Amid US Exit Uncertainty, India Approaches Key Afghan Stakeholders
India is keeping a close eye on the developments in Afghanistan and is preparing for any eventuality in the peace talks by reaching out to key stakeholders in the country, reports suggest.
The latest update comes after the Taliban said on Monday, 4 February, they will participate in what they call "intra-Afghan" talks in Moscow, designed to bring together prominent Afghan figures, including former President Hamid Karzai, opposition figures and tribal elders – but no Kabul government officials.
The two-day meeting in the Russian capital, which starts on Tuesday, is seen as another step in a process aimed at resolving Afghanistan's 17-year war, a process that has accelerated since the appointment last September of US peace envoy, Zalmay Khalilzad.
Khalilzad is in a hurry to find a peace deal for Afghanistan that would allow America to bring home its troops after 17 years of war, but the road ahead is littered with obstacles.
India wants to utilise this uncertainty, over the US’ looming exit, as an opportunity to try and regain its foothold in the region.
‘India Won’t be Caught Off Guard’
According to sources quoted by The Indian Express, New Delhi has ‘quietly’ opened channels of communication with top Afghan leaders, cutting across communities and factions.
“We have independently started engaging with all major political actors and factions, since we have major economic assets in Afghanistan and need to secure those interests,” the sources said.
The report claimed that the government has been “working behind the scenes” over the last few months and that some of the key Afghan players have visited India in the recent weeks to meet “those who matter in the Indian system”.
“India will not be caught off guard. While the future of Afghan situation is a key item on the agenda of Indo-US ties, the government is in touch with Moscow as well as Tehran, with both having vital interests in the landlocked country. Besides, India is in consultation with China and has launched a capacity building project for Afghan diplomats,” a source quoted by The Economic Times had said.
New Delhi’s Waning Influence
India, as argued in this Asia Times report, faces a risk of losing out on its 17 years of tremendous investment in Afghanistan.
“It might be the only regional power to be sidelined from the peace negotiations, because it has lost its influence among Afghan political forces and is unable to influence other regional players,” the report added.
India’s waning influence on the Afghan peace talks was also highlighted by the North Atlantic Treaty Organisation (NATO), when it had denied that India plays a crucial role in the Afghanistan peace and reconciliation process.
US President Donald Trump had also taken a dig at Prime Minister Narendra Modi for saying that India had built a ‘library’ in Afghanistan.
Trump had said, on 3 January, “I could give you an example where I get along very well with India and Prime Minister Modi. But he is constantly telling me he built a library in Afghanistan. Library! That’s like five hours of what we spend (in Afghanistan).”
In this context, it remains unclear just how much of a difference New Delhi’s latest forays into Afghan circles – by reaching out to key Afghan players – will have.
(With inputs from AP)