Afghanistan has called on India to engage with the Taliban once American troops return home. The signals became public just one day after the US vacated its biggest airbase near Kabul in a step towards ending its 20-year occupation of the war-wrecked nation.
The Pentagon has said the withdrawal of US forces will be completed ahead of the original deadline of September.
“A safe, orderly drawdown enables us to maintain an ongoing diplomatic presence, support the Afghan people and the government, and prevent Afghanistan from once again becoming a safe haven for terrorists that threatens our homeland,” Pentagon press secretary John Kirby said.
And as the new deadline neared, Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi spoke of an “aroma of relationship” while Afghan President Ashraf Ghani urged Delhi to reach out to the “nationalist” Taliban.
Bagram abandoned, soon all of Afghanistan to be left to Taliban, and where is the global left’s commitment to liberalism?
— The Times Of India (@timesofindia) July 3, 2021
“India can play a very constructive role here,” said Farid Mamundzay, President Ghani’s top diplomat in Delhi as the Taliban overran one Afghan district after another in blistering attacks which have continued since the US military pullout started.
Ambassador Mamundzay told Republic TV that India should use its regional clout to persuade the “Taliban to let go of violence and talk to Afghan people in a way where we would reach a dignified and lasting peace.”
The resilient Taliban action is reminiscent of Mujahedeen-led attacks during the 1989 Soviet military pullout, which led to political turmoil followed by civil war that lasted until the US attempted to counter the Taliban regime in November 2001.
Analysts such as Harsh Pant of Delhi-based Observer Research Foundation says US President Joe Biden’s government has acknowledged India as a potential peace-maker in Afghanistan.
“India’s role is certainly going to be very important in going forward, as demonstrated by the fact that the Biden administration brought India back into the peace process earlier this year,” analyst Pant told public broadcaster RSTV.
India takes Taliban to the UN
India, which has close and friendly ties with Afghanistan, told the United Nations Security Council late last month that violence must end for the peace talks to begin.
“For enduring peace in Afghanistan, terrorist safe havens and sanctuaries must be dismantled immediately and terrorist supply chains disrupted,” Foreign Minister Subrahmanyam Jaishankar said.
NEW BRIEFING | Pakistan: Shoring Up Afghanistan’s Peace Process
— Crisis Group (@CrisisGroup) June 30, 2021
Some South Asian diplomats also accuse Pakistan of backing the Taliban Islamic militia in order to blunt arch-rival India’s growing influence with President Ghani’s administration in war-torn Afghanistan.
“Pakistan beyond doubt is helping the Taliban in every possible manner including arming it to the teeth and so the solution to the problem really lies in controlling Pakistan and this is something the international community has to do,” added Prabhu Dayal, a former Indian ambassador to Islamabad.
Pakistan targets India
But Pakistan Foreign Minister Shah Mahmood Qureshi has rejected the accusations, asking questions about the presence of Indian nationals in Afghanistan.
“At times we feel that their presence is perhaps larger than it ought to be because they do not share a border with you,” Qureshi told Afghan media group TOLOnews in an interview on the stuttering Afghan peace process.
But the sideshow aside, Pakistan is under pressure to bring the Taliban to the negotiating table.
India, which has spent hundreds of millions of euros in infrastructure projects, recently issued a 13-point security advisory for Indians deployed in that country.
“We’re concerned by the violence there based on which we have issued an advisory,” foreign ministry spokesman Arindam Bagchi told a news conference.