamic Republic of Afghanistan with the blessings of U.S. For the past two decades, U.S troops were in constant encounters with the Taliban terrorists and lost over 2,441 soldiers to the rebel onslaught. Even after the U.S indulging in fully-fledged warfare and spending billions, the Taliban still controlled around 20% of districts in Afghanistan. They were in constant fights with the allied forces for taking the procession of another 50% districts. The U.S was successful in exterminating the prominent terrorists of Taliban, Al-Qaeda and the Islamic State of Khorasan Province (ISKP), new leadership kept on popping up regularly. Hence, the ultimate motto of cleansing Afghanistan from the Jihadi elements was never met. 

President Obama was keen on exiting Afghanistan from the later part of his first presidency. Even though the number of troops decreased gradually, the process had to be stalled multiple times due to various terrorist attacks. But back home there was a rising rage among the public for spending their money in a far off land yielding nothing. At this juncture, the U.S government was quick to realise that that they had no military solution to put on the table. Thus through interlocutors, the American government reached out to the Taliban to formulate a respectable exit plan for the U.S. This plan reached a milestone when the Taliban and the United States signed an agreement on February 29, 2020 paving way for the Intra-Afghan talks beginning from September 12, 2020.

Afghan government released 5,000 Taliban rebels in exchange of 1,000 Afghan soldiers who were held as hostages by the Islamic radicals. With the peace talks gaining progress, there could be a demand for the release of more rebels. These people are trained in modern warfare and have the experience of combating U.S troops in strenuous mountainous terrain. Following the abrogation of Article 370, there has been a military crackdown on the terrorists and their affiliates in Kashmir. Many of the terrorist organisations operating in the valley face leadership vacuum since the Indian military is quick to identify prominent terrorists and then neutralises them. Pakistan, which is known for its proximity with the Taliban, might use them to create trouble in Kashmir. It was during the Taliban’s regime Indian Airlines flight 814 was hijacked by the terrorists and taken to Kandahar in Afghanistan. India had no option but to free terrorists like Maulana Masood Azhar, Mushtaq Ahmed Zargar and Ahmed Omar Saeed Sheikh in return of 160 passengers.  Also, Afghanistan is notorious for the production of Cannabis, Opium and other drugs. Taliban earns around $200 million a year selling Opium alone. Pakistan has been using narcoterrorism as an instrument to create social unrest in India. The Indian state of Punjab, which shares international borders with Pakistan, has been thoroughly affected by the drugs menace. Taliban’s total control over the drug production and its supply can be smuggled to India through ISI backed channels, further deteriorating the existing situation.   

Afghanistan is of immense strategic importance as far as India is concerned. This landlocked country is seen as India’s pavement to Central Asia since Pakistan cannot be a trusted ally for historical reasons. India has contributed more than $3 billion for the reconstruction of Afghanistan which includes their Parliament, Dams, Schools and many other projects. India had even allotted Lucknow’s Ekana Stadium as the home ground for the Afghanistan national cricket team. Bollywood movies are still popular in Afghanistan. What needs to be seen is the Taliban’s approach towards India. The Spokesperson of Taliban, Suhail Shaheen’s tweet read “The statement published in the media about Taliban joining Jihad in Kashmir is wrong…. The policy of the Islamic Emirate is clear that it does not interfere in the internal affairs of other countries.” This tweet caught the diplomatic community by surprise. It is a known fact that the Taliban’s deputy leader Sirajuddin Haqqani operates the Haqqani network which has organic bonding with the Kashmiri separatist groups. 

Sirajuddin Haqqani, in a recent op-ed piece that he wrote for the New York Times shared the vision that the Taliban has for Afghanistan. He wrote “liberated from foreign domination and interference, we together will find a way to build an Islamic system in which all Afghans have equal rights, where the rights of women that are granted by Islam.” What Taliban did to the minorities and women in Afghanistan during their 5 year rule was brutal and condemned by the global community. But Haqqani concluded this essay on a positive note by saying that “the new Afghanistan will be a responsible member of the international community”. But it needs to be seen whether the Taliban relinquishes its claim for strict Sharia laws and makes concessions on democracy which they consider as a western poison.

 For all these years, India was hesitant to deal directly with the Taliban. But an evolving approach towards the Taliban is on cards with the Indian External Affairs Minister Dr S Jaishankar virtually attending the Intra-Afghan peace talks. He even gave India’s warning to the rebels that “Afghanistan’s soil shouldn’t be used for anti-India activities”. It will be interesting to see how China deals with the Taliban after wooing Iran with a $400 billion deal. With the possibility of enormous political changes after the signing of the agreement between the Afghanistan government and the Taliban, its after-effects will be experienced in the entire South Asian region. India has no other choice but to engage with the about to be formed dispensation in the Kabul. 

Ganesh Puthur
Ganesh Puthur
The writer is a political analyst and holds a masters degree in History from the Department of History, University of Hyderabad, India. He writes articles on topics pertaining to International affairs, History and Indian politics.

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