GS-2, International Relations, Uncategorized

Drawing Kabul into a closer embrace

The Hindu

Context

  • PM Modi’s visit to Afghanistan

Issue

  • India should not keep its relationship limited to infrastructure and should look for expanding the scope of its relationship with Afghanistan.

India’s contribution to Afghanistan

  • India has invested in economic reconstruction in post-Taliban Afghanistan.
  • India has built Salma dam in Herat province, which will boost the agricultural and industrial sectors of Herat.
  • Iran’s Chabahar port, which has been built with Indian aid will be linked to Afghan road networks.
  • India is one of the closest regional powers that has invested in institution and infrastructure building in Afghanistan.
  • Besides the infrastructure work India has initiated and completed, it has also signed the TAPI pipeline project that aims to bring natural gas from Turkmenistan through Afghanistan and Pakistan to India.

Should we expand our relationship?

  • Afghanistan is currently going through a particularly turbulent transition
  • It has realised that complete military victory over Taliban is improbable.
  • It is openly targeting Pakistan for supporting the Taliban.
  • Both India and Afghanistan understands that a stable regime in Kabul is geopolitical insurance against Pakistan’s deep state.
  • This raises the question that whether the time has come to expand our relationship.
  • India has signalled a small shift in its policy by delivering M-25 attack helicopters to Kabul.
  • But it remains cautious about making larger overtures on security and is wary of being sucked into a never-ending war.
  • Such caution is required.
  • But it should not deter India from playing a bigger role in a country whose stability is vital for its regional ambitions.For India, Afghanistan has immense strategic potential.
Editorials, GS-2, Internal security, International Relations, Uncategorized

Negotiating with the Taliban

The recently concluded Doha Dialogue on ‘Peace and Security in Afghanistan’ presents a number of opportunities for the international community, as well as India, in dealing with the resurgent Taliban phenomenon.

  • This conference was significant because key leaders from the Taliban’s Qatar office, the only one of its kind set up by the dominant Taliban faction of Mullah Akhtar Mohammad Mansour, were in full attendance at the meeting. The Taliban leaders have put forward a number of conditions for initiating a peace process in Afghanistan. However, the meeting was boycotted by the Afghan government.

Why the Doha process is significant at this juncture?

It comes at a time when the official Quadrilateral Coordination Group on Afghan Peace and Reconciliation, with participation from the governments of Afghanistan, China, Pakistan, and the U.S., has become a non-starter due to the non-participation of the Taliban.

  • The Taliban has also shown its willingness to negotiate a power-sharing agreement with the Afghan government.
  • It is also for the first time since the Taliban’s fall in 2001, they have started clarifying the contours of their vision for Afghanistan.

But, why should we make peace with a violent outfit holding highly objectionable religious and political views and what’s in it for Afghanistan?

  • With no less than 60,000 heavily armed men in their ranks, the Taliban are reportedly in control of around 30% of Afghanistan’s districts, with their reach and control steadily on the rise. Hence, not going ahead with the peace process is indeed a worse option, and could prove to be suicidal for Afghanistan and its people.
  • Even, the powerful NATO troops in 2011 could not stop the Taliban’s territorial gains. Now, the NATO has been withdrawn from Afghanistan. However, U.S. has decided to keep close to 10,000 troops in Afghanistan this year, and around 5,000 in 2017. But, this can hardly bring any changes.
  • The involvement of USA and widespread fraud during the 2014 presidential election in Afghanistan has dented the legitimacy of the Afghan government. Now, with decreasing American military support, very little political legitimacy, and sheer lack of military strength to run its writ over the country, the Afghan administration will find itself in more trouble in the years ahead. The more it delays direct talks with the Taliban, the weaker its negotiating position would become prompting the Taliban to seek even more concessions.
  • The Taliban leadership has repeatedly hinted at possible power-sharing arrangements with Afghan President Ashraf Ghani during the recent Doha deliberations. Given its many weaknesses, Afghanistan would do well by engaging the Taliban in a dialogue process.
  • During the conference, the Taliban assured the dialogue participants, including Afghan women, parliamentarians and civil society activists, that they would respect women’s rights (to work, choose their spouse, etc.) and ensure modern education for all, including girls. In order to assess this as well as to nudge them to change even more, it is important to engage them.
  • The Taliban representatives have also pledged open support for the proposed Turkmenistan-Afghanistan-Pakistan-India (TAPI) pipeline project and guaranteed that they would ensure the security of the pipeline along with the Afghan government.

