Updated: October 22, 2021 9:14:32 am
The third meeting of the Moscow Format — attended by representatives of 10 countries including Russia, China and Pakistan, with the US staying away —reaffirmed the positions of regional and international actors on Taliban-ruled Afghanistan: It must be inclusive, must act against terrorist groups on its soil, and prevent them from carrying out attacks. Pakistan’s representative highlighted his country’s “well-recognised role” in the Afghan peace process; state-sponsored Chinese media blamed the US for its absence and affirmed “China and Russia’s prominent role” in the Afghan crisis. Once India had been invited to attend, an interaction with the Taliban was foretold. The takeaway from the conference is that the situation in Afghanistan is still evolving, and neither Russia nor China is rushing to fill the void after the US exit, as Rawalpindi had perhaps hoped.
Going by the Taliban version, the Indian delegation expressed willingness to provide humanitarian aid to the people of Afghanistan. While Delhi has been silent, the statement is of a piece with its earlier positions. India enjoys goodwill and a deep connection with the people of Afghanistan and it is certainly looking for ways to help — and be seen to help — those ravaged by the conflict. The question, though, is whether the provision of humanitarian and economic assistance is possible without recognising — or at least engaging more formally with — the new rulers of Kabul. Second, and perhaps as important, is ensuring that the resources India provides are used for the benefit of the common people of Afghanistan. The Moscow Conference has also underscored the fact that it is up to the Taliban, and its backers in Pakistan, to convince the world of their intentions. In the over two months since the Taliban seized control of Kabul, neither Russia nor China has officially recognised the government. In fact, Moscow has drawn clear red lines and reiterated that the Taliban must provide stable governance, institutions and rights to the people of Afghanistan.
Russia cannot afford instability in Afghanistan to reach its borders in the form of increased militancy, an influx of refugees or the greater flow of narcotics. In essence, it would not want to get embroiled in an unstable Afghanistan — memories of Russia’s failed intervention have not completely faded in the state apparatus. Beijing, too, has been circumspect. For now, New Delhi seems to be staying with its policy of offering the people of Afghanistan help while playing the waiting game on the diplomatic and strategic fronts.
This editorial first appeared in the print edition on October 22, 2021 under the title ‘A waiting game’.
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