India is hosting the ‘Delhi Regional Security Dialogue on Afghanistan’ on November 10-11. The meeting will be held at the level of National Security Advisors (NSAs) and will be chaired by NSA Ajit Doval.
With security concerns pertaining to Afghanistan weighing heavily on New Delhi’s mind, it has taken the initiative to organise a conference of regional stakeholders and important powers on the country’s current situation and the future outlook.
India’s top security establishment, the National Security Council Secretariat, has taken the lead in organising the in-person meeting. Invitations were sent to Afghanistan’s neighbours such as Pakistan, Iran, Tajikistan, and Uzbekistan, and other key players including Russia, and China.
No, that’s not happening.
Pakistan’s National Security Advisor Moeed Yusuf announced last week that he would not attend the meeting, apparently to lodge a protest against India’s alleged negative role in Afghanistan.
At a press conference in Islamabad after meeting with the Uzbekistan NSA, Yusuf, upon being asked whether Pakistan would attend the conference organised by India, said: “I will not go, a spoiler can’t be a peacemaker.”
“I think the region’s obstacles are in front of you, there is no need for a debate on this. On the one hand is India… unfortunately (because of) the government’s behaviour and ideology there, I don’t see how this (peace) process will move forward — not just for Pakistan but the region.
“The world has unfortunately kept its eyes closed and isn’t talking to India as it should,” Yusuf said.
Yusuf said if peace is established in Afghanistan, it could become a major trading hub as a corridor of connectivity in the heart of Asia. Had Yusuf consented to come, it would have been the first high-level visit to India from Pakistan since 2016.
A government source said the Pakistani position reflects its mindset on Afghanistan, where it has played a “pernicious” role.
“Pakistan’s decision is unfortunate, but not surprising. It reflects its mindset of viewing Afghanistan as its protectorate. Pakistan has not attended the previous meetings of this format. Its media comments against India are an unsuccessful attempt to deflect attention from its pernicious role in Afghanistan,” the source said.
And how does India view the response from the other countries it invited?
The response to India’s invitation has been “overwhelming”, sources said. “Central Asian countries as well as Russia and Iran have confirmed participation.”
According to the sources, this will be the first time that all Central Asian countries, and not just Afghanistan’s immediate neighbours, would be participating in this format.
“The enthusiastic response is a manifestation of the importance attached to India’s role in regional efforts to promote peace and security in Afghanistan,” a source said.
While Yusuf announced his decision to stay away to reporters, “formal responses” to India’s invitation are awaited from both Pakistan and China, the sources said.
This could be India’s attempt to secure for itself a seat at the table to decide the future course of action on Afghanistan.
“When you are not at the table, you are on the menu… this conference is India’s attempt to set the table, be on the table, and decide the agenda,” a source told The Indian Express, underlining the need to actively engage with the world to protect India’s security interests.
Until the fall of Kabul, India had not engaged with the Taliban through publicly-announced official channels.
New Delhi has made it clear that there are red lines around the actions of the new Taliban dispensation in Afghanistan — that it should not allow safe havens for terror on its soil, the administration should be inclusive, and the rights of minorities, women, and children must be protected.
But so far, the signs from the Taliban — whose government bears a strong imprint of the Pakistani ISI — have not been encouraging. This has been the assessment shared by New Delhi with its interlocutors in the last month or so, since the Taliban formed their cabinet.
The Pakistani NSA’s response describing India as a “spoiler” shows that Rawalpindi is not keen to participate in any process that is initiated by India.
Two earlier meetings under this format have been held in Iran, in September 2018 and December 2019. The third meeting in India could not be held earlier due to the Covid-19 pandemic.
The high-level participation at the meeting being hosted by India, the source said, “reflects the widespread and growing concern of regional countries about the situation in Afghanistan and their desire to consult and coordinate with each other”.
“India has an important role to play in this process,” the source said.
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