Having had a look at relations between the U.S. and the Taliban in the previous two parts (here and here), we can now attempt to understand the deal, its future, and what it might mean for the parties involved.
India, the Gulf Corporation Council (GCC), and 30 major countries had witnessed the historic signing of the peace deal between the U.S. and the Taliban on 29th February, 2020.
Pakistan played a crucial role in the negotiations. The presence of Pakistan’s Foreign Minister Shah Mahmood Qureshi at Doha was quite symbolic. In a statement, Qureshi claimed that the deal would not have happened without Pakistan. The country’s link with the Taliban and the Haqqani network has become its greatest asset - Islamabad offered an opportunity to isolate both its state and non-state actors in Afghanistan. This support came into being because Pakistan and the Taliban had much to gain from the first phase of the Peace Deal.
Pakistan shared good bonds with both the Taliban and the U.S, and hence, was uniquely positioned to take advantage of the two-phase structure of the Peace Deal. Islamabad was keen on establishing a government that had closer links with Pakistan than India. Thus, it desired a power-sharing relationship in Afghanistan.
Meanwhile, the U.S. was attempting to improve its diplomatic relations with Pakistan by promising more trade opportunities with the country. However, the Taliban’s compliance with this deal will decide its fate and the course of the countries involved.
Where does India stand?
The U.S.-Taliban peace accord has numerous positive and negative implications for India. If the peace deal turns out to be successful, the Taliban groups would control major parts of Afghanistan. This is not feasible for India, as Indian assets have long been targeted by the Haqqani group, which benefits Pakistan. Thus, India is also a major stakeholder in Afghanistan’s future.
India has also been paying attention to the presence of US troops in Afghanistan - something India need not worry about anymore, as the peace deal eliminates the need for US troops. This gives India ample time to work on new strategies to cement its position and interests.
Afghanistan and India have shared good diplomatic relations since Gautam Mukhopadhya’s visit to Afghanistan in 2001. Since then, India has cultivated strong relationships with successive Afghan governments, investing heavily in the development and infrastructure of the country. However, it had kept itself away from the U.S.–Taliban peace talks and now worries to find a place in the post-peace geopolitics of the region. The Taliban’s relationship with Pakistan and other militant groups in the region will have a huge impact on India’s role in Afghanistan’s administration and diplomatic relations.
Hekmatullah Azamy, Deputy Director at the Centre for Conflict and Peace Studies in Kabul, stated that India will have to engage into talks with the Taliban, to secure its position. Despite India’s investment in Afghanistan, which has always been in favour of the general populace of the country, Pakistan never stopped its effort to nullify India’s influence in Afghanistan, due to the far reaching rivalry since the independence of the two nations.
In a paper published by Carnegie India, authors Rudra Chaudhari and Shreyas Shende paint a broad picture of India's involvement and stake in this conflict. Adopting some of the following strategies, as suggested and elaborated on by them, might help India in the long run:
- Deeper diplomatic engagement- India should focus on deploying a special investigation agency for recommencing its reconciliation talks with Afghanistan. This envoy should convey India’s positive views at each meeting, broaden talks with the Afghan Government and also reach out to a handful of the Taliban representatives to portray a positive picture of India’s stand on core issues.
- Long lasting investments- India should engage more into the military training of Afghan Security Forces and invest in longer-term, capacity-building programmes. India should extend its medical and development assistance to the Afghan Government, during the COVID-19 pandemic, to remain in the good books of Afghanistan. This will help grow their relationship positively in the coming future.
- Working with other global powers- India should strengthen its ties with other powers such as Russia and Iran, and maintain a cordial, cooperative relationship with China to de-escalate the tension between the two, in light of the COVID-19 pandemic. It does not mean forcing competing interests to align, but implies widening diplomatic ties to carve out areas of convergence.
Are the Taliban actually following the deal?
Since June 2020, the Taliban has been violating the norms of the peace deal and engaging in fresh terrorist attacks. Numerous Afghan security personnel and about 150 civilians have died or have been wounded due to the new wave of Taliban attacks. Taliban gunmen recently opened fire on a vehicle belonging to the Afghan Attorney General’s office, on the outskirts of Kabul, Afghanistan. Afghan leaders have blamed the Taliban terrorists for the deaths of 14 new-borns in maternity wards. However, the Taliban have denied all allegations, stating it to be a conspiracy of the Afghan government to call off talks.
Despite the peace deal, the Taliban led around 3,800 attacks in different parts of Afghanistan, leading to the death of around 420 civilians and wounding around 900. Detailing the acts of the Taliban, Afghanistan’s National Security Council ordered the government to put the release of insurgents on hold until the Taliban completed the release of at least 200 security forces.
The future of the U.S. -Taliban peace deal is hard to envision, considering the duplicitous nature of the Taliban. The Taliban, as a group, are too decentralized and too diverse to mutually come to a peace deal. Also, the reluctance of the U.S. to take a stand on the rights of Afghan women remains a major drawback of this peace deal.
Moreover, a mass release of around 5,000 Taliban fighters from Afghanistan in such a short notice seems impractical as it would surely call for another instance of violence and bloodshed. Whether or not this peace deal serves its purpose from an Afghan point of view, the impact of this deal on the U.S and the the rest of the world is undeniable. For this peace deal to become a reality, the Taliban should step back from indulging in human rights violation, while the U.S. should keep a check over its activities. Whether the Taliban complies with this deal or the U.S. reinforces its security force again in Afghanistan, it is still unclear as to which organisation or country is to be held accountable for the enormous loss of lives in Afghanistan.
While India didn’t have much say in the peace deal, the best it can do is to judiciously invest in the Afghan economy. The Indian government should start investing in power, optical cable and pharmaceutical sectors. As far as Afghanistan and India are concerned, long lasting peace, that benefits all, shall only be possible if India continues to invest in the Afghan economy and help it heal.