New Delhi: India could end up playing a more prominent role in the Afghan peace process even as Pakistan is seen to be dragging its feet and delaying progress months before the US pulls out its last troops from the war-torn country.
The development is an outcome of External Affairs Minister S. Jaishankar’s visit to Washington last week, top diplomatic sources told ThePrint. During the visit, Jaishankar said that there is a “recognition” in the US that India is “an important” part of the talks on Afghanistan’s future, but did not elaborate.
It coincides with some fresh turbulence between Pakistan and Afghanistan as Islamabad has announced that it would bypass Afghanistan’s National Security Advisor (NSA) Hamdullah Mohib in peace talks with the Taliban following a controversial speech by Mohib.
Islamabad is reported to have stopped official contacts with Mohib after he accused Pakistan of supporting the Taliban’s violent actions in Kabul and also called it a “brothel house” in a public speech last month.
Pakistan’s decision to bypass Mohib, the sources said, is just an “eyewash” to allow Islamabad to drag the talks while the US “rushes” to exit Afghanistan by 11 September.
Pakistan’s Foreign Minister Shah Mahmood Qureshi has said Afghanistan is making “baseless allegations” and sought to clarify Islamabad’s role in the talks during a meeting with President Ashraf Ghani.
“I want to ask Afghanistan’s President Ashraf Ghani: On the one hand you are asking Pakistan to help, but, on the other hand, your employee levels allegations against Pakistan and criticises the Pakistani institutions … For god’s sake, what do you want? Make up your minds, make up your minds,” Qureshi said.
Last month, Pakistan’s Ambassador to Kabul Mansoor Ahmad Khan met Afghan Foreign Minister Mohammed Haneef Atmar to push discussions as the date for the US exit comes closer.
‘US leaving Afghanistan for Pakistan’
Gautam Mukhopadhaya, former Indian envoy to Afghanistan, said that the US is once again reverting to its old position where it basically ends up leaving Afghanistan to Pakistan.
“They did it in when the Soviets left Afghanistan, and they are doing it now when they want to leave Afghanistan … While on one hand, they fall back on Pakistan when they need them, every US President who has come to power, from President Bush through Obama to Trump also labelled them as the problem. Now again the US seems to be falling back on Pakistan as they get out of Afghanistan,” he told ThePrint.
“Mohib’s statement expresses the frustration that Afghans feel that while the US looks everywhere else, to Afghanistan, the region and even the UN to seek a solution for Afghanistan, they completely forget what they themselves acknowledge, that Pakistan is the source of their problems,” said Mukhopadhaya, now a Senior Visiting Fellow with the Centre for Policy Research.
“The international community as a whole, the US, British, Russians, Chinese, Europeans as a whole walk on eggshells when it comes to Pakistan,” he said. “Taliban, in the meantime, has gone for an undeclared offensive in its effort to gain control disregarding all negotiations with the US. With the US leaving anyway, what is the incentive for the Taliban to talk?”
‘Role for New Delhi’
Analysts in the US said the Biden administration could be seeking to reassure India and that the new tension between Islamabad and Kabul looked temporary.
“One of the main topics of Jaishankar’s meetings was the status of Afghanistan following US troop withdrawal in September,” said Derek Grossman, senior defence analyst, RAND Corporation.
“To date, New Delhi has been quite anxious about the upcoming change there and what it means for an expansion of Chinese and Pakistani influence, potentially at India’s expense. The Biden team probably pledged to routinely consult India as the 11 September withdrawal deadline approaches,” he said.
Michael Kugelman, deputy director and senior associate for South Asia, Wilson Center, said Pakistan’s stance of not dealing with Mohib is temporary given the Afghan NSA’s importance in peace talks.
“The US wants the Afghans and Pakistanis to shake off their mutual ill will so that they can strengthen security cooperation and work more closely with the Afghan peace process. They don’t want Mohib’s words, ugly though they were, to be an obstacle. Washington, in effect, will want the two sides to bury the hatchet sooner rather than later,” Kugelman said.
On Tuesday, the UN released a report which said that a “large numbers of Al-Qaida fighters and other foreign extremist elements aligned with the Taliban are located in various parts of Afghanistan.”
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