Kabul: Well, its yet another meet on the security situation on fragile Afghanistan, but here’s the caveat- it’s the first time that almost all Central Asian countries have come together on the same table to discuss the future of the war-torn country after Taliban’s takeover.
Go deeper: The regional security summit hosted by India was attended by the national security advisers of seven other nations including Russia, Iran, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Uzbekistan, Turkmenistan, and Tajikistan.
• A joint statement – the Delhi Declaration on Afghanistan – by the eight participating nations emphasised that Afghanistan’s territory should not be used for “sheltering, training, planning or financing any terrorist act”.
• All countries paid special attention to the current political situation in Afghanistan, the statement said, adding that threats from terrorism, radicalisation and drug trafficking were also discussed.
• The eight nations also underlined the need to offer Afghanistan all possible humanitarian assistance.
• All countries “reaffirmed their firm commitment to combat terrorism in all its forms and manifestations, including its financing, dismantling of terrorist infrastructure and countering radicalisation, to ensure Afghanistan would never become a safe haven for global terrorism.”
• Expressing “deep concern” for the Afghan people and the “deteriorating socio-economic and humanitarian situation (that) underlined the need to provide urgent assistance”, the Delhi Declaration also said it was critical to form “an open and truly inclusive government that represents the will of all of the people of Afghanistan and has representation from all sections of their society”.
• The eight security advisors, all of whom are men, also emphasised the “importance of ensuring the fundamental rights of women” as well as that of children and minority communities.
• Further, the joint declaration also underscored the need to help Afghanistan contain COVID-19.
• Earlier, India’s NSA, Ajit Doval, called for close consultations and greater cooperation and coordination among nations of the region on the Afghan situation.
Meanwhile, do not forget that China had been invited to attend but declined the invitation due to “scheduling reasons”. Pakistan had also been invited, but it too boycotted; news agency Reuters quoted Pak NSA Moeed Yusuf last week accused India of being a ‘spoiler’ in the region. In fact, to counter it, Pakistan is hosting the Troika Plus meet on Thursday with the presence of China to discuss the regional dynamics and Afghanistan’s security situation. But, the Delhi dialogue comes in with a cheek-in-tongue reply stating that there should be no “interference in Afghanistan’s internal matters” by outsiders.
Back story: The ‘Regional Security Dialogue’ format has had two meetings in the past in Iran in September 2018 and December 2019. The third meeting was scheduled to take place in 2020 in India. However, it got pushed due to the pandemic.
Why it matters? This is the first time that all Central Asian countries – and not just Afghanistan’s immediate land neighbours, Tajikistan, Turkmenistan and Uzbekistan – are participating in discussions in this format along with Kazakhstan and Kyrgyz Republic, according to people aware of the developments. The participants are united by their common and shared concerns and stakes in a stable regime in Afghanistan. Any instability by Taliban or otherwise will directly affect these countries adversely, either in the form of terrorism or drugs menace, or very possibly both. That the meeting is being hosted by India and the organisation is being handled by the country’s top security establishment — the National Security Council Secretariat — in itself shows how seriously India is taking the issue.
• It is important to differentiate this process from other processes on Afghanistan — the Heart of Asia process or the Moscow format. This is not among diplomats, nor is it led by foreign ministries, but is among the heads of the security establishments in these countries. So, this is not a protocol-oriented meeting.
• The “security tsars” engaged on the security concerns emanating out of Afghanistan and discussed “practical cooperation” — from intelligence sharing to information gathering to counter-terrorism capacity-building.
Zoom out: While such Afghanistan-centred meetings are happening round-the-clock to put pressure on the current regime ruling Afghanistan to follow basic human rights and norms, Kabul is seeing the conference as a hopeful step to “facilitate the provision of assistance to Afghanistan,” as per local media reports. No country has formally recognised the Taliban government in Afghanistan and the country is on the verge of economic collapse as international aid has stopped. Afghanistan is also facing a threat from the Islamic State, which has ramped up attacks over the last few months.
Take note: Even though Kabul recognizes New Delhi’s efforts, India had not invited any representative from the current acting Afghan government. In fact, until the fall of Kabul, India had not engaged with the Taliban through publicly-announced official channels. Also, remember that acting Afghan Taliban’s foreign minister Mawlawi Amir Khan Muttaqi is also expected to be at the Islamabad meeting, which we mentioned earlier.
The big picture: The initiative by New Delhi is seen as a marked departure from the Indian strategy hitherto that has been closely aligned with that of the United States, and instead to work with the regional states, for the region, by the region. Hoever, Delhi and Islamabad will hold two parallel tracks on Afghanistan this week — the two meetings will sharpen the divide between India and Pakistan and their view of each other’s role in the region. What’s more effective is yet to be seen.