Updated: January 15, 2021 9:26:30 am
The two-day visit by National Security Advisor Ajit Kumar Doval to Kabul was the first by a high-ranking Indian official to Afghanistan after talks began at Doha between the Taliban and a delegation of the Afghan Republic. It came days after US President-elect Joe Biden’s victory received Congressional certification and as Washington prepares for the transition. One of the big foreign policy challenges for the incoming Biden Administration is how to take forward the Afghan process under the Trump regime. Piloted by Special Representative Zalmay Khalilzad, it led to an agreement with the Taliban for the US to withdraw almost all its troops from Afghanistan, with a prayer that the Taliban had changed enough since the last time to work in cooperation with Afghan political parties and other stakeholders for peaceful and democratic governance. The talks between the Taliban and the Kabul delegation are still on, although after the first couple of weeks, the meetings have been put on hold. It is no secret that the government of President Ashraf Ghani has been wary of this process since it began, and the refusal of the Taliban to call a ceasefire and the high levels of violence have not helped allay suspicions in Kabul about its intentions.
India has been concerned about a process in which it has had no role and that gave Pakistan — which used its influence to deliver the Taliban to the talks table — an upper hand in deciding the outcomes in Kabul. The Pakistan security establishment’s cosy relationship with the Taliban and the Haqqani network, and the increasing fungibility of groups such as Jaish-e-Mohammed and Lashkar-e-Toiba, have raised several security red flags in Delhi. The transition in the US has provided a timely window in which both Kabul and Delhi could signal these concerns to Washington. Kabul is eager to make clear to President-elect Biden that the Taliban must agree to a ceasefire. Afghan Foreign Minister Mohammad Hanif Atmar has sought Delhi’s support for this. A Democratic administration may also be more sensitive to the concerns of other stakeholders in Afghanistan, such as women and rights groups, who have real fears about a return of the Taliban. Earlier this week, External Affairs Minister S Jaishankar said India might increase “military assistance” to Afghanistan.
It is now more than two years since Afghanistan has had a full-time ambassador in Delhi. It is time for Delhi to rethink the “temporary” closure of the Indian consulates in Jalalabad and Herat, apparently due to concerns over COVID and heightened violence.
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