US Special Envoy On Afghanistan Meets Indian Officials

The US Special Representative for Afghanistan Reconciliation, Zalmay Khalizad visited India and met with Indian External Affairs Minister and National Security Adviser. He had been to Qatar and Pakistan before reaching New Delhi. He persuaded all stakeholders for greater regional support. Mr. Khalilzad also urged the stakeholders to speed up peace talks, emphasized on immediate reduction of violence in Afghanistan, and cooperation on Covid-19 pandemic.

According to the U.S. State department, the trip was meant to build support for the full implementation of the US-Taliban agreement, which has been derailed by differences between the Afghan government and the Taliban over the release of prisoners. Since the US Chief negotiator Mr. Khalizad signed the historic peace accord in Doha with Taliban co-founder Mullah Baradar in February 2020, he has been actively monitoring the developments in the region. It was the second trip he has made since April 12 in the midst of the pandemic to salvage the accord.

India had welcomed the US-Afghanistan peace deal, as the entire political spectrum in Afghanistan including the government, backed the Doha accord. India’s Ministry of External Affairs (MEA) said “India’s consistent policy is to support all opportunities that can bring peace, security, and stability in Afghanistan.

Mr. Khalizad met with External Affairs Minister Dr. S. Jaishankar and National Security Adviser Ajit Doval and updated them on progress in the peace process. They conveyed India’s continued support for strengthening democracy and supporting inclusive polity, and protection of rights of all sections of the Afghan society, including Afghan Hindus and Sikhs. However, they expressed their deep concern on the upsurge in violence and supported call for immediate ceasefire.

New Delhi also demanded putting an end to terrorist safe havens and sanctuaries is necessary for enduring and sustainable peace and stability in Afghanistan. The US side recognised India’s constructive contribution in economic development, reconstruction and humanitarian assistance to Afghanistan. India has also been supplying essential life-saving drugs and medicines to help Afghanistan battle the coronavirus pandemic, earning much goodwill from the Afghan people. For the first time, the US publicly suggested an engagement between India and the Taliban and proposed that India should discuss the issue of terrorism directly with Taliban. This shows that Washington is looking towards India for playing a greater role in the Afghan peace process as well.

At present, the war-ravaged Afghanistan is juggling with impediments such as political deadlock, a fragile peace agreement, threat of aid slash and a corona virus pandemic – all at the same time. The Taliban have mounted more than 4,500 attacks since signing the February peace deal, according to Reuters. The provinces hardest hit are ones with the most COVID-19 infections.

The militants blame Kabul and the United States for the surge in violence. Further, the negotiations also have been stalled by a feud between President Ashraf Ghani and his rival, Abdullah Abdullah, who both claimed victory in a disputed September election. Moreover, a dispute over the pace and scale of the releases between the militants and the government of Afghan President Ghani, which was not a party to the deal, helped escalation of violence.

The progress towards start of intra-Afghan peace talks, one of the important issues in peace deal, has been sluggish because of trust deficit between the Afghan factions and slow release of prisoners by both sides. According to the original plan, intra-Afghan talks were to commence on March 10 after release of 5,000 Taliban prisoners by Kabul, while the militant group was to set free 1,000 government personnel. So far the Afghan government has released 933 of the 5,000 Taliban prisoners, while the Taliban have freed 155 captives. Therefore, in recent weeks, the Taliban finally intensified attacks against government forces.

The political crisis, fragile peace agreement, aid cut and coronavirus – are among the many factors responsible in complicating the pursuit of “peace” in Afghanistan. The ongoing violence amidst the pandemic only reinforces that. It is imperative for various stakeholders in Afghanistan to cease hostilities and work together in addressing the challenges the country face presently.

Script: Dr. SMITA, Strategic Analyst On Af-Pak Affairs.