India’s interest is to find a way to play the role of mediator to negotiate with Taliban towards stability in Afghanistan
With the exit of US a fait accompli, there is a clear signal to engage with Taliban for an enduring peace in Afghanistan. A meeting under the auspices of Pugwash Conferences on Science and World affairs was conducted on January 23-24, 2016 at Doha. This was not the first time that a solution was being sought by the concerned parties at Doha. In May 2015, Pakistan, China and US tried to broker a peace between the Afghan government of Ashraf Ghani and Taliban without success. The failure of official mechanism has led to efforts on a track two level.
The argument to engage with a terror entity seems counter intuitive. More so, because India’s relations with the outfit have been patchy especially after the Kandahar hijacking incident in 1999. Dealing with Taliban is the least bad option in the present circumstances. With Taliban controlling almost one third of Afghanistan’s districts, it cannot be dismissed as a fringe player. The US too does not have much leverage to control the violence with a token force of just 10,000 troops. With the reconstruction expenditure from the start to date pegged at $ 113 billion, enough flak is being faced by Obama administration for continued presence and aid to Afghanistan.
Can the Taliban be trusted? They have given assurances of their willingness to share power with the Unity government in the conference at Doha. What is most worrying of its attributes is the extremist interpretation of Islam and denying of equal rights to women. Even if the Taliban assurances were to be trusted, there needs to be a guarded approach of dealing with them. For instance, will they be willing to disarm if brought into the power calculus? This will need to have iron clad guarantees. While advising the Afghan government, India has a bitter experience on this with the LTTE when Prabhakaran made only a token effort to disarm after the accord in 1987. So the Ashraf Ghani government has to have guarantees and make sure that the Taliban does not go back to its old ways once in power. This will be a long and torturous road to travel.
Vanda Felbab-Brown, a Brookings expert on Afghanistan believes that even though Taliban has been actively supported by Pakistan, many within the Taliban resent their Pak benefactors deeply because of Pashtun nationalism. The US usually wants Pakistan to take action against Taliban which it does as a charade against some elements. The Taliban, in turn want to assure India that their foreign policy will not be dictated by any outside power (a reference to Pakistan). The coming months will be closely watched as the cycle of violence repeats itself in Afghanistan. India will have to come up with an out-of-the-box strategy to engage with Taliban and the Unity government.
Guru Aiyar is a research scholar with Takshshila Institution and tweets @guruaiyar
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