IAS Gyan

Daily News Analysis

Another Afghan peace push and a role for India

19th September, 2020 Editorial

Context:  New Delhi’s engagement after America’s exit must build on its resonating vision of a stable and plural Afghanistan


  • The much awaited intra Afghan talks between the Taliban and the Afghan High Council for National Reconciliation opened in Doha, Qatar, 19 years after the 9/11 attacks on the U.S. that stunned the world and marked the beginning of the U.S. war in Afghanistan against al Qaeda and the Taliban, its local sponsors.
  • The initiation of intra Afghan talks was a key element in the S.Taliban peace deal signed in Doha on February 29 between the U.S. Special Representative for Afghanistan Reconciliation, Ambassador, and the Taliban deputy leader.
  • The process had to overcome many hurdles along the way providing a small glimpse of the difficult road that lies ahead.

Dynamics of negotiations

  • 2017 policy of breaking the military stalemate by a small increase in U.S. troops was not working and US was seeking a managed exit.
  • Direct negotiations with the Taliban began two years ago with Ambassador Khalilzad’s appointment as Special Envoy.
  • The Doha track was with the Taliban, a second track was with Islamabad/ the Pakistan Army to lean on the Taliban to get them to the negotiating table, and the third was with Kabul to ensure that the Afghan government would accept the Doha outcome.
  • Originally Ambassador Khalilzad had spelt out four objectives:
    • an end to violence by declaring a ceasefire;
    • an intra Afghan dialogue for a lasting peace;
    • the Taliban cutting ties with terrorist organizations such as al Qaeda, and
    • S. troop withdrawal.
  • Instead of Afghan controlled reconciliation, it had become a U.S. led and Taliban controlled process with nobody claiming ownership or responsibility.
  • Timelines were fixed for the S. drawdown by mid June (followed by complete withdrawal by April 2021) and for removal of Taliban from the UN Security Council sanctions list by end May.
  • The Taliban have released 1,000 members of Afghan security forces and the Afghan authorities have freed over 5,000 Taliban from their custody.
  • This process took longer than originally foreseen but has now been completed. The two elements that remained open ended in the U.S.Taliban deal are the ceasefire declaration and the intra Afghan talks.

The Taliban factor

  • By end June, the U.S. had reduced its troop presence to 8,600 as promised by November the numbers would be down to 4,500.
  • Despite two brief day truces in May and August for Eid al Fitr and Eid al Adha, the levels of violence showed no respite.
  • More than 12,000 Afghans had been killed and another 15,000 injured since end February. The number of attacks on government security forces and installations averaged over 80 a week.

Challenges ahead

  • The U.S.Taliban Doha deal– “Agreement for Bringing Peace to Afghanistan Between the Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan Which Is Not Recognized by the United States as a State and Is Known as the Taliban and the United States of America”.
  • All this is difficult to reconcile with the notion that the U.S. considers the Taliban a partner in counterterrorism operations against the IS and other terrorist groups.
  • Afghanistan President said that “the Afghan people want peace” and that is why the government “made the decision to take another risk for peace” and “we acknowledge the Taliban as part of our reality” and urged that “the Taliban must, in turn, acknowledge the changed reality of today’s Afghanistan”.
  • The current reality is that 74% of Afghan population is below 30 and has lived, for most part, in a conservative but open society.
  • However, the Taliban continue to maintain the Kabul administration as an imported western structure for continued American occupation.

Evolving Indian stand

  • India stand is Peace process must be “Afghan led, Afghan owned and Afghan controlled” but Indian policy has evolved from its earlier hands off approach to the Taliban.
  • India had concerns regarding anti-India activities of terrorist groups, it must engage directly with the Taliban.
  • In other words, if India wanted to be invited to the party, it must be prepared to get up and dance.

Major powers, finite interest

  • The reality is major powers have limited interests. For the S., the peace talks provide U.S. President Donald Trump an exit opportunity weeks before his reelection bid.
  • The European Union has made it clear that its financial contribution will depend on the security environment and the human rights record.
  • China can always lean on Pakistan to preserve its security and connectivity interests.
  • For Russia, blocking the drug supply and keeping its southern periphery secure from extremist influences is key. That is why no major power is taking ownership for the reconciliation talks, but merely content with being facilitators.
  • India’s vision of a sovereign, united, stable, plural an democratic Afghanistan is one that is shared by a large constituency in Afghanistan, cutting across ethnic and provincial lines.

Conclusion: A more active engagement will enable India to work with likeminded forces in the region to ensure that the vacuum created by the U.S. withdrawal does not lead to an unravelling of the gains registered during the last two decades.

Reference: https://www.thehindu.com/opinion/lead/another-afghan-peace-push-and-a-role-for-india/article32644309.ece