[Editorial Analysis] A Crossroads in Kabul

Mains Paper 2: International Relations

Prelims level: India’s Afghan policy

Mains level: Effect of policies and politics of developed and developing countries on India’s interests, Indian diaspora

Context

• India’s Afghan policy is at a crossroads.

• A period of adjustment has become essential following US President Donald Trump’s unilateral announcement that he is pulling US troops out of the conflict-ridden country.

• Another development is the “framework” deal between the US and Afghan Taliban after six days of discussions at Doha.

• Washington’s hasty timetable 18 months to disentangle itself from the Afghan quagmire has narrowed the US’s options.

• India too is trapped in a strategic blind-spot in Afghanistan.

• Trump is the third, and perhaps the last US president, to try to wind up America’s costly military involvement in Afghanistan.

• But the announcement of a drawdown before the final peace deal with the Taliban is concluded was certainly a blunder.

• More fighting and political instability in Afghanistan would be damaging, as much for Indian interests as for regional stability.

From Pakistan’s point

• For Pakistan’s security establishment, Trump’s frustration at the current military stalemate in Afghanistan is a godsend it can re-engage with Washington, largely on its own terms.

• Trump has frequently criticised Pakistan for turning a blind eye to the Taliban’s insurgency. But he now appears reconciled to Pakistan’s centrality to the endgame in the region.

• The role of Pakistan is going to expand significantly, with the US depending upon it to implement the interim deal. This will be a diplomatic victory for Pakistan.

Afghanistan’s role

• The Taliban are playing their hand well, trying to secure maximum concessions from Zalmay Khalilzad, the US special envoy, without offering anything meaningful in return.

• The Kabul government is nowhere in the picture. The Taliban’s determined refusal to engage the Kabul regime constitutes the biggest obstacle to a meaningful intra-Afghan dialogue.

• The Trump administration is going to finalise the deal with the Taliban without consulting President Ashraf Ghani, leave alone taking into consideration New Delhi’s concerns.

• All talk of an Afghan-led and Afghan-owned peace process has vanished.

• The Afghan presidential election, originally scheduled in April, stands postponed till July.

• But if Trump expects a positive outcome from the Khalilzad-led negotiations before July, he seems to have set an unrealistic target.

From India’s point of view

• India cannot send troops to Afghanistan since there is a domestic consensus against it.

• But ironically, without any military footprint, India cannot convincingly push for Pakistan’s exclusion from the peace process.

• New Delhi today has little influence over Afghanistan’s future.

• An emboldened Taliban is sure to impinge on security scenario in India’s troubled Kashmir Valley.

• The outfit seems positioned to emerge as the ideological bulwark of Kashmir’s renewed insurgency.

• Pakistan’s security establishment, in cahoots with the Taliban, will likely project a potential American exit from Afghanistan as a vindication of its policies.

Way forward

• Despite being an important stakeholder in Afghanistan, India finds itself increasingly marginalised in negotiations involving the key regional players.

• New Delhi is concerned about the vital role that all the powers are giving to Pakistan.

• Iran and Russia, two of India’s closest allies during the Northern Alliance’s battle against the Taliban regime in the 1990s, seem out of sync with New Delhi’s interests.

• Since the Taliban’s ouster, Washington’s financial, diplomatic and military support to the Kabul regime has allowed New Delhi to avoid direct military involvement in the Afghan conflict.

• India’s developmental approach has earned it immense goodwill among the Afghan people.

• However, the “soft power” strategy has limitations.

• The manner in which Trump hit out at India’s contribution towards Afghan stabilisation is largely symptomatic of his fundamentally transactional view of India’s relationship with the US.

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Prelims Questions:

Q.1) Consider the following statements related to Partial Credit Enhancement, which was in news recently:

1. It enables the entities such as banks to act as guarantors for the bonds issued by the companies.

2. It leads to improvement in the credit rating of a bond.

Which of the statements given above is/are correct?

(a) 1 only

b) 2 only

(c) Both 1 and 2

(d) Neither 1 nor 2

Ans: C

Mains Questions:

Q.1) With US withdrawing from Afghanistan, India must find ways to maintain presence. Comment.

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