Issues that need to be addressed:

The most important issue is that the Taliban, who refer to themselves as the “Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan”, are unwilling to submit themselves to the Afghan Constitution and accept the term “Islamic Republic of Afghanistan” written in its preamble. Intent on creating an “Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan”, they propose to establish a state based on the Sharia law. They are non-committal on the question of democracy, partly due to their interpretation of Islam, and partly due to their fear whether the Afghan people would accept them if they fought an open and transparent election without the might of the gun.

  • Since it is difficult for the Afghan government and for the international community to accept this proposal, a power-sharing agreement may be proposed by the Taliban. This could be difficult for both the Afghan government and the international community to concede and could well be a deal-breaker.
  • But, the Afghan government should seize this opportunity and accept some of the Taliban’s preconditions for talks, such as allowing them to open a formal office on Afghan soil.

India’s fears and options:

It is a well known fact that India has had a frosty relationship with the Taliban due to a number of reasons. Hence, India’s cautious approach towards the Taliban is reasonable. However, it is right time for India to play a more proactive role in the Afghan reconciliation process. It is important to take note of the laudable attempts made by the Taliban representatives in Doha at allaying India’s fears by stating that they would not allow their territory to be used for terror activities, and that their foreign policy would not be dictated by anyone (an indirect reference to Pakistan).

  • India’s Afghan policy, ever since the fall of the Taliban in 2001, has been impressive and imaginative. However, it does fall short in meeting the country’s future objectives in Afghanistan in the context of the emerging political realities there.
  • India should therefore make use of the reconciliation process in Afghanistan to subtly engage all stakeholders there. The Doha process and the message from the Taliban leadership based in the Qatari capital should be taken seriously by India.
GS-2, International Relations, Uncategorized

Renewed attempts to stabilise Afghanistan

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Summary:

Renewed attempts are being made for peace and stability in Afghanistan. Representatives of over two dozen countries met in Islamabad earlier this month as part of the Heart of Asia conference. This process was launched in 2011 to promote Afghan peace efforts. The conference ended with calls for the resumption of Afghan Taliban peace talks. A statement at the end of the conference by the Pakistan foreign Ministry said that Pakistan would encourage all types of peaceful negotiations with Taliban. Even the US, China and Pakistan have expressed their willingness to work with Kabul in the peace process. China is concerned that instability from Afghanistan will spill over to its western border. The U.S. wants to avoid an Afghan spiral into the political chaos and violence that has engulfed Iraq, another country in which it has made major military investments.

Turkey was the host country for the first “Heart of Asia” Ministerial Conference back in 2011. The main goal of the Istanbul Process is to promote enduring peace and stability in Afghanistan. The “Heart of Asia” process has 14 member countries, including China, Russia, Pakistan, Saudi Arabia and India. The process has also been supported by 17 other countries, including the United States and the United Kingdom, and 11 regional and international organizations such as the United Nations, NATO and the Shanghai Cooperation Organization (SCO).

The rationale behind establishment of the Istanbul Process had three main elements:

  • The withdrawal of international troops from Afghanistan and reduced international engagement and aid after 2014 would leave a question mark on the future of Afghanistan. Therefore, there was need to integrate Afghanistan in the regional economy and improve its relations with neighbors and regional powers.
  • This conference allowed Afghanistan to lead a process in which it had the authority to set its own agenda in regional perspective. The problems Afghanistan is facing are not exclusively a product of its own and they do not only affect it but also other countries in the region.

 

In terms of performance, the Process has been very slow and it has not depicted the clout which was expected. This was partly because of unclear foreign policy and lack of political will to improve the process at senior levels. It was further affected by the presidential elections and the post 2014 scenario of the country which raised questions and uncertainty about the future of the Process among participating countries. On the other hand, the nature of the region is complex and some of the key participating countries had conflicting agendas which further slowed down the process.

 

Significance of this process:

  • In spite of the slow process, the Process has had some achievements since its inception. It has served as the only regional forum lead by Afghanistan to set its own agenda.
  • It has provided an opportunity to open the gates of interaction for participating countries which found it difficult to do so.
  • It has earned regional interest as reflected by decision of China to host the conference in 2014 and participation by all members in the senior official level.
  • The Confidence Building Measures (CBMs) which include disaster management, counter terrorism, counter narcotics, trade commerce and investment, regional infrastructure, and education have been established. These CBM’s have served to build trust and allowed people- to- people exchanges at technical level.

