File photo: US special envoy for peace in Afghanistan, Zalmay Khalilzad. Photograph:( Reuters )
Americans want to exit Afghanistan quickly. It is for this reason that the US engaged Taliban despite continuous attack by them on the present government.
As the September 1 deadline to conclude talks with Taliban close in, United States of America, China, Russia and Pakistan have come together to hammer out a peace deal with the Taliban. This new strategic alignment on Afghanistan is causing India a great deal of discomfort. Not only it leaves India out of the decision-making loop, United States-led talks have not even accommodated concerns expressed by the Indian authorities.
India, in past 18 years, gained immense goodwill in Afghanistan after investing in schools, dams, infrastructure projects and electoral process. Post-2001, the US-led invasion pushed Taliban out of Afghanistan and ensured take over of Kabul by northern alliance which subsequently established control over major parts of the country. Ironically, India's position of advantage was heavily compromised by the unilateral talks which the US undertook with the Taliban. Not only it discredited the functional government with which India has deep ties, it also left the present Kabul dispensation out of loop.
Americans want to exit Afghanistan quickly. It is for this reason that the US engaged Taliban despite continuous attack by them on the present government. US special envoy on Afghanistan, Zalmay Khalilzad, after conclusion of Doha talks with the Taliban, briefed both Russian and Chinese officials.
Subsequently, Pakistani officials were invited for talks in Beijing where all four countries released a statement on the conclusion of two-day meeting between four nations. The statement acknowledged importance of Pakistan in facilitating peace in Afghanistan. To top it all, former Afghanistan president Hamid Karzai who is supposed to have close ties with India became a facilitator of Taliban talks in both Beijing and Moscow.
India, however, has been insisting that elections in Afghanistan must be held on schedule. This demand of India has not cut much ice with Amercian counterparts who want the elections to be postponed so that peace talks can quickly conclude.
Today, India is neither on the table where political negotiation with Taliban is taking place, nor it has been able to impress big powers with its concerns. Pakistan, through the ban on its airspace, has cut India from Afghanistan, imposing economic costs and making a political point of its indispensibility. Critics back at home believe that what matters in the end, though, is not India's diplomatic presence at various peace initiatives, but New Delhi's quiet but sustained engagement with all Afghan political formations.