An unstable Afghanistan is a threat to peace. During Synergia Conclave, Nirupama Rao spoke about India's options in post-US Afghanistan.
Raging insurgency threatens to fragment Afghanistan internally while regional aspirations are likely to ruin it from the outside. All parties have recognized that a military solution is not achievable and the attention has been shifted toward a possible political settlement to the ongoing war. With the US-Taliban talks held in limbo, the uncertainty continues.
There is a need to take on board the aspirations of a larger cross-section of the civil society in Afghanistan to ensure an atmosphere of enduring peace and freedom. Over the last 18 years, there has been credible progress made - the status of women, healthcare, minority, and youth, as well as the strengthening of security forces. These need to be taken forward.
The peace between the US and the Taliban is still elusive, and its outcome will be judged by whether it reflects and internalizes the empowerment of women and minorities to support democracy.
If enduring peace has to come to Afghanistan, it has to come from within. It cannot be imposed by the agenda of one or two parties or one or two countries. While the Taliban is a crucial participant in the process of bringing peace to Afghanistan, they do not hold the exclusive rights to determine what the future dispensation should be in the country.
India deserves to be at the table in every reasonable effort for peace in Afghanistan. The partnership built over the last 18 years has been a multifaceted strategic one with critical developmental components involving all parts of Afghanistan - infra roads, water, pipeline, power, capacity building, and gender and civil society empowerment, besides trade connectivity. We cannot afford to abandon this involvement.
The official Indian position is to support an Afghan-led, Afghan-owned, and Afghan controlled, inclusive peace and reconciliation process that promotes and protects the unity, the sovereignty, the democracy, the inclusiveness and prosperity of Afghanistan.
The transnational sanctuaries and safe havens provided to terror networks as far as Afghanistan and the region are concerned, have to be addressed for a genuine and sustainable peace to evolve.
The view from Kabul is also that the Al Qaeda and the Taliban cannot be separated even if the presence of the Islamic State in Khurasan, is not regarded as "a strategic threat".
The US is worried about the intensification of the internal support for the Taliban by Iran. An Islamic Emirate in Afghanistan pegs a very uncertain future for that country and puts at risk all the gains of the last 18 years. Counter radicalization in the country will continue to be a huge challenge.
Russia is following a very Byzantine policy and its growing connections with the Taliban are somewhat disquieting for the government in Kabul. But India needs to involve ourselves in closure consultations with the Russians on the emerging situation, which may also provide ways for strategically creating a set of options we can pursue.
China and India have an 'India-China' plus in Afghanistan, but it is rather a soft form of cooperation, involving the training of Afghan diplomats. China's strategies are predicated on the focus of preserving its assets in the region - both in Pakistan and in Afghanistan - and ensuring the security of its peripheries in Xinjiang and in Chinese Central Asia.
Pakistanis speak of India in a polarising manner when it comes to Afghanistan and the region in general. There are animus and frustration that works against rational approaches to seek solutions through painful negotiations, rather than those predicated on unmitigated violence and radicalism.
The hard reality is that India will have to prepare for a possible scenario of the reinstatement of the Taliban in a future power structure in Afghanistan, and we need to think of a smart and well-conceived strategy to engage even the Taliban in order to preserve our assets in that country.
- There is one clear trend on the ground –the Taliban is further consolidating itself in the country. A long conflict will tip the balance in favor of the insurgent group. The Taliban has spent the last eight years preparing the ground to return to power, and so near to its objective, it is unlikely to relent.
- In areas that are currently under their writ, the Taliban has replaced the Afghan government with their own administration, including Sharia courts and a force of shadow civil servants responsible for an array of tasks - from monitoring teacher's attendance to collecting taxes. They getting ready to assume control.
- The fact that the Taliban and the United States share a common enemy in the form of ISIS could open possibilities for the former foes to cooperate after the peace deal if signed. Taliban opposes the United States as long as the United States interferes with the Taliban's objective regarding the organization of politics and society in Afghanistan.
- Once the US leaves Afghanistan, violence, and instability will most likely spill over to India. This should be enough incentive for India to ramp up its diplomatic and security efforts in the country.
- Opening channels with the Taliban is a viable option for India. This could grant New Delhi greater leverage when it may need to engage with the group during a future crisis moment. Taliban is not a monolithic organization - in recent years it has split into different factions. India could also attempt to incubate less hostile elements within the Taliban to its advantage. Iran and Russia, who like India supported the erstwhile Northern Alliance, have mended ties with the Taliban.