Indo-Pak dialogue rivalry on Afghanistan

Sankar Ray
The third Delhi Regional Security Dialogue on Afghanistan on Wednesday less than three months after the Taliban’s seizure of power in Kabul has not really been to India’s liking – neither strategically nor diplomatically. Boycott by Pakistan and non-participation of China and the USA have decimated the importance of the meet. No effort was made to ensure the presence of a Taliban representative, reflecting lack of impartiality on the part of India. Islamabad accused India of being a ‘spoiler’ in the region.
In striking contrast in the participatory sense, at the Islamabad meeting of ‘Troika Plus’, China’s Special Envoy for Afghan Affairs Yue Xiaoyong led the delegation while the US State Department’s Special Representative and Deputy Assistant Secretary for Afghanistan Thomas West, who is the new US special envoy for Afghanistan, and Russia’s Special Afghanistan Envoy Zamir Kabulov took part in the deliberations. For Thomas West, this is the first meeting with Taliban foreign minister Amir Khan Muttaqi. Foreign Minister Shah Mahmood Qureshi and National Security Adviser Moeed Yusuf chaired the Troika Plus meeting. Muttaqi is on a three-day visit to Pakistan. Significantly, Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesperson Wang Wenbin stated bluntly that Beijing endorsed Pakistan’s initiative ‘in hosting the extended Troika meeting. We support all efforts conducive for stability in Afghanistan to building up consensus in the world.”
The Delhi dialogue, attended by eight security advisors of Iran, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Russia, Tajikistan, Turkmenistan, Uzbekistan and India for the first time, stressed the “importance of ensuring the fundamental rights of women” as well as that of children and minority communities – although none of the eight belonged to the ‘second sex’. They adopted a lengthy declaration crossing 500 words calling for reversal of humanitarian crisis and urgency to reach relief to the people, for a government that represents the major ethno-political forces in Afghanistan and underscored the imperative for ensuring the rights of women and minorities, also helping Afghanistan contain COVID-19. India’s National Security Advisor Ajit Doval, who chaired the dialogue, in his speech emphasised close consultations and greater cooperation and coordination among nations of the region on the Afghan situation, reposing expectations about the deliberations to be ‘productive, useful and will contribute to help the people in Afghanistan’
For Tajikistan and Turkmenistan, the meeting was meaningful. Nasrullo Rahmatjon Mahmudzoda, Secretary, Security Council of Tajikistan, said: “We have a long border with Afghanistan and the situation on Tajik-Afghan borders remains complicated,” and Charymyrat Amanov, Secretary, Security Council of Turkmenistan, termed the meeting as opening up of an ‘opportunity to find out the solution over the prevailing situation in Afghanistan, and to establish peace in this region.”
Kyrgyzstan and Kazakhstan, which were invited by India share no border with Afghanistan. But Russia has a border with Afghanistan and being a key stakeholder, its position at the Dialogue was important Nikolai Patrushev, secretary of Russia’s Security Council, endorsed India’s concern over threats and challenges emanating from Afghan territory but noted the proliferation of dialogue mechanisms on Afghanistan, including the Moscow Format and the Turkic Council. He cautioned against duplicate work in these forums and laid importance on complementing each other. Recalling the Moscow Format, on 20 October 2020, in coordinating endeavours to settle the Afghanistan issue, he said, “we laid a good foundation to determine the position of our countries regarding the development of the dialogue with the Taliban as well as to practically coordinate the efforts of all stakeholders of the region.”
The notion, pitched forward by a think tank in India that New Delhi’s ‘decision to take a leadership role on Afghanistan is a welcome change from its historical reticence’ is a pious platitude. The new situation following the takeover by the Taliban may need a comprehensive regional response and a new security architecture but India with a low-calibre NSA like Ajit Doval should not expect a positive report card despite the threat of violent extremism, radicalisation, porous borders and drug trafficking when China sides with Pakistan..
The hard reality is that Pakistan has reclaimed influence in Kabul due to the capitulation of the Western-backed government and Islamabad will do everything to help the Taliban attract investment from for rebuilding an economy that has imploded following the withdrawal of western aid.
India has to wait for a cleavage in Pakistan-China-Taliban equation instead of imposing itself as a ‘Eurasian power’ through routine regional security dialogues. The ruling coalition government, led by Pakistan Tehreek-i-Insaf and Prime Minister Imran Khan’s tactic of appeasement with the Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan and agreeing to a ceasefire is fraught with risk . The Pakistan People’s Party chairman Bilawal Bhutto has already sent a spanner by raising the question of constitutional propriety. The federal government argues that its intention is to end a violent conflict that claimed the lives of thousands of citizens, including security personnel, and pushing at bay the chances for a lasting peace inside Pakistan. Nonetheless, the decision to engage the TTP in dialogue is a political gamble with contradictions and unpredictability.
For China, the problematic taming of nearly 12 million Uyghurs, mostly Muslim, in the Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region remains a headache, despite assurance from the new emirate in Kabul. Unpredictable are the rank and file of Taliban who have camaraderie with Uyghurs.
New Delhi has to be patient first, optimistic later. (IPA)