Afghanistan: The path ahead
The first regional conference on Afghanistan hosted by India was successful in forging a consensus on three key issues — preventing the war-torn country from becoming a safe haven for global terrorism, the need for a truly inclusive government in Kabul, and unimpeded delivery of humanitarian aid to the Afghan people. Wednesday’s meeting was attended by the security czars of Iran, Russia, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan, Turkmenistan and Uzbekistan — all countries with huge stakes in the stability of Afghanistan. It would appear the outcomes of the Delhi Regional Security Dialogue exceeded India’s expectations, as there was a great degree of convergence in assessments made by the eight countries about the threats and challenges emanating from Afghanistan. This convergence was reflected in the “Delhi Declaration on Afghanistan”. It spoke of preventing Afghan territory from being used for planning terrorist acts; an open and inclusive government with representation from all sections of society; and the need for an urgent response to the looming humanitarian crisis in Afghanistan.
That Iran and Russia, which have engaged with the Taliban since the group swept to power in August, signed off on the declaration is significant. This reflects the concerns of the two countries about the evolving security dynamics within Afghanistan, and their ramifications for the wider region. Iran has watched recent attacks on the Shia minority with concern, while Russia has apprehensions about instability spilling over into Central Asia. There was little India could have done about the decision by Pakistan and China to skip the meeting, given that both countries appear to be on a different page as far as Afghanistan is concerned. Pakistan is currently hosting the Taliban foreign minister and China has sent a top official to join a meeting of the “extended troika” in Islamabad.
India will now have to build on the foundation laid by the conference and work with the seven other countries to forge practical measures to counter foreign terror groups present in Afghanistan, and nudge the Taliban towards the creation of some sort of inclusive government — which is also a stated objective of the international community. But even as it works towards these objectives, India will have to take the lead in finding ways to rush humanitarian assistance to the Afghan people, including the possible shipment of aid via the Central Asian states to get over the hurdle of Pakistan blocking the movement of relief materials through its territory.