India Left out of the Afghan End Game and A Proxy Warfare against Pakistan
India has been badly on edge since Pakistan has gained a central position in the Afghan peace process alongside United States, Russia, and China, in a bid to reach a peace settlement in Afghanistan without any role of New Delhi. In what is seen as a tangible development raising hopes for the early resolution of the 18-year long war, a four-party meeting between these countries and Taliban representatives was held on July 12 in Beijing, marking substantial strides in crafting a peace agreement with the Taliban. Indian media, spiteful over New Delhi’s exclusion in the talks, burst into a frenzy with concerns worsened by its archrival’s growing role in Afghanistan. Headlines as “India elbowed out of Af peace talks,” and “India loses Afghan proxy war” read loud in India’s leading newspapers such as the Times of India and others.
India Secular State or a Terrorism Supporter in Afghanistan
Though a blow to India’s ego, truthfully the country has been nowhere in the peace negotiations, as pointed out by former Afghan Ambassador to India Shaida Abdali, and nor have its concerns gained any traction in recent months. None of the principal stakeholders in Afghanistan have agreed to India’s proposal that the Afghan presidential elections be held on schedule even if the peace settlement has not completed. US Ambassador to Afghanistan John Bass, in fact in a statement last week, categorically prioritized completing the peace process with the Taliban before the presidential elections can be held. Clearly, India’s concerns stem from the fact that India’s 18-year investment in Afghanistan has been largely with the government of the day which was backed by the US and not with the Taliban, whose legitimate role in Afghan politics has been recognized by major stakeholders in the talks.
United States Lobby to gain the support of Russia and China
In the recent series of peace talks held in Moscow, Doha, and Beijing, the US actively lobbied to gain the support of Russia and China, and, last week, to India’s chagrin, included Pakistan to play its decisive role in bringing the Taliban to the table and keeping them there. The statement from the four-party meeting termed its participants as “crucial parties,” encouraging them to advance their talks and increase contacts with each other. The points of convergence reached between the US and Taliban in Doha this July reinforced the points agreed upon in the Moscow moot; thus taking care of Russia’s interests. As China and Pakistan, being the two other parties, already look out for each other, India then remains the only one left out of the picture despite its vital security interests in Afghanistan.
Interestingly, many Indian analysts, including former Indian diplomat M. K. Bhadrakumar who heads the Indian Punchline blog, have called out India as the “big loser” in this scenario for continuing to use Afghanistan as a turf to wage a proxy war against Pakistan and remaining impervious to the blaring reality of the Taliban’s increasingly pivotal role in Afghanistan’s future. On the other hand, Indian analysts also blame the US for once hailing the Modi government as the US number one partner in its South Asian strategy and, then, paradoxically crystalizing Pakistan’s role as a factor of Afghan security and stability. According to Bhadrakumar, the US has only ditched India after “leading it up the garden path” and then making Pakistan its indispensable partner in Afghanistan alongside Russia and China. The developing scenario has also favored China whose diplomatic and economic engagements with Afghanistan and Pakistan are on the rise while Sino-Indian tensions remain unabated. Certainly, a blow to India is also the geopolitical reality that, with active Chinese engagements with the Taliban, Afghanistan is now increasingly under the Chinese orbit for the first time in the history of the region.
What India has missed is that Pakistan has legitimate interests in Afghanistan and is directly affected by its stability, or lack of. Afghans, too, cannot do without Pakistan owing to culture, tribal and ethnic affinities as well as social, economic and sheer geographic compulsions. While India branded the resistant Taliban as a creation of Pakistani intelligence and military, it lost sight of the ground realities that the US-installed Kabul government never held legitimacy among the Afghans and that reconciliation with the Taliban was the only way out of the intractable Afghan war.
Proxy War Against Pakistan
India’s obsessive focus on using Afghanistan as a proxy against Pakistan has certainly cost it badly. Once the US withdraws its forces, and the Taliban take over, India will have to deal with a triumphalist Pakistan which has gained strategic role in Afghanistan as its guarantor of stability and peace. A long haul certainly lies ahead for India now if it wishes to regain its lost influence in Kabul.