Afghan Peace Process Must Not Become A Regional Power Play

Hopes of starting peace negotiations between Afghan Taliban and the US government now appear a shade brighter. This became apparent as the three-day Grand Assembly meeting (Loya Jirga) held in Kabul from August 7 to August 9 decided in favour of releasing the remaining 400 Taliban prisoners from its custody. On the face of it, this was a concession granted to the Taliban by the Grand Assembly in the hope that it would pave the pave for talks—and hopefully, peace.

This initiative may be seen in the context of the peace agreement signed between the Taliban and the United States in Doha last February. The agreement provided for the release of the Taliban prisoners as a pre-condition for starting the peace talks. As a follow-up, the Afghan government released five thousand Taliban prisoners during the past six months. What remained behind were four hundred prisoners. These, as President Ashraf Ghani kept insisting, were guilty of having committed serious crimes and so must face trial. But here too, the Taliban finally had their way.

Thus, even after the way has been cleared for holding the peace talks; a durable peace in Afghanistan may still remain a distant hope. This is due to a variety of reasons— the principal among these is the continuing role of the terrorist groups of various descriptions, most of them operating out of Pakistan.

Many of the Pakistan-based terror groups also function as proxy of Islamabad’s dirty tricks department, and often surface in terror activities in neighbouring countries. India too has had direct experience of the depredations caused by these groups. For Afghanistan they remain part of a continuing reality.

For the countries of the region—but for Afghanistan in particular—the destabilizing capacity of the terror groups are a fact of life that they cannot afford to ignore. Afghan Foreign Minister Mohammed Haneef Atmar could not have been more explicit when he spoke of a “symbiotic” relationship between the Pakistan-based terror groups on the one hand and Al-Qaida and the Islamic State on the other.

As Mr. Atmar explained, “It is not just Taliban we are fighting in Afghanistan. There are four groups of transnational terror networks.” According to him, these are the locally based terror groups; followed by the regional terrorist networks such as Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan and East Turkestan Islamic Movement. The third category is of Pakistani terrorist groups such as Lashkar-e-Taiba and the Jaish-e-Mohammad. And finally, there are the international terrorist groups such as Al Qaeda and Daesh. Thus, the challenges to peace building in Afghanistan are formidable. The Afghan Foreign Minister could not have been more specific.

What is becoming increasingly apparent is the growing Pakistan-China axis seeking to fill in the vacuum created by the American departure from the region. The Chinese are also moving further afield in Afghanistan and beyond. Beijing has been eyeing the mineral and oil resources in neighbouring Iran as well. The Chinese have shown keenness to make investments of the order of $ 400 billion in Iran on its BRI and other projects. Afghanistan may be seen as just one block in this game of checkers.

The recent intelligence sharing agreement reached between Pakistan and China is another straw in the wind. It is something which must not be lost on other countries of the region.

India has been involved in the rebuilding of Afghanistan. India has helped build hospitals, schools, the Parliament complex and the Salma Dam in the country. India, has been involved in these works for several years now, providing basic infrastructure in the troubled country. New Delhi has invested more than $2 billion in Afghanistan—this must be taken note of the world community.

Currently, nearly a third of the Afghan population is infected with coronavirus. But that does not seem to be of much concern to the outside world, especially the regional players who seem keener in carving their own toehold in the country. It is high time the long-suffering people of Afghanistan are heard. They deserve it.

Script:  M. K. Tikku, Political Commentator