Prelims level : International Mains level : GS-II Governance, Polity, Social Justice and IR
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Why in News:

  • In Afghanistan, ‘reconciliation’ means different things to different players and to different groups of Afghans.

Background: / What is the issue?

  • America is in the process of quitting Afghanistan as its soldiers are too expensive to send abroad. The SAARC countries, India and Pakistan especially, are required to assess the situation and respond appropriately.

What does the withdrawal mean for the countries?

  • Pakistan is scared of what will happen if America really quits and Afghanistan returns to its heroin-sustained warlordism.
  • The Afghan Taliban are winning on a daily basis and control half of the country. They even eye the 250,000-strong Afghan army as future Taliban.
  • India has presence in Afghanistan after the construction of the Chabahar Port in Iran and the highway that links it to Kabul. China is the next economic presence in Afghanistan after India. Turkey is also eying an opportunity to play its role to safeguard the interests of Afghanistan’s Turkmen-Turkic community. Three South Asian Association of Regional Cooperation (SAARC) members – Afghanistan, Pakistan, India – could have cooperated.
  • But the countries are only moving to end up in a conflict.

What is Pakistan’s stance?

  • When the Taliban ruled in Afghanistan, Pakistan’s own jihadi underground in the madrasa- dominated regions was vulnerable to their influence.
  • Rebellious Pakistani Taliban, safely located in northwestern Afghanistan, has hurt Pakistan as no one else in Afghanistan.
  • In 2014, six of its gunmen attacked the Army Public School in Peshawar, killing more than 100 children.
  • This changed the thinking of the Pakistan army.
  • Pakistan no longer viewed Afghanistan as its “strategic depth” against India as it posed challenges to it in return.

How does Afghanistan’s future look?

  • The Taliban have warriors in their hordes who have come from the Middle East and Central Asia.
  • Also, there are ISIS-Daesh and Al Qaeda still operational in Afghanistan, threatening all the three SAARC members.
  • It is true that most Afghans will accept the return of the Taliban.
  • They would welcome the destruction of the liberal order now being held up by an America- overseen constitution and American money.
  • But they would like to leave the country, if they could, before a Taliban takeover. This is because Afghanistan is already on the brink of a food and water crisis.
  • The “small landlocked country recovering from decades of war” is among the water- stressed nations and whose people lack sufficient dietary diversity.
  • The Ashraf Ghani government will not survive after the American-funded Afghan army disintegrates and joins up with the Taliban.
  • That’s why the Taliban are refusing to even recognise the Kabul government.
  • For them, the Afghan army is the low-hanging fruit that will enlarge their capacity to challenge both Pakistan and India.

What are the recent developments in Afghan peace process?

  • The Taliban reconciliation process is moving at a faster pace than was anticipated.
  • The U.S. and Russia have accepted the idea that peace in Afghanistan is not possible without major concessions to the Taliban, including dialogue without insisting on a cessation of violence.
  • During the U.S.-Taliban talks in Qatar, the Taliban made it clear that until the issue of withdrawal of foreign forces from Afghanistan is agreed upon, progress in other issues is impossible.
  • The Taliban has also been resisting US pressure for the announcement of a ceasefire and direct talks with the Afghan government.
  • But the talks in Doha have given birth to cautious optimism for peace in Afghanistan with a number of pro-truce demonstrations in major urban centres across Afghanistan.
  • Hence, the U.S., from the discussions, should decide the contours of its ultimate withdrawal from the Afghan war.
  • Russia, on its part, has hosted conferences where Taliban leaders sat down with members of the Afghan High Peace Council and senior Afghan politicians recently.
  • Both U.S. and Russia seemed to have agreed to sidestep the current government in Kabul, and accepted the Taliban’s condition that it will not negotiate with the elected Afghan government at this stage.
  • And both the Russian and U.S. processes are dependent on cooperation from Pakistan, which retains its influence over the Taliban leadership.
  • On its part, the Taliban has also unequivocally renounced ties with al-Qaeda and the Islamic State, and committed to preventing Afghan soil from being used by foreign terrorists.

What are the concerns?

  • Despite these developments, the current talks with the Taliban are not Afghan-led, owned or controlled, which was the principle agreed to by all stakeholders in the past.
  • Also, the Taliban has not reduced violence, or sworn allegiance to the Afghan constitution before joining talks. Despite the talks in Doha, there has been no let-up in the violence in Afghanistan. As many as 100 Afghan security forces were killed recently when armed Taliban fighters attacked a military base about 44km southwest of Kabul.
  • The Afghan President said that 45,000 members of the country’s security forces had been killed since he took office in 2014.

What should be the role of India?

  • India’s principled position in Afghanistan is that it will not directly or publicly talk to the Taliban until it engages the Afghan government.
  • However, considering the recent developments, it is necessary that India stays along with these negotiations and is not cut out of the resolution process.
  • A robust channel has to be open between Indian intelligence agencies and all important groups in Afghanistan, including the Taliban.
  • This is in order to ensure that Indian interests, development projects and its citizens in Afghanistan are kept secure.
  • Thus, India must intensify its dialogue with regional and global stakeholders to ensure that engagement with the Taliban must not come at the cost of establishing constitutional democracy, the rule of law, and securing the rights of women and minorities.

What lies Ahead?

  • It is difficult to diagnose the state of the mind of decision-makers in Pakistan.
  • But their decision to turn to India and offer talks and trade points to the possibility of the kind of
  • normalisation needed for handling the crisis in Afghanistan.
  • A dead SAARC must now be revived to decide what its three members are going to do after the Americans leave Afghanistan.
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