India must not allow Pakistan, China, US to sideline ties with Afghanistan

New Delhi has to balance its policy towards the Pashtuns and non-Pashtuns better.

 |  5-minute read |   09-02-2016
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The rising Taliban attacks within Afghanistan, the continuing dubious role of Pakistan, a more visible Chinese role in the reconciliation process, the ambiguities of US policy in the AfPak and the most recent visit to India of Afghan CEO Abdullah Abdullah for the Jaipur terrorism conference make it opportune to assess the latest situation in Afghanistan.


With the death of the elusive Mullah Omar, the myth of the Taliban is believed to be over. Pakistan is now trying to project Mullah Mansour as a myth, with restricted accessibility to him and his movements shrouded in mystery. His brand within Afghanistan has to be politically consolidated. To this end a so-called jirga comprising a few thousand people was organised by the ISI declaredly in Afghanistan but actually in Quetta, where he was anointed as Amir-ul-Momineen.

The Taliban's international legitimacy has to be built. Pakistan is, therefore, telling the UN that it must reach out to the Taliban if it wants the group to enter the negotiating process.

Already the UN has been in contact with the Taliban in Qatar three or four times. Pakistan is telling the Central Asian states that now a new Taliban exists and it should be engaged. Turkmenistan is in contact with the Taliban. Russia is apparently not in touch with Mansour but with his rival Mullah Rasul, who controls territory in the area through which TAPI would pass.

Also read: India needs to play a bigger role in Afghanistan

The real redline in the reconciliation process has to be the exclusive role of the Afghan National Security Forces for the country's security. No dual system of security should be accepted in which the Taliban can have a few divisions under their command.

Pluralism and political competition have to be respected as part of any solution. Knowledgeable Afghan sources say that Pakistan wants no political competition in the east and south of the country from which NGO and political party activity would be barred. The objective is to evict India from the "sensitive" parts of Afghanistan and make them closed zones for Pakistan.

The overall security scene is not encouraging. In 2015, the ANSF lost about 9,000 men, causing stress in society and in the armed forces, though not a Syria-like situation. The Afghan forces still retain their multi-ethnic character, with Pushtun officers commanding a non-Pashtun force.


The Afghans would want India to work with this force and strengthen it, particularly as this is an area in which Pakistan cannot compete with India. The ANSF is facing a recruitment problem, with only 3,000 trained men joining, leading to a shortfall of 6,000. Pakistan, aware of the situation, has intensified pressure on the force with a series of operations in areas where the Afghan government is weak. A large number of suicide attacks have been launched in cities, with 80 in Kabul alone.

Also read: Why Afghan peace process matters to both India and Pakistan

Significantly, the Taliban strength of 20,000 to 30,000 equals the real fighting strength of the ANSF, which has a teeth to tail ratio of 1 to 13. Saudi funding to the Taliban seems to have been stepped up by way of equipment and training, judging from the very organised and professional attack on Kunduz.

India and Afghanistan should not be distracted from the real threat they face from LeT, JeM and the Taliban by allowing attention to be shifted to the ISIS because of the West's focus on it. Our focusing on the ISIS is to Pakistan's advantage as it takes the eye off them. At the Jaipur conference the ISIS threat was overemphasised in the Afghan view.


Pakistan was isolated five years ago and today everybody thinks Pakistan can deliver. Pakistan does not want to violently capture Kabul; the cost of war to it will become unaffordable as other countries will support resistance. Pakistan would also not want to administer a slap on the face of the US. Its objective would be to keep Kabul besieged and the president beleaguered.

India has to balance its policy towards the Pashtuns and non-Pashtuns better. We have invested heavily on Pashtuns in the last 15 years and have apparently taken the sympathy and support of non-Pashtuns for granted. Eighty per cent of the scholarships offered by India go to the Pashtuns, for instance. Pakistan has started reaching out to the non-Pashtuns, asking them why they want to die for the Durand Line when they are not there physically.

Also read: Afghanistan represents victory of India's soft power

The Taliban are telling the Chinese - who have a soft corner for them - that they can deliver the Uighurs. The Chinese do not support a military solution in Afghanistan; they prefer a peaceful settlement in which the role of Pakistan expands. The Chinese regard the Taliban as part of Afghan society, support power sharing, consider Pakistan's interests legitimate and want to shift attention to the ISIS. The four-way talks on Afghanistan present a problem in that Pakistan supports the Taliban and China supports Pakistan which, with the US as an observer, reduces Afghanistan to a minority. This format is not in India's interest either, as China has done virtually nothing for Afghanistan whereas India, which has been excluded, has done a lot.

For our Afghan friends, India is a power in Afghanistan because it has built relations with Afghans. Pakistan, China and the US must not be allowed to sideline us there.

(Courtesy of Mail Today.)


Kanwal Sibal Kanwal Sibal

Former Foreign Secretary

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