A significant minority in India’s policy circles questions what India has gained from its reconstruction activities in Afghanistan. India has earned (back) goodwill and traction with Afghans from all parts of the country. Before Taliban rule in Afghanistan, India had an exiguous presence in the minds of Afghans, who felt that India had turned away from them. They now know that India wants Afghans to stand on their own feet and make their own decisions. They know India is working for a sovereign, united, and peaceful Afghanistan. They believe in the commonalities between Indian and Afghan objectives, and that India will celebrate Afghan successes.
India’s effort to rebuild Afghanistan goes beyond financial support or constructing the Afghan parliament, a dam on the Hari Rud River, transmission lines and a power station to bring electricity to Kabul, and Small Development Projects for education and health. India has contributed to building institutions, developing human resources, training Afghan public officials and providing the country with a new generation of educated and skilled workers.
The Taliban gained ground in parts of Afghanistan not because they are “smart” and “tough” as Donald Trump believes, but because of American mismanagement, Afghan incapacity, and support to the Taliban from the Pakistan army. Afghanistan’s defence minister, Asadullah Khalid, told me several years ago, when he was Kandahar’s governor: “It is not that the Taliban are strong, it is that we are weak.” The Taliban profile is disproportionate to its gains on the ground.
Many in Pakistan insinuate that India is sabotaging the Doha negotiations because India would not like Afghanistan and Pakistan to have good relations. Far from it. Unlike Pakistan, which fears harmonious ties between India and Afghanistan, India would be quite content with friendship between Pakistan and Afghanistan. After all, the same families, clans and tribes straddle the two sides of their long and porous frontiers. That said, India would be content if, irrespective of relations between Islamabad and Kabul, the Afghan people and government were free to decide the kind of relationships they should have with other countries, including India.
Does India have reasons to worry about the peace deal concluded between the United States (US) and the Taliban and a future peace deal between the Taliban and the Afghan government? Not if all Afghans agree that the peace deal safeguards their interests. Not if they can preserve the gains made in Afghanistan since 2001. All parties, including the Taliban, should feel assured that they will have India’s support if they acted independently.
India is, therefore, just right in lining up behind Afghanistan, with the external affairs minister participating in the September 12 inaugural of the Doha inter-Afghan negotiations. It is not to suggest that India has now warmed to the Taliban but to underline that India has no reservations in interacting with the Taliban if the Afghan government has none. With Doha, India has ended the erstwhile ambiguity in its policy. India is willing to engage with any party committed to peace and stability in Afghanistan. The invite to India was an acknowledgement that India has vital interests in Afghanistan. While Iran’s foreign minister, Jawad Zarif, did not participate because of the presence of the US Secretary of State, Mike Pompeo, a way must be found to involve Iran in the Afghan peace process, which will receive a blow should there be a flare-up between Iran and the US.
Abdullah Abdullah, Chairman of Afghanistan’s High Council for National Reconciliation was in Delhi from Tuesday to consult with India’s top leadership, seeking a reiteration of India’s support for the peace process.
India has supported efforts to bring inclusive peace to Afghanistan by advising leaders of different ethnicities to work in cohesion with others for peace and nation building. India favours the social and political reintegration of those who give up their physical and ideological association with terrorist groups and networks, avoid violence, and embrace pluralism and democracy. India opposes the political accommodation of individuals, groups or Islamist entities associated with the al-Qaeda, the Daesh, and their associates since this will subvert the nascent Afghan democracy, undermine human rights, and destroy emerging Afghan institutions. A subverted Afghanistan in the hands of terrorist networks will be a catastrophe for India, the region and the world. The restoration of status-quo-ante in Afghanistan could also lead to the unravelling of the state system in neighbouring Pakistan — a matter of deep concern.
For peace in Afghanistan, there should be an immediate ceasefire. “Reduced violence” that is being promoted as an interim measure will not be enough, as the Taliban
has continued with its attempts at targeted assassinations and bombings. A ceasefire must be followed by the cessation of sanctuary, sustenance and support to the Haqqani Network, the military arm of the Taliban most closely linked to the Pakistan army, and other like-minded terrorist groups.
Jayant Prasad is a retired diplomat who has served as India’s ambassador to Afghanistan
The views expressed are personal. First published in The Hindustan Times