Pakistan, ever willing to extend their hand to their one time prodigies and aiming to see them in control in Afghanistan as their proxies were quick to claim credit for arranging the negotiations between USA and Taliban.
By Brig NK Bhatia
India would be looking to redeem its stature and significance with respect to its relevance in Afghanistan in the backdrop of fast-paced negotiations between US and Taliban.
Two important developments have taken place with respect to Afghanistan during the last one week.
The USA and the Taliban have reached an understanding for seven days “reduction in violence” covering entire Afghanistan commencing February 22 wherein the Taliban would cease roadside and suicide bombings to be followed by a formal signing of an Agreement in 10 days, tentatively fixed for February 29, in exchange for the release of 5000 Taliban fighters by Afghan government prior to commencement of final negotiations.
The above developments are part of negotiations held on sidelines of annual Security Conference in Munich from February 14 to 16 between the USA, represented by US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and Defence Secretary Mark Esper and Afghan President Ashraf Ghani.
As part of the deal, the USA desperate for a face-saving withdrawal of troops from Afghanistan would immediately commence the homeward journey of approximately 5000 US troops out of a total of approximately 14000 troops currently in Afghanistan. The remaining troops are likely to continue their assistance to Afghan security forces to meet the security challenges.
While the above are broader contours of an agreement with the Taliban, the other developments relating to confirmation of current President Ashraf Ghani as the winner in Presidential elections held five months back have put a question mark over the proposed US Taliban ceasefire. With over 9.6 million voters forming the electorate, the result is based on the outcome of fewer than two million votes.
The declaration of results by the Independent Election Commission (IEC) are expected to lead to a new period of instability and violence with the main opponent Abdullah Abdullah refusing to accept the election results and indicating that he would be forming an ‘Inclusive government’; something similar to 2014 election wherein the US had to intervene to restore normalcy by brokering a fragile peace between two rival Presidential candidates who were again rivals in the current Presidential race.
In all probability a fresh US intervention to resolve the political impasse would be needed to settle the dispute with a formula for power-sharing between warring political rivals.
The above developments have put a further question mark on the stability and peace in Afghanistan as a stable, strong and popular government would be a prerequisite to negotiate peace with the Taliban.
The Taliban, waiting in the wings to legitimise its existence would be pleased with the developments as the current situation only reinforces its claim as the sole claimant for power with adequate muscle power currently in control of more than half of Afghan territory.
The current situation, therefore, is delicately poised with unstable power centres struggling to legitimise their position in the race to control Afghanistan. So far no details have emerged as to who the USA is negotiating within Taliban leadership. But what is known is that US Special Representative and its point’s man for Afghanistan Zalmay Khalilzad has been working hard to negotiate with the Taliban having held numerous rounds of talks with them in Doha and Pakistan.
Pakistan, ever willing to extend their hand to their one time prodigies and aiming to see them in control in Afghanistan as their proxies were quick to claim credit for arranging the negotiations between USA and Taliban. To what extent the Taliban would be willing to toe Pakistan viewpoint in future could be anyone’s guess as lately Taliban have followed an independent agenda, much to the annoyance of Islamabad.
As is widely known, there are scores of warlords across the complete spectrum of Afghan ethnic landscape each in possession of militias and adequately armed. They continue to draw support from countries bordering Afghanistan. Their future role and amalgamation in power-sharing will be a challenge and is likely to see a breakout of local conflicts post any government-backed agreement with the Taliban.
The future of Afghan defence forces and Afghan National Army who survive on Western assistance and have borne the brunt of Taliban ground attacks would be in jeopardy. In most likelihood will fragment leaving the door open for Taliban fighters to occupy the vacuum. The likely hood of ISIS and Al Qaeda resurrecting on Afghan soil would be real
Women and girl rights nurtured delicately over the last two decades are likely to be the first casualty leaving them at the mercy of a repressive regime.
India has supported Afghanistan in its endeavours by focussing on developmental assistance, encouraging people to people contacts, building infrastructure projects, providing medical assistance and operating women and children hospital. It continues to provide limited military training assistance to the Afghan National Army. All these are likely to face certain closure.
Any peace deal led by Taliban would be precarious from the Indian viewpoint unless India is able to open direct channels with its leadership. It will need to emphasise upon them the importance of maintaining historical and time tested relationship between the two countries and need for any new regime to continue the good work being undertaken by India.
Visit of President Trump provides for a good opportunity for India to open up channels with emerging Afghan leadership for a future role by emphasising India’s commitment to work for good of Afghan people. It is likely that the USA would be equally keen to push for continued Indian assistance for Afghan people so as to prevent it from becoming an extension of Pakistani agenda.
(The author is an Indian Army Veteran. Views expressed are personal).