Donald Trump pulling plug on talks with Taliban could not come at a better time for India; here’s why
US president Donald Trump’s DIY style of foreign policy was on display once again when he abruptly announced that peace talks with Afghan Taliban were now “dead”. Earlier the same week, the US president had shocked even some of the White House staff by suddenly firing his foreign security advisor at a time when the country is engaged in several fragile negotiations, and apparently with no contingency plan in sight.
Trump’s remark to reporters at the White House suggested he sees no point in resuming a nearly yearlong effort to reach a political settlement with the Taliban, whose protection of the Al-Qaeda extremists in Afghanistan prompted the US to invade after the 11 September, 2001 attacks.
But the US president’s eccentric ways seems to have created a silver lining for India, at least in this case.
By ceasing to engage with Taliban, which enjoys support and protection from India’s beleaguered neighbour Pakistan, US has validated New Delhi’s long-standing policy on Afghanistan.
First, India had well-founded fears about overtly legitimising the Taliban by negotiating with it as an equal; it believes that a peace agreement, if any, negotiated with it will be highly fragile and could risk submerging Afghanistan into the depths of another brutal civil war, once American troops withdraw.
New Delhi has never recognised Taliban as a legitimate political actor who should have a say in the peace process, or in Afghan people’s future. Besides, India has always doubted that whether any arrangement reached upon with a terrorist organisation like Taliban will be upheld with sincerity.
Furthermore, New Delhi has also always maintained that the peace and reconciliation in Afghanistan should be Afghan-owned, Afghan-led and Afghan controlled. But the US’ negotiations, which took off since October last year, had strangely decided to undercut the democratically elected government in Afghanistan by keeping them out of negotiations.
India also worries that the US-Taliban negotiations were more about a hasty withdrawal of US troops, which have bled out their resources for the past 18 years, than about giving the Afghan people a lasting solution.
The calling off of these talks have at least temporarily pulled Afghanistan back from the brink of a possible civil war.
There are also fears that any negotiations with Taliban may trigger those who have bitter memories of life under the Taliban. Afghanistan’s minorities, which together comprise a majority of the Afghan population, may decide to resist a peace solution that gives Taliban any territorial rights or legitimate rights to hold sway in the country’s internal matters. If such were the possibilities, then the status quo is better than plunging the state once again into a bloody civil war.
This is notwithstanding the fact that a chaotic situation in Afghanistan also means that Pakistan has a better chance of pushing jihadists into Kashmir and the US may be forced to look the other way as Islamabad’s assistance will be critical to it for any future action in Afghanistan.
If Pakistan feels the US is going to precipitously withdraw troops during the next year, it may decide that it’s more important than ever to support a proxy like the Taliban to protect Pakistan’s perceived interests in Afghanistan, which would be to keep India’s influence to a minimum.
This brings us to the second aspect of India’s interests in the cancellation of these talks. India’s internal interests are also deeply interlinked with the situation in Afghanistan, with Pakistan’s deep involvement in the so-called peace process.
India — which is seen as sharing a cordial relationship with the civil leadership of Afghanistan and which is the only regional country that refuses to recognise Taliban as a state player — has constantly highlight Pakistan’s ‘destabilising role’ in Afghanistan. Pakistan has not only supported and aided Al-Qaeda through Taliban but has used the terror group to train and arm local militants and deploy them against India.
But in the recently called off negotiations, Islamabad had emerged as a crucial go-between for the Afghan talks given its ability to help bring the Taliban to the table. The collapse of negotiations will and consolidate the civil leadership’s position and standing, given the Afghan presidential elections are due.
Furthermore, a mini win for India was hidden in Trump’s words against Taliban.
Trump said he cancelled the talks after the Taliban detonated a car bomb on 5 September and killed two troops — one American and one Romanian — and 10 civilians in a busy diplomatic area near the U.S. Embassy in Kabul. “If they cannot agree to a ceasefire during these very important peace talks, and would even kill 12 innocent people, then they probably don’t have the power to negotiate a meaningful agreement anyway. How many more decades are they willing to fight?” Trump tweeted.
While the debate on the US president’s true intentions behind cancelling the peace talks can rage on, what Trump admitted to in his tweet, in his own country’s context, was pretty close to what India has been maintaining since Day One on holding a dialogue with Pakistan: That terrorism and talks cannot go together.
With inputs from The Associated Press