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Future Of Afghanistan From South Asian Perspective – OpEd

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The recent reported released by the United Nations analytical support and sanctions monitoring team which presented for the peace in Afghanistan. The report stated that Taliban continues to maintain to operational ties with the Al-Qaeda and the UN report has in effect presented bumps in the face for the signing of the US-Taliban deal and also casted doubts on the future of Afghanistan.

Many would also argue that Taliban has rebuked their part in the UN report and have reiterated that they constantly paid due commitment to the Doha agreement, there have been reports for the failures within the Taliban Leadership and also hinted towards the emergence of hardline fraction called the ‘Hizbat-e-islami’ which has endured continuing of violence against the backdrop of Intra-Afghan talks.

The political misery of Taliban yet to be seen, however complete trust towards the report is still a matter of question, this is brought by more decisive decision made the US administration to continue the process of withdrawal of the American troops from the Afghani soil. This is expected to bring in more fears for the Afghani government with the encirclement of the Taliban both politically and militarily. Against this backdrop where do we situate India and Pakistan into the Afghan peace process dialogue where both the parties continue to have a vital security and strategic interests? Pakistan made it clear that it cannot countenance Indian presence or influence in Afghanistan. India considers Pakistan to be the biggest hurdle in bringing the peace to Afghanistan. 

The Taliban has also recently released the video of eulogizing jihad and their idea of Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan and calling all those who don’t subscribe to this ideology as deviant. With the Trump administration moving ahead with the withdrawal plan, leaving Afghanistan to fight extremism at their own devices, in this backdrop should India consider opening the lines of communication with Taliban, India has already been vocal about the idea that India should engage with Taliban only after they are legitimized as a political force. To understand the problem we must view the question from: 

  • The Nature of the state: The nature of the state depends on the mutually agreed values, system of governance, principles, rights and protection of minorities, policies and laws, ways of implementation, way of life of common people. The idea of peace in the Afghanistan has to be Afghan negotiated peace and not a third party settled peace. 
  • The Main Forces: The Main forces in this peace process includes Taliban, The US and the Afghan government, to a very large extent this also includes Pakistan which had been a part of the deal till the first phase of peace process. The renegade elements within Taliban will always exist as the coercing of power erodes from the hand of the Taliban commanders, they are ought to become belletristic. Taliban may have come to existence with the ideology of Islam and imposition of faith, but the nature has changed over the years to power, the narcotics economy and the criminal economy. 
  • Intra-Afghan dialogue: This will eventually reintegrate a very large number of fighters and some of its leaders into the mainstream society. There would be a greater monopoly of axis of power with which the future government of Afghanistan will run. 
  • India’s role in the Intra-afghan talks: The choices before India are simple. India as of 2012 had invested 10.9 billion dollars. India has invested heavily on the government of Afghanistan for past 19 years. India still sticks to the fact that whichever form of government Afghans decide, India will coincide to the fact and will be treated as equal partners. 
  • Pakistan Demand for Indian Withdrawal: Regional countries shouldn’t dictate to the terms of peace process in the region if it actually demands of peace bringing one’s baggage to the conflict situation leads to overlooking the fact along with ability to reconcile. 

The second argument which is presented is that the Taliban-US dialogue is playing out in favor of Pakistan, because it’s going to lead to US relies heavily on Pakistan to convince the Taliban to deliver on the terms of the deal and effectively giving Pakistan the leverage to shape the trajectory of the peace process to its own advantage. The US-Taliban deal is heavily dependent on Pakistan. Pakistan decision-making process has been heavily determined by a concept of strategic depth system- it’s the fear of being encircled by unfriendly governments.

The government in Pakistan doesn’t want to encircle by unfriendly government in the East (India) and to the West (Afghanistan) where it already faces a considerable amount of damage with its counter-insurgency programs. These initial fears also led the state to support the Taliban in the 1990s with the support of the US and the Saudi help in the Soviet-Afghan war in the 1980s. Pakistan although claims that the concept of strategic depth is over and it desires peace, but the concept of strategic is still used to some extent in the decision making process.

The hasty American withdrawal of its troops from Afghanistan will evoke the same feeling that it did during the post-Soviet-Afghan war, where the state of Pakistan felt abandoned by the US. This abandonment can be a cause for which Pakistan started hedging towards militant proxies and harboring terrorist groups. Pakistan is essentially looking for a power-sharing arrangement inside the government, this is where Taliban has a role, enough for one making it sure that Pakistan plays a major role in the region, it also wants a government that would be essentially be friendly to the faction.

Some would also argue that Pakistan would want Taliban to be in power after the end of the peace process, the reason can be because of the relationship between Taliban and Pakistan hasn’t always been seamless and not perfect from both the ends. Pakistan doesn’t want a Islamic emirate like in 1990s, it doesn’t want the Afghan state to lend support to the militant groups that attacks the Pakistani state. Pakistan has long been a victim to the terrorist attacks on its soil from groups like Tehrik-e-Taliban.

For now the status-quo and the run-up to the peace process is working just in favor of Pakistan making it an important element in the peace deal. The US-Taliban Deal as analysts around the world would claim to be faulty at places. Madiha Afzal, an analyst with Brookings Institution has argued that US has arranged terms for its withdrawal, it has given very minimum commitments to counter-insurgency.

