2014 will be a turning point in Afghanistan. Power will be handed over to a new President after elections. The US military will complete its withdrawal. The Afghan National Security Forces will take over the security responsibility for the country.
The US has failed to secure a suitable agreement in Iraq. If it fails in Afghanistan, it is threatening a “zero option”.
The prospects for all these transitions do not look promising. The new President will have to be a Pashtun in order to ensure broad-based ethnic support. President Karzai was parachuted to the presidency without elections in post-war circumstances in which the US and the West could impose their will. His re-election was mired in controversy, created primarily by his western supporters. Despite many levers at their command, the US and the West have not been able to manage Karzai. This shows how difficult it has been for the US and others to oversee the political process in Afghanistan even under military occupation. With the impending withdrawal, their control over politics will become even less. The larger question is whether a new Pashtun leader can emerge who can assure cross ethnic support? Will he able to deliver political stability and a degree of economic development in the very difficult circumstances that his country will be facing?
The US has signed a Strategic Partnership Agreement with Afghanistan, but the follow-up agreement- the Bilateral Security Agreement- on the status of the residual US forces that will remain in military bases has not been finalized. The US has failed to secure a suitable agreement in Iraq. If it fails in Afghanistan, it is threatening a “zero option”. Whether this is pressure tactics or is a veritable option is not clear. In any case, the fact that this is being considered shows that the US has no clear answer for the future. “Zero option” has the air of a “zero answer”!
The ANSF may have numbers and reports that they are performing well does not guarantee they will be operate successfully in a post-US withdrawal environment, especially if the US leaves in a scenario that is politically unsatisfactory for all sides. The ANSF lacks heavy weaponry, air power and sophisticated intelligence capability. Will they be able to really cope as a cohesive force?
Adding to the problem is the general instability around Afghanistan. The internal situation in Pakistan is fraught despite recent elections. Iran has a new President but the nuclear dossier remains problematic and sanctions on Iran have been further tightened.
The economic prospects in Afghanistan are not very reassuring despite the pledges of assistance made at Tokyo and the announced longer-term commitments made by countries not to abandon Afghanistan. If the US exercises a zero military option, will that be compatible with a major economic commitment prolonged in time? Especially in a tight economic situation in the US and the Eurozone? Plans by countries to invest in Afghanistan not only depend on internal stability but also will take some years to yield results, enough to make a difference on the ground.
Adding to the problem is the general instability around Afghanistan. The internal situation in Pakistan is fraught despite recent elections. Iran has a new President but the nuclear dossier remains problematic and sanctions on Iran have been further tightened. The Arab world is in turmoil, with the so-called Arab Spring having withered very rapidly. Religious extremism is spreading and this gives political oxygen to such forces battling in Afghanistan.
India has to cope with the situation as it develops. We have faced the worst when the Taliban took over Afghanistan in the mid-90s. We know of course what the dangers are ahead and have tried to play our limited role in preventing untoward conditions from developing through our political and economic engagement with Afghanistan.
India is pursuing a very responsible policy in Afghanistan. We want a sovereign, stable, democratic and prosperous Afghanistan, one that is free from extremism and where human rights, especially those of women are respected. India is doing nothing contrary to the achievement of this objective in Afghanistan.
We are maintaining friendly relations with Afghanistan based on equality and respect for sovereignty. We are not interfering in Afghanistan’s internal affairs, arming any particular group or providing safe-havens for terrorists or anti-government political groups to carry on violent activities against the legitimate government of Afghanistan.
It is for the Afghan government to take independent decisions in a responsible way. India has no intention to occupy the legitimate space that other neighbouring countries of Afghanistan seek there.
We have legitimate interests in Afghanistan as a neighbouring country and every right to be present there. The international community cannot accept the curtailment of Afghan sovereignty by endorsing the principle that the Afghan government should give precedence to the interests of any particular country over that of any other. It is for the Afghan government to take independent decisions in a responsible way. India has no intention to occupy the legitimate space that other neighbouring countries of Afghanistan seek there.
India has established a strategic relationship with Afghanistan. This is anchored in a longer-term bilateral and regional perspective. India has geo-political, strategic interests in this entire region that forms a part of our strategic neighbourhood. Afghanistan borders Central Asia and Iran, apart from China and Pakistan. India has had intimate age-old ties with Afghanistan, Central Asia and Iran, with the history of our country linked to this region over centuries.
Central Asia is landlocked and so is Afghanistan. The development of this region faces a particularly difficult challenge because of this. This entire region needs the broadest possible choices for its development. It is natural for it to look for enhanced ties with India as the biggest economy in Southern Asia that can substantially contribute to this objective. We are wiling to respond.
For realizing this objective India needs better access to Afghanistan, as Pakistan is not as yet willing to provide transit facilities through its territory to Afghanistan.
Afghanistan has huge mineral resources that await exploitation. India is ready to invest large sums in this sector, beginning with iron ore extraction. Afghanistan is ready to offer to India a natural resources corridor for development. For realizing this objective India needs better access to Afghanistan, as Pakistan is not as yet willing to provide transit facilities through its territory to Afghanistan.
India is looking at the Chabahar port in Iran as an access route to Afghanistan as well as Central Asia. We have recently committed $100 million to this project. US/EU sanctions on Iran are a complication for such efforts to give Afghanistan alternative options for its trade and facilitate foreign investment there. The US government should take a positive view of Indian investments in Iran that are specifically directed at easing Afghanistan’s difficult situation, which will be important for stimulating the Afghan economy, at present too dependent on foreign assistance and income derived from the presence of foreign troops on its soil.
In developing trade and energy ties between Central Asia and the Indian subcontinent, a project that the US favours as part of the New Silk Road project, Afghanistan is a critical hub. We support the TAPI pipeline project that will bring Turkmenistan gas to Pakistan and India through Afghanistan. India can fruitfully participate in projects to increase electricity grids in the region to alleviate regional energy-related problems.
India is participating in several international efforts to contribute to development in Afghanistan, whether it is the Istanbul Process and the Heart of Asia conferences in Kabul in June 2012 and in Istanbul in April 2012, or the initiative we took ourselves to organize a Delhi Investment Summit on Afghanistan, also in June 2012, followed by the Tokyo Conference on aid to Afghanistan in July 2012.
Economic development in Afghanistan and the region is essential to check-mate the growth of extremist ideologies in the region and associated terrorist activity.
India’s own bilateral aid to Afghanistan has reached $2 billion. Some see in this an effort by us to seek undue influence in Afghanistan. If India’s foreign assistance programme is considered and the billions Indian companies are investing abroad, this is not a very big sum. There is full participation of the Afghan authorities in selecting Indian assistance projects that are infrastructural as well as geared to meeting the basic requirements of people and localities spread over the country. A large number of our projects are in the Pashtun areas. India has earned great popularity because of the manner in which we have conducted ourselves.
Economic development in Afghanistan and the region is essential to check-mate the growth of extremist ideologies in the region and associated terrorist activity. These concerns are uppermost in India’s mind as we are most exposed as a country to terrorism and supporting ideologies. As a secular, multi-religious state, we are particularly sensitive to such threats. Any boost given to these extremist forces, even unwittingly, should be unacceptable as our security is threatened.
It is with concern therefore that we view the outreach by US, Britain and others to the Taliban. We are not against any genuine attempt at reconciliation if all sides want it on a basis that respects the red lines drawn by the international community for a dialogue with the Taliban. We find that these red lines are being blurred by NATO’s anxiety to withdraw from Afghanistan by 2014, whatever the ground situation.
Such a strategy gives the upper hand to the Taliban groups in Pakistan in negotiations as they know time is on their side.