Afghanistan's problems require a collective regional solution; India must play a leading role

If Afghanistan does not witness a modicum of internal stability, adherence to human values and shuns terrorism of all hues, not only the region but beyond too will be impacted adversely, writes Lt Gen Kamal Davar (retd) for South Asia Monitor

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NSAs of Russia, Iran, Tajikistan, Uzbekistan, Turkmenistan, Kazakhstan and Kyrgyzstan participated in the meeting held in Delhi, chaired by NSA Ajit Doval. (Twitter: @MEAIndia)

The abrupt and inglorious exit of the US from the land of Hindu Kush in August 2021 underscored equally with the unexpectedly speedy march into Kabul by the fundamentalist Taliban left Afghanistan in a state of grave political instability, economic distress and reeking with continuing violence. That Afghanistan faces an uncertain future will be understating the grim realities of that fratricidal violence fraught nation.  

Whatever Afghanistan’s genuine well-wishers and those who pretend to proffer any solution, there is hardly any doubt that it requires an “Afghan-led and Afghan-controlled” remedy. Yet important regional players and the UN cannot escape their responsibility of dousing its internal fires and encouraging rapprochement among the various militant groups pursuing their own extremist agendas. Prima facie it may appear a tall order with a majority of stakeholders opposing Kabul’s Taliban administration (if it can be called to be one). But changed geopolitical realities in Afghanistan necessitate a fresh look at dealing with the Taliban by affected nations including India.   

The Taliban uneasily presides in Kabul over a conglomerate of terror’ tanzeems‘ comprising itself,  Al Qaeda, Pakistan’s prodigy the Haqqani network, the ultra-Islamic radical outfit with global ambitions the Islamic State Khorasan ( ISK), the anti-Pakistan Tehrik-e-Taliban (TTP) and a few other minor ragtag groups---- all vying for a bigger chunk of the Afghan pie. Pakistan, having somewhat achieved its old goals of having a pliant regime in Kabul and acquiring “strategic depth”, would like to play a major role in Afghanistan and nurse its ambition of making India irrelevant in Afghanistan. Anyway, Afghanistan’s foreseeable future appears, by all accounts, bleak, violent and gravely uncertain unless the Taliban can marshal all these primitive mindset terror groups to follow basic human norms both internally and in dealing with foreign nations.   

Afghan crisis 

It is a matter of satisfaction that after a lapse of some months, the UN and many countries, including the Islamic world, have realized the acute humanitarian crisis impoverished Afghanistan is suffering from. Some baby steps have been taken to alleviate the sufferings of its poverty-stricken people. The US, after much hesitation, has formally allowed the UN and its own agencies/officials to do some business with the Taliban to ease the grave humanitarian problems. The UN has proposed sending nearly $6 billion to Kabul to tide over its financial crisis. 

The Organisation of Islamic Countries (OIC) too announced a Trust Fund for Afghanistan to tide over its heightened adverse financial situation. Even the arrogant Taliban has appealed to the international community for monetary assistance as thousands of Afghans daily depart to neighbouring countries. This exodus to Iran, the Central Asian Republics and Pakistan, besides the thousands seeking visas to migrate to the US and Europe, portends inimical happenings in all these countries in the coming years. 

The UN World Food Programme has rightly called the current situation in Afghanistan an “avalanche of hunger and destitution”.  It has commenced distributing food, water and medicines in far-flung parts of Afghanistan.  Meanwhile, India has done well to dispatch humanitarian aid to Afghanistan. In November 2021, two tonnes of medicines landed in Kabul for which the Taliban has publicly expressed its gratitude, exclaiming that the relations between the two nations were “very vital”.     

The Taliban, now in power -- though not absolute -- has to make some strong choices to gain a modicum of respectability and acceptance in the global community. The Taliban’s Islamic Emirates of Afghanistan is still seeking international recognition. Only 11 countries ranging from Russia, Iran, China, Pakistan, Turkey, Qatar, Uzbekistan, Turkmenistan, Kazahkistan, Krygistan, Italy and the UAE have opened their embassies in Kabul whilst no country has formally recognized the Taliban government so far, unlike in the late 1990s when it controlled Kabul but had formal recognition from only three countries—Pakistan, the United Arab Emirates, and Saudi Arabia. 

The Taliban will have to drastically change its stance towards women and children, human rights, abjuring cruelty, terrorism and extremism et al before the international community accepts it as a responsible power -- not an easy proposal analyzing its past record in governance and political inclinations. 

Pakistan, a villain 

Pakistan, which touts itself as Afghanistan’s brother, remains the villain of the piece as regards Kabul’s outreach towards all. The Taliban and other Afghans of all hues are a proud people not conditioned to dictates from anyone. Afghan people do retain their traditional animosity towards Pakistan and are wary of the latter’s anti-India propaganda besides being conscious of their festering problems with Pakistan on the Durand Line impasse, the fencing of the international border with Pakistan and the inhuman treatment of Balochis by Pakistan.  

Thus Pakistan will be well advised to change tack in their traditional policies towards Afghanistan for its own geopolitical interests. Pakistan, in particular, must not go overboard in supporting the Haqqani network in Afghanistan and creating a rift between this network and the Taliban. Additionally, the Taliban themselves must firmly rein in the ISK terrorists who are considered the most brutal terrorist outfit globally and are responsible for maximum violence in Afghanistan.   

India, traditionally respected in Afghanistan, must continue with its soft power forays for that country and its deprived people. Pakistan has been playing mischief not permitting Indian humanitarian aid to pass through its territory by road into Afghanistan. India should use the Chahbahar route instead and do the best it can to help the Afghans. 

It should also try to persuade the US to unfreeze the assets Afghanistan holds in foreign banks. Importantly, it should leverage its position in the UN Security Council to get the Taliban to agree to certain political guarantees before aid packages recommence for Afghanistan. The Taliban must not be left off the hook without assuring the UN of civilized behaviour towards its people. 

Pakistan's machinations

The US has to strictly monitor its protégé Pakistan’s machinations in Afghanistan. The US’ leniency towards Pakistan baffles many international observers. Thus, Pakistan persists in its waywardness in Afghanistan. 

As the world enters a new year, it will be prudent for the global community and the regional stakeholders to address Afghanistan’s problems collectively keeping at bay narrow national interests. If Afghanistan does not witness a modicum of internal stability, adherence to human values and shuns terrorism of all hues, not only the region but beyond too will be impacted adversely. India, as a major regional power, has to play a leading role in getting affected countries on the same page for Afghanistan’s stability and progress.

(The writer is a veteran Indian Army officer and security expert who served as the first Director-General of the Defence Intelligence Agency.  The views expressed are personal.) 

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