Striking a balance

Afghanistan in post 2014 and India’s options

The year 2014 is going to be very crucial for the people of Afghanistan. The developments over next one year will have far reaching consequences not only for the country but for the entire South and Central Asia; also the rest of the world will not remain unaffected.

The mandarins in the office of the National Security Advisor are weighing the pros and cons of various policy options and trying to catch up with the evolving situation and accordingly making amendments in its avowed will to support the democratic regime in the country.

The Indian External Affairs Salman Khurshid bravely declared in Brunei while addressing the ASEAN meet, “India’s Afghanistan policy does not have an exit policy. India has played an important role in the reconstruction and rehabilitation of Afghanistan and intends to remain committed to Afghanistan’s future.”

But Indian policy makers know very well that Indian aid workers cannot survive in the country without a secure environment. If the US was so sure of the ability of the 3,50,000 security forces of the Afghan National Army it has trained, it would not have felt any need for reconciliation with the heavily armed Talibani jehadis.  

In fact the fast changing security landscape of Afghanistan looks like a nightmare for India as Taliban, backed by the Pakistan Army, seems confident to catapult the seat of power and re-establish the Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan.

The extremist and medieval policies pursued by the hardcore Taliban Mullahs before they were thrown out in 2001 are most likely to return to Afghanistan with the help of Pakistan Army and is showing no signs of compromise on the so-called red lines specified by the US authorities. But the US led Western Alliance is in a hurry to somehow leave before the declared deadline of 2014.  

Difficult situation

In fact the US led forces wants a safe passage while returning and they are engaged in backdoor negotiations with Taliban and the Pakistan Army to enable them to leave with their highly sensitive weapons stores. If this is the fate of the US led forces, the plight of the unarmed Indian teachers, doctors, contractors, engineers and workers present in thousands could be very well understood.

Can these Indians, engaged in uplifting the Afghan women and children survive the Taliban onslaught? Since India has invested over US$ 2 billion in the development activities in Afghanistan, India has a serious stake in the continued survival of the present democratic regime led by the President Hamid Karzai.

But the US is not on good terms with the Karzai regime as it wants the Afghan leaders to participate in the reconciliation talks with the outlawed Talibani leaders and Karzai has boycotted the Doha talks, which was to be held in June. The Taliban with the connivance of US Administration has opened a front office in Doha under the banner of the Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan, which looks like a parallel government of Afghanistan in exile, which has been rejected by the Karzai regime.  

Next year Karzai will have to leave as he completes his two term stint as President, it is also uncertain who will be the next leader of Afghanistan.  In the event of an uncertain political future of the country and no credible alternative to Hamid Karzai on whose basket India had put all the eggs, India will find it difficult to proceed with its Afghan strategy.  

Realizing India’s predicament, Salman Khurshid has, for the first time, declared support for the move to include Taliban, stating that “dialogue must involve all sections of the Afghan society and armed opposition groups, including the Taliban, willing to give up their arms and subscribe to the Constitution.”

But Taliban has never worked under any Constitution and would never work under the present constitution drafted by a democratic regime. In fact democracy is an anathema to the medieval Taliban and its chief patron Pakistan Army is making all efforts to anoint them in Kabul, in order to regain its strategic depth.

This scenario is haunting the international community and the civil society in Pakistan is also worried, as the return of Taliban to Kabul would mean a big boost to the Tehrik-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP) and in due course the TTP would make all efforts to capture Islamabad.

This scenario should also worry China, but the Chinese strategists seem to be leaning on the support of Pakistani Army who perhaps has promised them that they will sustain the presence of China during the Taliban regime also. China is very much interested in exploiting the trillion dollar mineral wealth in Afghanistan for which they definitely would need the security cover.

However, the Chinese have entered into dialogue with India also on the future of post NATO Afghanistan. India is also in dialogue with Iran and Russia. If the four countries- China, Russia, India and Iran- agree to join hands, the rise of Taliban can be contained as China has enough leverage on Pakistan to force them to cede all support to Taliban.

However being a one Party led State China would not subscribe to the logic of supporting a democratic regime in Afghanistan. But if China has to save itself from extending the evil influence of Talibani brand of Jehad in its Xinjiang region and if China wants to expand its economic activities in Afghanistan it has to work in tandem with all the democratic neighbors of Afghanistan.

Common concerns

If Taliban comes to power in Kabul there are all possibilities of the revival of extremism in Central Asian States and Russia would not remain unaffected. The rise of Taliban would also cast its evil influence on the extremist elements in Jammu and Kashmir. Thus all the four neighbors of Afghanistan have common concerns and interests.

To protect their interests the four countries must come together and make a common front. If these four countries enter into a four plus one (Pakistan) dialogue to ensure peace, stability and development in Afghanistan, the region will definitely enter into a new era of peace and harmony which will bode well for the entire region as it will once again see the revival of economic activities from Central Asia to South Asia and the Gulf region.

The four countries must coordinate on the issue of Afghanistan for the sake of peace and development in the region, which will immensely benefit all the four plus one partners.

Since India has a good working level relationship with Russia, Iran and China, an initiative should be launched from Indian side to engage in dialogue process with the three countries for the future joint management of Afghanistan.

India is also engaged in a trilateral dialogue with Afghanistan and USA. However, since the US seems to have lost its political will to remain committed to fight and keep Taliban out of Kabul, it will have no relevance in efforts to preserve the present Constitution of Afghanistan.

However, if one believes the promises made by US Secretary of State John Kerry during his recent India visit, that the US will continue to support the Afghanistan government and the Afghan military, to continue to equip and train them well beyond 2014 and continue to maintain high level force on the ground and conduct anti terrorism and counter terrorism activity, India should tell US to assist from outside.

Iran and China would not like to associate with US, which on the one hand is promising support to Afghan government and on the other it is surrendering to the Taliban dictates to get a safe passage home.

After the April, 19 talks in Beijing between the senior officials of India and China on Afghanistan, the Chinese Foreign ministry spokesperson Hua Chunying told the media, “The two sides agreed that the Afghanistan issue concerns regional security and stability. China and India are two important counties in the region, and consultations on Afghanistan help them to coordinate positions, deepen cooperation and contribute to early settlement of the issue.”

The consensus reached between India on China on the issue of Afghanistan should be pursued further and the two should first evolve a joint strategy and bring in Russia and Iran in its fold for the joint management of Afghanistan.  Since India, China and Russia are already coordinating on trilateral format; the issue of post- 2014 Afghanistan can be handled with ease by the trio in association with Iran.