India asked to lend a hand in Afghanistan

New DelhiWritten By: Gravitas deskUpdated: Mar 09, 2021, 11:42 AM IST
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Former US Special Representative for Peace in Afghanistan Zalmay Khalilzad (File photo) Photograph:(Reuters)

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For four decades now, Afghanistan has been locked in a state of war

The war in Afghanistan is called the forever war. Is India prepared to join it? India has been asked to not fight the war but to help end it. The others on the talking table could be Russia, China, Pakistan, Iran, the US, the Afghan government and the Taliban.

For four decades now, Afghanistan has been locked in a state of war. A dialogue for peace began last year. People hoped that peace would follow. So far, that hasn't happened. The peace dialogue is stalled. The war is very much on. Violence has only increased. The promise of a ceasefire was never fulfilled.

This brings us to the second proposal. Blinken wants a United Nations-led peace conference for a peace deal in Afghanistan. The US secretary of state wants the UN to convene a foreign ministers' meeting. This will have representatives from Russia, China, Pakistan, Iran and India plus the Afghan government, the Taliban and the US.

With no peace deal yet, there is a growing threat of a 'spring offensive' by the Taliban. Apparently, they could make rapid military gains once the American troops are gone. The US is now making a big push to restart the dialogue for peace.

And Washington wants India's help.

It wants regional powers to have a greater say in the process. At the same time, it wants the Taliban to have a seat at the table.

That's not all, it wants the Taliban to join the government in Afghanistan. So, what is Joe Biden's plan for peace in Afghanistan? And how far is India prepared to go?

Since taking office, Joe Biden and his aides have been conducting a review. They have been assessing the work done by the Trump administration. Over the weekend, Team Biden began taking its first steps towards resuming the dialogue.

US Secretary of State Antony Blinken wrote a letter. It was addressed to Afghanistan's President Ashraf Ghani. A copy of this was shared by a local broadcaster in Afghanistan. This letter offers clues on what America plans to do.

The first move will be to accelerate the peace talks. They went on the backburner after the American presidential election. So the dialogue that began between the Afghanistan government and the Taliban will move ahead. But, they won't be the only ones involved. The dialogue will have more players. 

Blinken believes regional powers "share an abiding common interest in a stable Afghanistan."

That's why he wants India involved. Soon after that letter got out, reports said US envoy Zalmay Khalilzad, the man leading the negotiations from America, dialled S Jaishankar, India's external affairs minister.

While both sides have not said much about what was discussed, It's safe to assume that Afghan peace process came up.

Why is this significant?

This is a major shift. The Trump administration kept India out. Trump said all India had done was build a library in Afghanistan. He undermined the contribution of regional powers. He was criticised for depending far too much on Pakistan for a peace deal in Afghanistan.

The Biden administration is looking to change that. Secretary of State Blinken is quite direct in his letter to the Afghan president. The US wants India to participate in the peace dialogue. New Delhi should welcome the proposal. It's always better to have a say than to observe from the sidelines.

Now, the most contentious part of America's plan is this one: An interim power-sharing agreement between the Taliban and the elected leaders of Afghanistan. In other words, the US wants the Taliban to join the Afghan government.

That's a huge concession for a group that has not stopped violent attacks. That's giving legitimacy to terrorism as an instrument of power grab.

Reports say there is a proposal to establish a 'Transitional peace government of Afghanistan', with representatives from both sides.

This will be followed by national elections. It seems like Afghanistan's president does not like this idea.

Two days ago, Ghani said he is ready to talk. But he believes the only way to form a government should be through an election.

"We stand ready to discuss holding free, fair and inclusive elections under the auspices of international community. We can also talk about the date of the elections and reach a conclusion," he said.

"I advise those who go to this or that gate to gain power, is that political power in Afghanistan has a gate, and the key is the vote of the Afghan people."

So Kabul is sticking to its guns, and rightly so. It wants a democratic setup. Why should the Taliban be rewarded with a role in the govt after all that they've done?

What is the guarantee that they will end the attacks?

What explains America's concession? Its desire to exit this war. They turned a whole country into a war laboratory and now, want terrorists to join the government, so that the US can stick to its deadline of withdrawing troops.

Yes, there are no easy options for Joe Biden. His government is caught between a rock and a hard place. But this is a situation of America's making, as much as anybody else's.