Two important moots were held two weeks back to discuss the latest situation in Afghanistan. One was in New Delhi where India hosted the Regional Security Dialogue on Afghanistan, bringing together security chiefs of Russia, Iran and five Central Asian nations to discuss the situation arising from the Taliban’s takeover in Kabul. The other was a meeting of Troika Plus in Islamabad. The Troika, comprising Pakistan, China, Russia, and the United States, met to discuss the latest situation in Afghanistan. The extended Troika also met with senior Taliban representatives on the sidelines of the meeting.
The two meetings, although on the same issue, had different formats, agendas and objectives. The Delhi conclave was designed by India, which has lost influence in Afghanistan after the Taliban takeover, to prove its relevance to Afghanistan with reference to regional security imperatives.
But with the main protagonist Afghanistan as well as China and Pakistan absent, the Delhi conference was a non-starter. Pakistan’s Security Adviser Moeed Yusuf declined Delhi’s invitation saying that a spoiler can’t be a peacemaker, while China cited scheduling issues to skip the moot. Clearly, the Delhi moot was a damp squib but the the Indian media tried to play it up by saying that the participation of Afghanistan’s neighbours in the meeting showed “enthusiastic response” and the importance attached to India’s role in promoting “peace and security.” India’s ANI News quoted an official source as saying that Pakistan’s role in Afghanistan was “pernicious.”
As China’s news outlet Global Times rightly pointed out, India’s aim in organising the security dialogue was to use the event to underline its importance and influence in regional affairs, and show Pakistan and the Taliban in a bad light by drumming up the threat of terrorism emanating from Afghanistan. Since the US made a hasty exit from Afghanistan, India has felt being left out in the cold. India invested heavily in Afghanistan and under the US military umbrella gave assistance to the then-Kabul government in intelligence and security matters and trained its officers.
During the long occupation years, India bitterly opposed the Taliban. Given this background, how can the Taliban trust India when it shows concern over the security situation in Afghanistan? The hidden motive behind the Delhi moot was to defame the Taliban and characterise the new regime in Kabul as a threat to the neighbouring countries.
This is a blatant piece of disinformation as Taliban representatives are in constant contact with neighbouring states. In September, the Taliban invited special envoys from Russia, Pakistan and China to hold talks on the situation in Afghanistan. But India was not invited. In October, Russia gathered 10 countries, including China and Pakistan, to focus on the developing political and military situation in Afghanistan, highlighting the prominent role of China-Russia coordination. As Pakistan and China have been working closely with Russia as well as Central Asian countries on security issues in Afghanistan, India feels miffed and hence its diplomatic maneuvers aim to throw a spanner in the works. Until the fall of Kabul, India had not engaged with the Taliban and now it feels that it has lost the ground completely there. According to some sources, it has tried to approach the Taliban through backdoor channels, but there has been no response from them.
The Delhi Declaration gives away the game India is trying to play. Its main thrust is to “combat terrorism in all its forms and manifestations” and it demands “an open and truly inclusive government that represents the will of all the people of Afghanistan.” This indirectly refers to the Northern Alliance which enjoyed open-ended support of New Delhi during the past 20 years. The declaration also hints at the formation of a regional front or coalition to apply pressure on the Taliban and other armed actors.
Through the Delhi Dialogue, India tried to re-establish its relevance as a player in Afghan affairs but failed. Feeling crest-fallen for losing its 20-year-long stake in Afghanistan after the Taliban marched into Kabul, India wanted to demonstrate it still matters by virtue of being accepted by the neighbouring countries as a legitimate stakeholder in regional affairs but its salvo misfired.
With the Delhi Declaration putting too much emphasis on security concerns pertaining to Afghanistan as compared to the serious humanitarian crisis building up there, India could not endear itself to the Taliban.
By contrast, the Troika meeting in Islamabad was more positive in its approach and outcome. It expressed deep concern about the serious humanitarian and economic situation in Afghanistan and reiterated unwavering support for its people. It called upon the international community to come up with massive development and food aid to save Afghanistan from the imminent economic and social collapse. At the same time it urged the Taliban to work with fellow Afghans to take steps to form an inclusive and representative government that respects the rights of all Afghans and provides for the equal rights of women and girls to participate in all aspects of Afghan society.
Prime Minister Imran Khan, in his meeting with members of the Troika, underlined the importance of peace and stability in Afghanistan for the security and prosperity of the entire region. The premier also underlined the importance of inclusivity, human rights and counter-terrorism operations in the wake of Kabul’s takeover by the Taliban.
He urged the international community to take steps for “constructive engagement” with Taliban-led Afghanistan so that mutual concerns could be addressed. The PM laid a strong emphasis on the provision of urgent humanitarian assistance as well as economic support to Afghanistan to avert the twin challenges of humanitarian crisis and economic collapse.
It is hoped that, in the light of the recommendations of the two Afghan moots, the international community would recognise the gravity of the situation and take urgent measures, including the release of frozen assets, to help alleviate the sufferings of the Afghan people.