The chances of a successful outcome to a peacemaking endgame are uncertain. Nevertheless, for India, turning away from Afghanistan is not an option
Some say, it is a place where conflict is endemic and peace will remain elusive. Others say, these are times of great power rivalry, and hence, the prospects of those engaged in the new great game cooperating are dim. Yet, peacemaking is in the air in the heart of Asia. In other words, there is a surge of diplomacy, to address the dilemmas that Afghanistan is confronting.
To buy our online courses: Click Here
On March 20, US defense secretary Lloyd Austin visited Kabul to, “listen and learn”. On March 23, Blinken shared Washington’s “initial thinking” about Afghanistan with North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) allies in Brussels. On March 30, the ministerial meeting of the Heart of Asia-Istanbul Process was convened in Dushanbe, bringing together 15 participating countries from the region, 17 supporting countries from beyond the region, and 12 regional and international organizations. More diplomacy is in store — including an intra-Afghan meeting in Turkey.
This frenetic activity is fanned by the timeline agreed to by the Donald Trump administration in Doha on February 29, 2020, for the withdrawal “from Afghanistan of all military forces of the United States, its allies, and coalition partners, including all non-diplomatic civilian personnel, private security contractors, trainers, advisors, and supporting services personnel within fourteen months.” Biden has acknowledged that it would be “hard” to meet the May 1 deadline, but when asked if US troops will be in Afghanistan next year, he clarified, “I can’t picture that being the case.”
The hectic efforts to not leave behind a wreckage after years of global investment in Afghanistan’s stability are understandable. India, too, has invested much in terms of peace-building in the post-2001 phase. While, previously, it has been part of large groups, for the first time, it has been invited to join a select group of six countries in peacemaking efforts. Ministers from Russia, China, Pakistan, Iran, India along with the US — states that have the capacity to play important roles in Afghanistan — will meet on a UN platform. This concerted approach to peacemaking in Afghanistan is similar to the P5+1 format for Iran and six-party talks for North Korea.
Also it, willy-nilly, means engaging all key players. In this case, it will inevitably mean the Taliban also, something that India has steered away from, thus far. Successful peacemaking requires substantive engagement. India will have to reconcile to the new realities of such responsibilities. This does not mean jettisoning interests, friends or the values that India has stood for in Afghanistan. It, however, means that rather than only voicing support, Indian diplomacy needs to be nimble in forming partnerships on specific issues to support the Afghan people with those having similar interests. More of quiet diplomacy and less of public diplomacy.
As diplomats jocularly put it, “If you are not on the table, you are on the menu”. It is time for India to earnestly move in concert to support peacemaking in Afghanistan. Not for no reason is it said: “Blessed are the peacemakers”.