Afghan Peace Process: India Backs Ghani Govt, Plays Waiting Game

Nitin A. Gokhale New Delhi 29 January 2019

India has decided to play a waiting game in Afghanistan even as it confers and consults with all relevant stakeholders, multiple sources dealing with and watching the situation told Strategic News International.

The events are moving too fast to take any considered position right now, Indian authorities have concluded. At the same time, New Delhi believes that contrary to many doomsday predictions India is not out of the game in Afghanistan, simply because the current government in Kabul and the Afghan people in general have tremendous faith in India and the help it has extended to the war-ravaged country. In that sense, India’s leverage remains intact.

However, India is engaged at various levels with all principal stakeholders—except, of course, Pakistan—in keeping a close watch on the developing situation in Afghanistan. Last week, U.S. Special Representative for Afghanistan Zalmay Khalilzad was told in unequivocal terms that India has both economic and security interests in Afghanistan and that any attempt by Washington to undermine either the current Afghan government or the ongoing democratic process would be counter-productive even for the United States since a new dispensation may not keep Washington’s security interests in mind. India too will be compelled to hold back its economic contribution in that scenario is what New Delhi has conveyed to the United States.

At the moment, India is fully backing the current government in Afghanistan and continues to push for giving it a lead role in any future settlement. New Delhi’s quiet support is in fact seen as the Ghani government’s major strength by all the major players in Afghanistan and the main reason why it hasn’t collapsed or succumbed to any compromise so far. Aware of the reality, Washington wants India to prevail upon the Ghani government to accommodate some Taliban demands but New Delhi has resisted the attempts so far.

Simultaneously, India is talking to the other three stakeholders, China, Russia and Iran and trying to evolve a common ground. None of the three wants either a lingering U.S. military presence in Afghanistan or a Taliban-controlled government in Kabul for different reasons. Iran believes that even small U.S. military bases in Afghanistan are detrimental to its security, while China and Russia fear a spillover of ISIS, Al Qaeda or other terrorist outfits into their backyards if the Taliban has control in Kabul.

As far as the latest round of Doha talks are concerned, the United States has not yet briefed India about the framework of possible agreement with the Taliban and Indian sources believe even the government in Kabul is yet to be told about the exact contours of a possible settlement even though Zalmay Khalilzad made a quick trip to Afghanistan from Doha. The Afghan endgame is clearly yet to begin.

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