Worldview with Suhasini Haidar | India and Pakistan meetings on Afghanistan

This week on Worldview: Two meetings, two sets of countries and two declarations in two neighbouring capitals

This week, Delhi hosted the Regional Security Dialogue with 7 other regional players, including Russia, Iran and five central Asian countries.

Islamabad hosted the Troika Plus meeting with Security Council members U.S., Russia and China, and had them meet the Taliban acting Foreign Minister.

Russia was the only country to send delegates to both meetings, China and Pakistan declined to come to Delhi, and the U.S. special envoy who went to Islamabad will visit Delhi next.

What was Delhi trying to achieve with the NSA meeting?

1. India wishes to remain an important and engaged player in the future of Afghanistan, and should not be cut out of the discussion.

2. With the exit of U.S. and NATO troops, the solution to the situation there is best found through consensus in Afghanistan’s extended neighbourhood including Russia.

3. That the humanitarian crisis in Afghanistan should be the region’s immediate priority and political differences can be set aside in order to help, and show that Pakistan’s attitude is a problem.

What were Islamabad’s aims?

1. Demonstrate that Pakistan is the most important player vis a vis Afghanistan today, and the invitation to the Taliban FM to meet US Russia China is an indicator of that.

2. Pakistan wants the international community to help with monetary assistance for Afghanistan to prevent bankruptcy and civil war that could spill over into Pakistan.

3. By bringing the P-3 to Islamabad, Pakistan wants to show that far from blaming Pakistan for the problem in Afghanistan, it is part of the solution.

While there was clear consensus on most of the issues, there are areas that India diverges not just from Pakistan but from US, China and the rest of the neighbourhood:

1. Engagement with Pakistan: Every country except India has a working relationship with Pakistan, and dialogues about Afghanistan.

2. Engagement with Taliban: Although no country has recognised the Taliban interim government, all the countries in both meetings are engaging the Taliban leadership in some form. India wants to underline the fact that no country wishes to “legitimise” the Interim Taliban government. This will be difficult given that.

– Russia and Iran have engaged Taliban for some time and maintain embassies there, and in a departure from the Delhi declaration, Russia issued a separate statement alongside the MEA statement.

– Turkmenistan sent a ministerial level delegation to discuss connectivity with Taliban, and in particular the Turkmenistan-Afghanistan-Pakistan-India (TAPI) pipeline.

– Uzbekistan accepted a visit by Taliban Deputy PM Hanafi, and has discussed trade, transit, connectivity , even going ahead with Railway project.

– Kyrgyzstan and Kazakhstan have both sent high-ranking delegations to Kabul to talk to the Taliban FM.

 https://thediplomat.com/2021/09/kyrgyz-officials-meet-with-taliban-acting-foreign-minister-in-kabul/      https://gandhara.rferl.org/a/kazakhstan-kyrgyzstan-taliban/31487601.html 

– Tajikistan has engaged the Taliban less than the rest, and is even believed to have hosted the National Resistance Front, and has made it clear it will not recognise a Taliban-only government.

– India has had only two official meetings with the Taliban, one between the Indian ambassador in Doha and Taliban representatives, and the other.

3. On the issue of refugees,

– Pakistan and Iran have always taken the bulk of the refugees fleeing over the borders and even prior to 2021, Pakistan housed about 1.5 million, Iran housed about 800,000 Afghans. After the Kabul takeover, tens of thousands more have fled there.

–  Amongst neighbours Uzbekistan and Tajikistan have offered transit space for refugees, especially those bound for the US and Europe, and also gave landing rights to evacuation flights, including those India needed

– From the 1990s, Russia took in about 100,000 Afghans but hasn’t given them citizenship. After the fall of Kabul, Russia offered to fly out Afghan refugees to other countries and offered the use of its civilian planes for that.

– In the 1990s, India had taken in about 12,000 Afghan refugees, but this time around India has taken a decision not to allow Afghans to seek asylum or travel here. Shortly after the Taliban takeover of Kabul, the Modi government decided to cancel all pre-existing visas to Afghans, and to only allow any in on the basis of e-visas, which they have only issued a few dozen of.

India’s desire to lead conversations on Afghanistan’s future, as demonstrated by the NSA dialogue, is a worthy goal for a regional leader, but can only be fulfilled once the government more clearly defines what it wants its role to be in Afghanistan.

Book Recommendations:

  • Quest for a Stable Afghanistan by Sujeet Sarkar
  • Tehrik-e-Taliban Pakistan: Origin, Evolution and Future Portents by Ashok Behuria
  • No-Win War: The Paradox of US-Pakistan Relations in Afghanistans Shadow by Zahid Hussain
  • Peril by Bob Woodward
  • The Battle For Pakistan: The bitter US friendship and a tough neighbourhood by Shuja Nawaz

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