The Afghan government has hinted that, at some point in the future, it may seek India's military assistance if talks with the Taliban fail.
“Should we not get to a stage in the peace process with the Taliban, then maybe a time [will come] where we would be seeking India's military assistance in the years ahead,” Farid Mamundzay, Afghanistan's Ambassador to India, told NDTV on July 13.
However, he made it clear that Afghanistan was not asking India to send troops. The assistance would instead be sought in areas like training and technical support.
In June, news reports cited Mutlaq bin Majed al-Qahtani, Qatar’s special envoy for counter-terrorism and conflict resolution, as saying that he believed there had been a “quiet visit” by Indian officials “to speak with the Taliban” as the organisation is now seen as a “key component” in any future government in Afghanistan.
A day later, India’s External Affairs Minister, S Jaishankar, highlighted that the intra-Afghan talks had not resulted in reduction of violence and that “any political settlement”, must “preserve the constitutional democratic framework”.
Speaking at the Shanghai Cooperation Organisation (SCO) on July 14, Jaishankar again stressed that peace negotiations are the only answer. “An acceptable compromise that reflects the Doha process, Moscow format and Istanbul process is essential. The future of Afghanistan cannot be its past. A whole new generation has different expectations. We should not let them down,” he said.
“The challenge is to act seriously and sincerely on these beliefs because there are forces at work with a very different agenda. The world is against the seizure of power by violence and force. It will not legitimise such actions,” Jaishankar charged.
Harsh V Pant, Director, Studies and Head of the Strategic Studies Programme at Observer Research Foundation, told Moneycontrol that India’s immediate priority is to protect its investments, many of which are more of confidence building measures.
“But the priority is also to ensure that Afghanistan (under Taliban) doesn’t become an extension of Pakistan’s establishment,” he cautioned.
While India's foreign ministry denied reports that Jaishankar had met the Taliban delegation in Doha, it didn’t reject the notion that such a meeting may have taken place at another level.
“We have been engaging with Afghans across ethnicities as a friendly neighbour,” External Affairs Ministry’s Spokesperson, Arindam Bagchi, said at a news conference, while responding to questions on whether India was engaging with the Taliban.
That could be India’s gambit towards the rapidly developing situation.
“So far, India’s goal was to ensure Afghanistan remains stable and thus, supporting a democratic setup was the strategy. But now, the Taliban is the most important player in the Afghan political sphere for India to negotiate with. India would be ready to settle for some sort of a politically functional government in Kabul. But the Taliban is taking control of territory rapidly, so the chances of them coming to the negotiation table are slim,” Pant said.
India has helped build several schools and basic health clinics, Afghanistan's new Parliament building, the Salma ‘friendship’ dam and a cricket stadium in Kandahar.
Buses, military vehicles, Russian-made Mi-35 helicopters and ambulances have also been gifted.
New Delhi has funded the Afghan Red Crescent Society programme, arranged free medicine and medical consultations in multiple cities and sent nutritional products for schoolchildren. Additionally, India provides technical advice and trains Afghan public servants and their security personnel.
Of course, these investments have been made with the strategic intent of countering Islamabad’s influence on landlocked Afghanistan and to win Kabul’s friendship, but these projects are also seen as a win-win for both sides.
Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi is greeted by Afghan President Ashraf Ghani (left) before the inauguration of the Salma Dam in Herat province, Afghanistan on June 4, 2016 (Image: Reuters/Omar Sobhani)
On July 10, India evacuated around 50 officials and security personnel from the Kandahar consulate in an air force aircraft as Taliban fighters seized key areas near the southern city.
However, responding to media queries, MEA spokesperson Bagchi clarified that the Kandahar consulate had not been closed and only “India-based personnel have been brought back for the time being”.
It is a temporary measure, he said, stating that the consulate continues to operate through local staff.
“India is closely monitoring the evolving security situation in Afghanistan. The safety and security of our personnel is paramount … As an important partner of Afghanistan, India remains committed to a peaceful, sovereign and democratic Afghanistan.” Bagchi added.
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Afghanistan’s Foreign Affairs spokesperson and Director General of Communications did not respond to Moneycontrol’s request for comments, but Afghan envoy to India, Mamundzay, tweeted on July 13 that India’s long-term commitment towards a “peaceful, sovereign and stable Afghanistan remains strong”.
Earlier, Mamundzay had told the ANI news agency that India can play a constructive role in the peace process along with other regional actors. “India can utilise its convening power to put more pressure on the Taliban through diplomatic channels to come to the negotiating table,” he said.
“We are not heading to a dark age. We need to remember that there were 40+ NATO member countries fighting a war on terror. It was expected that we would be going through a difficult period after their (US and NATO troops) withdrawal,” Mamundzay added.
On this, Orozgani hopes the international community will not leave Afghanistan alone in this time of crisis. “But it seems that they have already left because most of the embassies are closing and international organisations are leaving. This is a hopeless situation,” she said.
“My hope from India and Russia and the rest of the international community is to not leave Afghanistan alone. As human beings, Afghans deserve to experience a peaceful life. This can’t happen when countries are leaving. What I expect is for these two countries (India and Russia) to support and help Afghans and fight against the Taliban as one,” pleaded Orozgani.