[Editorial Analysis] What Kabul Needs

Mains Paper 2: International Relations
Prelims level: India- Afghanistan relations
Mains level: Bilateral, regional and global groupings and agreements involving India and/or affecting India’s interests

Context:

• US Special Envoy for Afghan Reconciliation, Ambassador Zalmay Khalilzad called for India’s direct engagement with the Taliban — has created polarizing waves in New Delhi.

• The fact that hardly anyone questioned the premise of his proposal shows the new normal in a Trumpian world.

• The proposal is being debated between proponents of Khalilzad’s suggestion and sceptics arguing its pros and cons for India.

Proposals and Sceptics:

• Evident in the justifications offered by the proponents is the fatalism that a takeover by the Taliban is inevitable, and hence, the utility of appeasing the new victor.

• Khalilzad’s proposal has also benefited from an entrenched deference to Western authority/wisdom among a segment of Indian pundits and policy-makers.

• On the other hand, the sceptics draw attention to the complexity and arduous nature of the Afghan conflict.

• They argue the need for Delhi to stand its ground in supporting the post-2001 constitutional order — an order that can accommodate the Taliban as a non-violent political stakeholder.

• The sceptics are not against talking with the Taliban per se, but they see little value in engaging with a group that remains fully under Pakistan’s tutelage.

• In line with Delhi’s stated policy of supporting an Afghan-led process, the sceptics recommend following the Afghan government’s lead in engaging with the Taliban.

Manufacturing reality:

• The Doha agreement between the Taliban and the US has effectively changed the status of the post-2001 constitutional order from “at the table” to an “on the table” new reality.

• Former Republican strategist’s description of US behaviour can shed light on US’s capacity to manufacture a new reality to suit its interests: “We’re an empire now, and when we act, we create our own reality.

• And while you’re studying that reality — judiciously, as you will — we’ll act again, creating other new realities, which you can study too, and that’s how things will sort out.”

• This imperial entitlement is often supported by other elements.

Pakistan, an ally to US:

• If Israel is a key ally of the US, and Iran the chief trouble-maker for Washington in West Asia, Pakistan has been both an Israel and an Iran for the US in South Asia.

• Pakistan has been the centrepiece of the US’s South Asia engagement, despite occasional rhetorical admonition and half-baked sanctions.

• Months before the Soviet intervention in 1979, Washington joined Pakistan in supporting the Mujahideen in toppling the Afghan government through Operation Cyclone.

• In 2004, Pakistan was recognised as “major non-Nato ally” of the US.

• Concurrently, major Afghanistan-related political, security and defence decisions were made to appease Pakistan’s concerns.

These include:

o downsizing the Afghan National Security and Defence Forces to a paramilitary force,

o promoting pro-Pakistan officials within the Afghan government and defence/security sectors,

o limiting India’s role to just a large NGO, and;

o projecting the Taliban as an independent nationalistic insurgency.

Three Pillars:

• Afghanistan will be at peace if and when there are a set of three mutually reinforcing pillars.

o sustainable state to provide decent public goods to its citizens;

o inclusive democratic governance; and;

o a supportive environment to protect Afghanistan’s status as a connector of competing external interests rather than a battlefield for proxies.

• A coherent peace process should be based on the four pillars of development, democracy, defence and diplomacy.

• Inclusivity has to be recognised as a cross-cutting principle, coupled with a primary role for Afghan ownership and ensuing Afghan responsibility.

Way forward for India:

• India should play an active role in articulating and promoting a process that leaves Afghanistan at peace.

• Despite its structural flaws, the post-2001 constitutional order has the capacity and legitimacy to become the basis for an inclusive peace process.

• India must come up with ideas and structures in the fields of development, politics, security and diplomacy.

• India can and should champion an inclusive, multifaceted and Kabul-centric peace process.

Conclusion:

• In a COVID-19-afflicted world and with a looming US presidential election, the aforementioned framework would attract the charge of naivety and idealism.

• However, the alternative would result in an Afghanistan in pieces.

• The Afghanistan of 1990s and today’s Syria, Iraq, Libya and Yemen are vivid examples of myopic and partisan policies.

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Prelims Questions:

Q.1) With reference to the UN Public Service Day 2020, consider the following statements:

1. UN Public Service Day 2020 is being observed on June 23 to honour public servants in the COVID-19 pandemic response.

2. The prestigious UN Public Service Awards (UNPSA) are given away on this day by UNDP.

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

Answer: A

Mains Questions:

Q.1) Highlights the policies taken by India towards Afghanistan so far. Do you think there is a need of change in India’s Afghan policy? Comment.

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