National Security Adviser (NSA) Ajit Doval will be chairing a Regional Security Dialogue of his counterparts on the Afghanistan issue on 10 November. This is the third meeting in the series, the first after the Taliban takeover.
The two earlier meetings were held in Iran in September 2018 and December 2019. Subsequent discussions were impacted by the pandemic. The meet will be attended by Iran, Russia, Uzbekistan, Tajikistan and other Central Asian Republics (CAR).
Indian government sources termed this large attendance to signify “manifestation of the importance attached to India’s role in regional efforts to promote peace and security in Afghanistan”, adding that it reflects “widespread and growing concern of regional countries about the situation in Afghanistan and their desire to consult and coordinate with each other”.
China is yet to confirm its participation, while Pakistan has turned down the invite, with its NSA, Moeed Yusuf, claiming that “a spoiler cannot try to be a peacemaker”.
In other words, Yusuf attempted to state that India was the spoiler in Afghanistan. China, banking on Pakistan for support in Afghanistan, is also unlikely to attend. If it does, it could send a minor official. The Indian response to Pakistan was: “Pakistan’s decision is unfortunate, but not surprising. It reflects its mindset of viewing Afghanistan as its protectorate.”
Currently, it is Pakistan which is requesting for humanitarian support to Afghanistan and recognition of the current government. With no nation recognising it, Pakistan is compelled to follow suit.
In global eyes, the perception is vastly different than that being projected by Pakistan. Islamabad backed the Taliban, however, while pushing for government formation in Kabul, created a Haqqani led government, sidelining the moderate faces of the Taliban, involved in the Doha talks.
This resulted in the world ignoring Afghanistan, refusing to recognise it as also continuing to block its deposits in the US. If Afghanistan is facing global isolation and zero funding, it has Pakistan to thank. Pakistan being ignored is also due to its Afghan policy.
India, on the other hand, has been globally appreciated for its efforts in supporting the reconstruction in Afghanistan as also providing food stocks whenever it faced shortages or drought. India has earned goodwill in Afghanistan, while Pakistan is considered an enemy. Currently, Afghanistan faces another drought and desires food aid.
Pakistan’s duplicity to support Afghanistan once again came to the fore when it has refused to respond to the Indian request to despatch 50,000 tons of wheat to Afghanistan through Pakistan. For India, the fastest route to Afghanistan, especially when it is in a crisis, is the land route through Pakistan.
This delay by Pakistan is only adding to the crisis within Afghanistan, an aspect that concerns the global community. Unless the Afghan government warns Pakistan, it will continue to ensure that Afghans suffer due to its own skewed policies.
This food crisis apart from security threats emanating from Afghanistan would be at the forefront of discussions in the forthcoming NSA meet. The fact that all CAR nations are attending the meet indicates that security concerns spread beyond just neighbouring countries.
From the time of the Taliban takeover, India has been warning that an unstable Afghanistan implies an unstable region. Terrorist groups which existed during the Ghani regime and fought alongside the Taliban against the Afghan army and coalition forces cannot be shut down, despite promises made by the Taliban in Doha. The ISKP is displaying an expansion of power as has been evident in its recent strikes within the country, including Kabul.
With no funds, the new Afghan government cannot pay its cadre resulting in them looting the common public or joining other groups flush with drug funds. Members of the erstwhile Afghan forces are also guns-for-hire for multiple terrorist groups within Afghanistan. It is reported that there are at least 14 different terrorist groups operating in the country.
All nations participating in the dialogue are aware that the presence of terrorist groups in Afghanistan can impact security concerns not only of neighbours but the entire region.
In India’s case, Pakistan could exploit the scenario by moving training camps of its anti-India terrorist groups from its soil to eastern Afghanistan to escape FATF and global backlash. Russia has already been raising concerns of the growing power of the ISKP in the country.
There are reports that the ETIM (East Turkestan Islamic Movement), which comprises Uighur militants, has been asked to temporarily shift location to address Chinese concerns. The Taliban have refused to act against the Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP), compelling the Pakistan government to commence talks. The message flowing from Kabul appears to display its unwillingness to adhere to its Doha promises.
India, alongside other participants, would insist that the current Afghan government strictly abide by the terms and conditions which were signed in Doha, preventing nations and terrorist groups from operating on its soil prior to the Kabul government being accepted as legitimate.
While there may be consensus on the provision of food stocks to stop the ongoing humanitarian crisis, there is unlikely to be any agreement on recognition of the Taliban government.
There may also be a call to the global community to provide humanitarian aid to the country. There is unlikely to be any agreement on the lifting of UNSC sanctions on members of the current Afghan government. Demands for adherence to human rights, education of women and respect for minority communities will also be passed.
Such dialogues, meetings and discussions are means of enhancing pressure on the Afghan government to adhere to basic global norms of respect for human beings, whether they be minorities or women as also to curb terrorist groups on its soil. These forums send forth the message that unless Afghanistan displays intent, it will continue being considered a global pariah and pushed back in time.
The statement released at the end of the dialogue would display what the region desires from Afghanistan. The presence of multiple nations at the meet indicates India’s growing acceptance as a major player in the region, which hurts Pakistan’s ego.
The author is a former Indian Army officer, strategic analyst and columnist. Views expressed are personal.