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India’s first official attendance at an event involving Taliban: Understanding Afghan peace deal

 

The landmark peace deal was signed on February 29 between the United States and the Taliban in Afghanistan is significant in more ways than one. For starters, the agreement will likely be heralded as the start of a hopeful new era for Afghanistan, which has seen 40 years of conflict. The accord, to be signed in Doha, comes after more than a year of talks between the Taliban and the US that faltered repeatedly as violence raged in the country. A United Nations report had claimed that more than 1,00,000 civilians were killed or hurt in Afghanistan in the last 10 years since the international body began documenting casualties.

For another, India’s Ambassador to Qatar, P. Kumaran, will attend the signing of the peace deal, invited by the Qatari government; it will be for the first time that India will officially attend an event involving the Taliban. In November 2018, India had sent two former diplomats in “non-official” capacity to a conference on Afghan peace process in Moscow.

Pakistan has been one of the biggest sponsors of the brutal Taliban regime who had taken over Afghanistan at one point of time; the Taliban’s welcoming of Al-Qaeda on Afghan soil, post-9/11, was the key reason for the US invasion.

What does the deal entail?

While the deal’s contents have not been publicly disclosed, it is expected to see the Pentagon begin pulling troops from Afghanistan, where between 12,000-13,000 are currently based. The US has said an initial drawdown over the coming months would be to about 8,600—similar to the troop level President Donald Trump inherited after his 2016 election win. Further reductions depend on how well the Taliban honour pledges to start talks with the government of President Ashraf Ghani—who, until now, they have dismissed as a US-backed puppet—and seek a comprehensive “intra-Afghan” ceasefire and peace deal. The insurgents are also supposed to guarantee Afghanistan is never again used by jihadist groups such as Al-Qaeda and Islamic State to plot foreign attacks—a concept even some of Trump’s closest advisors remain deeply sceptical of.

What does a ceasefire have to do with the deal?

The Taliban, US and Afghan forces have currently committed to a partial, week-long truce. This is more significant than it sounds because it is only the second such lull in fighting since the US-led invasion of 2001. Only if it holds will Washington and the insurgents will sign the deal in Doha. Fears that competing sides could exploit a lull to secure territorial advantage—dashing any hopes for peace—have also surfaced in the run-up to Saturday’s meeting.

What does India hope from the deal?

The key to a lasting peace depends largely on the outcome of talks between the Taliban and the Afghan government, rather than between the insurgents and Washington. The Taliban have so far refused to accept the now re-elected Ashraf Ghani as the rightful democratic head of the country, denouncing him as a US puppet. Also, Ghani and rival Abdullah Abdullah are at loggerheads over contested election results, with few expecting the pair to bury the hatchet and present a united front. Afghanistan is in the midst of a full-blown political crisis, with the US refusing to unequivocally endorse Ghani’s re-election months after a poll that was marred by fraud allegations.

It is in these ‘intra-Afghan’ talks that India can play a significant role. It is common knowledge that the bloody Taliban regime in Afghanistan is backed up by Pakistan. Any decrease in democratic strength of Afghanistan and increase in Taliban influence will not bode well for India.

India has steadfastly refused to send troops to fight the war there. Its focus, instead, is infrastructure and capacity building. The Indian stamp is visible all around the country, whether in the form of big ticket government initiatives like the recently inaugurated Salma Dam and the spanking new Parliament building, or in the soft diplomacy furthered, rather unintentionally, by Bollywood. The entertainment section of newspapers like Afghanistan Times is full of Bollywood gossip, and Hindi soaps have an ardent following. India has dispatched billions for setting up infrastructure and for the general economic betterment of Afghanistan, making it one of the largest donors. From an economic or a geopolitical standpoint, India has a lot to lose in Afghanistan.

Milestones in Afghanistan peace deal

Trump has repeatedly vowed to bring US troops home and end America’s “stupid” wars while bemoaning Washington’s global “policeman” role. But, analysts warn any rush to leave Afghanistan could create an unmanageable situation. Washington “will shoe-horn this through and they’re going to declare victory. Whatever happens after that, they’ll say ‘that’s on the Afghans’,” Colin Clarke, a researcher at the Soufan Center think tank, told AFP. “What incentive do the Taliban have to stick to the agreement, particularly once they have what they want, which is US withdrawal?”

Mediated by Qatari diplomats, the talks were often marathon affairs—sometimes tense, sometimes respectful—that stretched long into the night. Both sides had appeared to be on the verge of agreeing a deal after a gruelling ninth round of talks ended in September.

But, Trump torpedoed the process following the death of a US serviceman in a Kabul attack blamed on the Taliban. He then astonished many by announcing he had invited the Taliban to the US presidential retreat at Camp David before scrapping the encounter. His famed unpredictability could yet see the Doha plans upended, although Trump vowed to “put his name” on a deal if the partial truce endures. Deputy Taliban leader Sirajuddin Haqqani wrote in an editorial last week that “everyone has lost somebody they loved. Everyone is tired of war”. “I am convinced that the killing and the maiming must stop,” he wrote in The New York Times.

But Clarke warned that Haqqani notably “didn’t denounce Al-Qaeda” in the article, calling into question the Taliban’s intention to go after jihadists.

10 Mar 20/Tuesday                                                                                             Source : THEWEEK

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