For Peace in Afghanistan

IN a step towards forming a power-sharing government, the Taliban and the Afghan government began peace talks in Qatar on Saturday that was participated by India too in a calibrated change in its policy towards the ongoing peace process in the war-torn country. External Affairs Minister S Jaishankar joined the ceremony via video link while South Block sent a senior official to Doha to attend the meeting. Jaishankar told the gathering that the peace process must be “Afghan-led, Afghan-owned and Afghan-controlled”, “respect national sovereignty and territorial integrity of Afghanistan” and “promote human rights and democracy”.

Taliban’s negotiations with Afghan government followed the US-Taliban deal in February that paved the way for a phased 14 month withdrawal of the US forces and the release of 5000 Taliban’s prisoners. The deal was made possible by Taliban promise that they would not all Afghan soil to be used by foreign terrorist organisations as a staging ground for global attacks. The US-Taliban agreement was signed in the presence of leaders from Pakistan, Qatar, Turkey, Indonesia, Uzbekistan Tajikistan and also India.

There’s hope that a sustained Taliban-Afghan government engagement would lead to some kind of settlement. If the talks hold and are carried to their logical conclusion, it could be a matter of time before Taliban will take over the country in a power sharing arrangement with the other groups.

However, eventually the peace and stability in Afghanistan will have to be the responsibility of the regional powers. And it is unlikely to happen if the regional powers pursue their disparate interests in the war-torn country. The US will also need to make some subtle adjustment in its Afghanistan policy to make it work. In its current form, the policy almost entirely neglects the regional geo-politics, prevailing issues and the contending interests of the neighbouring countries like India and Pakistan which essentially keep the conflict going in Kabul. So rather than an exclusively Afghanistan-centric policy, US also needs a broader regional approach to work for an integrated solution to the conflicts and the competing interests that in turn fuel the war in Kabul.

The conflict in Afghanistan is now so much enmeshed with the regional rivalries and the issues that it appears improbable that there would be long term stability in Kabul unless steps are taken to get the regional countries cooperate to end the forty year long bloodshed in the country. The deeply challenging project of a peaceful Afghanistan, therefore, demands a broader regional cooperation, more so, between India and Pakistan. It is only hoped that New Delhi and Islamabad realising the momentous changes sweeping through region will cooperate to not only steer the region through the fraught transition of a post-US Afghanistan but also take concrete steps to address their lingering differences which alone will be the guarantee for a sustainably peaceful South Asia and the broader region.

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