It is argued that the only way out of the morass in Afghanistan would be to replace Afghanistan in its traditional mode of neutrality. In other words, external powers must subscribe to a multilateral declaration not to interfere in the internal affairs of Afghanistan together with an obligation on Afghanistan not to seek outside intervention in its internal situation.

Background –

  • The agreement on the Neutrality of Laos, concluded in 1962, could provide a model for the neutralisation of Afghanistan.
  • U.S. President Donald Trump has announced his decision to reduce American troop strength in Afghanistan, 14,000 at present, by half (expected before the year 2020).

Legitimacy of Taliban –

  • There is no doubt that the Taliban will be a major player in the politics of Afghanistan in the coming months and years. They already control more than 50% of the country and are getting stronger and bolder by the day.
  • They are also engaged in direct talks with China, Russia, the Central Asian states and others. The Americans, represented by former diplomat Zalmay Khalilzad, have begun sustained dialogue with the Taliban.
  • In any future scenario, the Taliban are guaranteed to play an important, perhaps even a decisive role in the governing structures of the country.

India’s engagement with Taliban –

  • New Delhi has so far refrained from establishing formal contacts with the Taliban out of sensitivity for the Kabul government not wanting to talk directly to the Taliban as long as the Taliban refuse to acknowledge its legitimacy.
  • In case a Taliban-dominated government is installed in Kabul later, we would have alienated the Taliban by refusing to talk to them during the present phase.
  • Even Iran, a Shia regime, has established official dialogue with the Taliban, a staunchly Sunni movement.
  • It would not be difficult for our agencies to establish contacts that would facilitate initiating an official dialogue with Taliban; if needed, Iran could help in this even if it might displease the Americans.

Establishing peace in Afghanistan –

  • The only way to establish peace in Afghanistan is to promote a regional compact among all the neighbouring countries as well as relevant external powers, and with the endorsement of the UN Security Council, to commit themselves not to interfere in Afghanistan’s internal affairs.
  • The most important country in this regard would be Pakistan. Pakistan is highly suspicious, perhaps without any basis, of India’s role in Afghanistan. A multilateral pact, with India subscribing to it, ought to allay, to some extent at least, Pakistan’s apprehensions.
  • Pakistan already has signed a ‘Bilateral Agreement on the Principles of Mutual Relations’, in particular on Non-interference and Non-intervention, signed in Geneva in 1988 with Afghanistan.
  • India will need to talk to China about cooperating in Afghanistan; Chinese President Xi Jinping and Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi already agreed in Wuhan, in April 2018, on working on joint projects there.

Bonn Agreement –

The Bonn Agreement of 2001, which made Hamid Karzai the interim chief of Afghan government, contains a request to the United Nations and the international community to ‘guarantee’ non-interference in the internal affairs of Afghanistan, a request not acted upon so far.

Conclusion –

In any case, it would be prudent to assume that the U.S. will definitely leave Afghanistan in the next two years, likely to be followed by other western countries. No other country will offer to put boots on the ground, nor should they; certainly not India. The only alternative is to think of some arrangement along the lines suggested above.

SourceThe Hindu