 

Highlights of the recent conference:

One of the main topics of the recently concluded “Heart of Asia” conference was the Afghan refugees in Iran and Pakistan. The hospitality of Pakistan and Iran is highly appreciated since they have been hosting millions of Afghan refugees for the last three decades, despite their own challenges and limitations. There is a huge burden on the Afghan government to enable a safe return and resettlement of Afghan refugees in Afghanistan and it cannot manage this without the help of the international community.

  • The recent Conference was held at a crucial juncture following Afghanistan’s political, security, and economic transition. The relations of Pakistan and Afghanistan were in escalated state after the peace talks with Taliban, facilitated by Pakistan, were obstructed. This was followed by back to back deadly attacks which rocked Kabul and other provinces and Afghan government blamed Pakistan for the unrest and providing safe heaven to terrorists.
  • This Conference has been an opportunity to melt ice in relations between key regional countries. The dialogue process between Afghanistan and Pakistan which was hindered in the recent past seems to resume after successful talks between the two countries.
  • This conference also provided a chance for Afghanistan to reaffirm its role and commitments about regional cooperation and development. After successfully conducting Regional Economic Cooperation Conference on Afghanistan (RECCA) and Senior Officials Meeting (SOM), this was Afghan government’s another good move and progress towards economic integration and cooperation in the region.

 

Role of Pakistan in Afghan peace process:

  • Given, the landlocked position of Afghanistan, Pakistan has an important geopolitical position through which it intends to gain an exceptional trade opportunity. Pakistan is committed to play its role in Afghan reconciliation process for the durable peace in the region and realizes the importance of association of China and the US is instrumental in achieving these goals.
  • Through the constant efforts of the US, China, Turkey, Saudi Arabia and particularly Pakistan, the resumption of the peace process and the consequent stability can become the ray of hope for the enduring peace goals for Afghanistan. And the dream of durable peace can only be achieved through concrete steps to curb the flow of money generated through the drug-trafficking and organized crime.
  • Afghan leadership is also ardent on the development of the mechanism of regional cooperation to thwart the means and resources that enable the penetration of the terrorists into the society and believes in the need of a joint move towards the elimination of terrorism and extremism.

 

India’s activities in Afghanistan, especially its development work has been under the security umbrella of the US-NATO Afghan forces. India has committed $2bn in aid to Kabul and its annual trade is around $680m which can increase manifold if the Afghan-Pakistan Trade and Transit Agreement (APTTA) is worked out to permit India-Afghan trade through Pakistan. Improved ties with Islamabad can lead to a breakthrough which has the potential of transforming the India-Pakistan-Afghanistan relationship.

The more important issue remain with the question that the initiatives like the Heart of Asia-Istanbul Process and the desired development goals can only be achieved through the meaningful negotiation between the regional states in order to settle-down their core issues and long-lasting disputes moreover, the particular focus is needed for Afghanistan and all the developed nations must stand for the industrial development, better education and, social and political coherence particularly through the international scholarships and foreign exposure of the Afghan youth, better training and the peace talks must be expedited. Given the advantage of its strategic location, Afghanistan functions as a land bridge in the “Heart of Asia,” connecting South Asia, Central Asia, Eurasia, and the Middle East. Peace and security in Afghanistan will be vital for broader economic cooperation.

GS-3, International Relations, Uncategorized

(TAPI) Pipeline Project

 

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TAPI Gas Pipe line

Almost 25 years after its inception, finally physical work has been started on the $ 10 billion Turkmenistan-Afghanistan-Pakistan-India (TAPI) Pipeline Project. Afghan, Pakistani and Indian leaders recently took part in the ground breaking ceremony of the 1,814 kilometres project that is due to be completed by 2019.

  • The pipeline, which will pass through Herat and Balochistan before reaching the Indian Punjab border, and will draw from the world’s second largest natural gas field of Galkynysh, comes full of promise.