Taliban has only merely promised that it wouldn’t allow its affiliates including Al-Qaeda to use Afghan soil, to attack America or its allies. No language of preserving human and woman rights. No conditionality was decided upon the phase two of the peace process which is to begin in November, which is the eminent part of the breakthrough between Kabul and Taliban negotiations.

The deal thus gave everything that the Taliban wanted in a very minimum requirement. What it essentially seems missing to a reader’s eye is the allowance of violence and tolerance going on for the terrorist organization in between Intra-Afghan talks. The links and the safe haven of the Taliban has to be cut down, there is no action on this, especially when Qatar has been decided for the change of location. 

Strategic Advantage of India:

Imposing the territorial dispute between the India and Pakistan on the other side of Pakistan-Afghanistan leads to confusion as one of the belletristic state would always want to control its foreign policy laws and matters of strategic influence and internal politics. There lies a legitimate competition in rebuilding the state and in reconstructing the parts ravaged in the war.

The strategic influence that Afghanistan lays for India and Pakistan is equally important as a part of South Asia. India worked very hard to bring Afghanistan as part of South Asia in the SAARC in 2008. India’s major hurdle lays in the fact that Pakistan’s support to the Taliban and major terror groups. India believes that Terrorism has a regional face; often it has been found areas which are ungoverned and not worked out properly has often been used to harboring such anti-state groups.

Through the years India has repeatedly stated that it doesn’t want any country if it wishes to continue to harbor groups and keeps on the face of face of deniability. India needs to have its own policy rather than following a strategy of bandwagon strategy. South Asia is under the Indian influence and it has repeatedly sent out the message that it will do whatever it must be done to ensure and maintain peace on its own term. India has seen the past of 1990 where it was clear to it that the Islamic Emirate had entrusted people with violence rather than peace. The Afghan struggle against the Soviets was also followed by the rise of militancy in the region of Kashmir who was inspired by the Afghan Mujahedeen. 

Pakistan’s Insecurity

Pakistan two major pillars that any Indian reader would analyze are based on two pillars: Islam and the enmity to India. This stretches from the creation of Pakistan under the two nation theory during the Partition of British India in 1947. The creation of Pakistan has been based on the foundation of Islam and a separate nation for the Muslim minority from the Hindu majority Indian state.

The kind of insecurity that Pakistan is displaying in the peace process for Afghanistan is largely due to the fear of being crowded out by the Indian state or other players like the Iranian state. Pakistan’s insecurity delves into this also because of two major other reason: the large proportion of size of India both population and land mass area and a more powerful military might that India currently possesses being the fourth of powerful country under Global Firepower Ranking, this leads Pakistan to be a major regional power in the Afghan dialogue and wishes a government which is power friendlier to Pakistan than it is to India.

The recent visit by General Bajwa to the state of Afghanistan is a reiteration of trying to be a key player in the dialogue. The second phase as it will roll out in November may see a decrease role of Pakistan in the dialogue which it largely fears. India’s role in Afghanistan is a major role in insecurity. This insecurity is difficult to change in behavior.

There’s a lot of finger pointing between Afghanistan and Pakistan, since Pakistan has been a part of peace process, the major step has to come from Pakistan to stop finger pointing and work on the rebuilding the economy.  How does the international community ensure a behavioral change to Pakistan and effective to behave better?

Pakistan wants itself wants to move to a prosperous future and a bustling economy it doesn’t want to be known to its current tag of maintaining links to terror groups. The Financial Action Task Force which has put Pakistan under grey list for maintaining ties with terrorist groups has affected Pakistan; it doesn’t wish to be downgraded to the blacklist. This conditioning is being used to make Pakistan behave better with its neighbors and thus as we can see, Pakistan has been very responsive to the terrorist activities on its soil, although it can be said with shroud of doubt if it is doing the same for India.

Pakistan wants to have a positive attitude with United States and shred its negative associations. What Pakistan demands in return is to be made feel safe but unfortunately anything related to India has always induced a sense of insecurity into the state. The Afghanistan peace process also depends on the India-Pakistan relation as both are key players, considering the same it is difficult to change the entirety of its behavior, the international community has to focus in instrumental points like Financial Action Task Force, International Aids, Sanctions for the country to behave better. 

Looking Forward:

Pakistan and India should work together rather than against each other. India should continue the policy of supporting Afghanistan and rebuilding the economy. The continued support to the state of Afghanistan stems from India’s aspiration of reaching to the Central Asia and Eurasian Region faster than that of the Chinese counterpart which is slowly tightening its grip over the region. Pakistan needs to stop sending arms and ammunitions that it does to the militant commanders and should rather focus on demilitarizing them and bringing them in the dialogue.

Focusing on the future is a key element for this one needs to trust one another. The cloud of doubt which looms over these countries has to be brought down and acknowledge each other’s presence rather than trying to dismiss each other. India has trained many young Afghan officers in its military training camps which it does as a part of SAARC deal. All three countries – India, Pakistan, and United States share a common interest with one another and that is the idea of peace whereas India and Pakistan share the common interest of trying to boost the economy and increase the circle of interest. It must shed the territorial disputes that it shares when working for a common goal. Taliban at the end has only brought bloodshed to the region; the funds that were received by the country to build nursing centers, schools were often blown up by the militant groups. It is necessary to end the violence to come to the table and talk. 

*Arjoma Moulick is a currently pursuing her degree in Political Science, her interest area lies in the International Politics and International Relations. She is currently focussing on writing about the South Asian and Asian politics mainly in regards to India. 

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