The Sixth “Heart of Asia” Conference in Amritsar brought together 14 Eurasian countries, including India, China, Russia, Iran and Pakistan, and representatives of 17 supporting nations led by the US and the European Union. It reviewed their efforts to deal with the threats posed to regional peace and security by developments in Afghanistan.
Both India and Afghanistan openly asserted that these threats arose and emanated from Pakistani soil, with support from Pakistan’s state machinery.
Afghan President Ashraf Ghani alluded to the enhanced security challenges Kabul was facing this year, with the Taliban stepping up their armed attacks across the country. He did not mince his words by publicly holding Pakistan primarily responsible for terrorism across his country.
He alleged that “some states still provide sanctuary and support” for terrorist networks operating in Afghanistan.
President Ghani pointedly referred to a statement by Taliban leader Mullah Rahamatullah Kakazada who had acknowledged that if the Taliban left their safe havens in Pakistan, they would not last even a month in Afghanistan.While noting that Pakistan had pledged $500 million for the reconstruction of Afghanistan, he rejected Pakistan’s offer of assistance.
He asserted that the money pledged by Pakistan could “very well be used by it for combating extremism” directed at Afghanistan.
The conference, for the first time, designated several organisations from Pakistan, Afghanistan, Xinjiang and Central Asia, apart from the ISIS operating in Afghanistan, as posing terrorist threats in the region.
India can draw satisfaction from the fact that for the first time Lashkar-e-Taiba and Jaish-e-Mohammed were designated by such a conference as terrorist outfits.
President Ghani generously praised India for its economic assistance, describing it as “impressive both it its scale and its system of delivery”.
There was also reference to the importance of the tripartite India-Iran-Afghanistan agreement on developing the Chabahar Port to promote regional connectivity to and through Afghanistan.
Despite these developments, India should not ignore the challenges that President Ghani’s government faces both internally and externally.
It is no secret that governance in Afghanistan has been affected by differences within the Afghan government. While the US has stepped up military supplies including the augmentation of Afghan air-power, there are logistical problems in routing American military supplies through Pakistan.
Afghanistan has been appealing to India for over three years for urgent supply of military hardware. New Delhi is yet to firm up arrangements for this. We should, if necessary, immediately conclude a tripartite agreement with Iran and Afghanistan to facilitate transit of arms supplies.
It is equally important that we fulfil our commitment on developing the Chabahar Port in Iran expeditiously. India also has to recognise the reality that we are seeing the emergence of a Russia-China-Pakistan axis, when it comes to developments in Afghanistan.
We should make it clear that the tone and tenor of remarks made by Russian Special Envoy Rehman Kabulov in Amritsar on a number of issues, including our bilateral ties, are not in keeping with the spirit of our long-term friendly relationship.
The process of reconciliation within Afghanistan has achieved a small success, with the former pro-Pakistani mujahideen leader of Hizb-e-Islami, Gulbuddin Hekmatyar, signing a peace agreement with the Afghan government. But the prospects for a restoration of peace and a peace agreement with the Taliban are virtually non-existent at present.
While the talks between the Taliban and the Afghanistan government are meant to be exclusively “Afghan-led and Afghan-owned”, there are many others hovering around with a finger in the Afghan pie.
The initial “facilitators” of these talks were the US, China and Pakistan. After that dialogue process broke down, largely because of what the Afghans saw as Pakistani duplicity, we are now witnessing the emergence of a new grouping of Russia, China and Pakistan, set to promote what is called an internal Afghan Peace Process.
The Russians now make out, with little evidence to substantiate what they are saying, that the real threat to regional peace emerging from Afghanistan comes from Daesh (ISIS) and not the Taliban. This is obviously a line Pakistanis are pushing, recognising that Russia’s primary concern is the ISIS.
One would not be surprised if the Afghans, said to be representing the ISIS, were really a front set up by the ISI.
In any case, we should not allow attention to be diverted from the fact that it is the Taliban, together with their affiliates in the Haqqani network – armed, trained and operating from safe havens in Pakistan – that constitute the main threat to the security of Afghanistan and indeed the region as a whole.
In the midst of a transition of government in the US, Washington can offer little to deal with these developments, especially as no one can predict what “deals” the mercurial President-elect Donald Trump will hit upon, to address developments in Afghanistan.