Benefits of India:

  • It will bring India much needed energy at competitive pricing, and could easily supply about 15% of India’s projected needs by the time it is completed in the 2020s.
  • Energy is a growing need, and even if India is able to source energy from other countries like Iran and further afield, both the proximity and abundance of Turkmenistan’s reserves, that rank fourth in the world, will make it an attractive proposition.
  • This project also gives India an opportunity to secure its interest in Central Asia.
  • TAPI’s success will also ensure that India, Pakistan and Afghanistan find ways of cooperating on other issues as well.

Benefits for other countries:

  • Holding 4% of the gas reserves of the world, presently, Turkmenistan exports gas to only very few countries. But, with the TAPI pipeline, it will be able to diversify its exports to nations like India, Pakistan etc. Turkmenistan will also earn a lot of revenue by these exports.
  • The potential extension of the pipeline to the Gwadar Port in Pakistan will also enable Pakistan to export gas to several countries, thereby increasing its share of revenue.
  • Since the pipeline passes through Afghanistan, it will earn some revenue too in the name of transit fees.
  • This project could easily supply a quarter of Pakistan’s gas needs.
  • It will also reopen a historic route that reconnects South Asia to Central Asia, in the way it was before the British Empire sealed it off.

Challenges before the project:

  • The TAPI project crosses Afghanistan and Pakistan, the former deeply unstable and of uncertain future, the latter plagued by terrorist incidents and infested with militant groups that may find a gas pipeline easy pickings. Ensuring the security of those involved in the construction of the pipeline and then extending that security along its length once operational is going to be a challenge for all the signatories.
  • After its completion, maintenance in the presence of terrorist elements in Afghanistan and in the restive areas of Pakistan will also be a challenge.
  • Another critical issue is the fraught relations of Pakistan with India and Afghanistan.

Conclusion:

Turkmenistan has mind-boggling reserves of natural gas and it needs to export this precious commodity. Countries like India, Pakistan and Afghanistan are facing a severe energy crisis and badly need such a resource to give an impetus to their ailing economies. It is important for these countries to increase cooperation and take decisive action against the terrorists who are the main hurdle to any peace and development process. If utilized properly, the gas reserves can change the destiny of the people of these countries. It is a win-win situation for all stakeholder states and they must make up for lost time to explore this channel of prosperity.

GS-2, International Relations, Uncategorized

Heart of Asia – Istanbul Process

It was established to provide a platform to discuss regional issues, particularly encouraging security, political, and economic cooperation among Afghanistan and its neighbors.

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It aimed at enhancing security around Afghanistan and promoting economic development in that country. Apart from the immediate neighbours, the process has drawn in major countries that hem the region, including China and Russia, Turkey where the Istanbul Process originated, Iran and the major Arab states, twenty-five participants in all.

Afghanistan has never been an easy place to deal with, for itself and for its close neighbours, having experienced much turbulence through the attentions of powerful, aggrandizing countries in its vicinity, and through its own restless stirrings that have driven it to spread its wings abroad. The constant unrest within and warlike attention from without led it to be described in the colonial discourse as ‘the Cockpit of Asia’, forever wrapped in strife and rivalry. The term that now seems to have gained favour -‘Heart of Asia’ -is certainly more appropriate and makes due acknowledgement of the geographical significance of its location at the centre of the continent.

India-Afghanistan: Lack of a shared border after 1947 affected what used to be a flourishing traditional trade between the two countries but in the last few years they have collaborated with Iran in finding alternative access through Chah Bahar on the Gulf, so the trading prospects are much improved.

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India is now in a position to play a fuller part in international efforts like the Istanbul Process without running up, as it has so often in the past, against the barrier of Pakistan.  It can also have easier access to Central Asia and thereby contribute to the development of the region as a whole, so it is poised for a bigger role in the Istanbul Process.

The security-related aspect of the ‘Heart of Asia’ meeting is of direct interest to India, which is always eager to widen the international net against terror. This is an important unifying theme for the participants, for many of them have been subjected to terror attacks and would be ready to back better regional coordination in confronting the menace. India will no doubt have a leading role in this endeavour.

The impending ‘Istanbul Process’ provides an unexpected opportunity for putting the derailed Indo-Pak dialogue back on track; the conference has its own dynamic but what happens on the sidelines may well resonate louder than any other part of the deliberations so far as these two countries are concerned. At the same time, the conference provides an important forum for participants to agree on practical measures on their shared regional interests, especially the matter of terrorism. Region-wide cooperation on this is long identified as one of the key themes of the Istanbul Process, and should receive a considerable boost from the forthcoming meeting.