Need to safeguard progress made in Afghanistan: India
Against a backdrop of growing concern and uncertainty about the US-Taliban deal, external affairs minister S Jaishankar said on Monday that western powers should ensure the achievements of the past 18 years in Afghanistan aren’t jeopardised.
Worries about the agreement signed by the US and the Taliban in Doha on Saturday have been growing in New Delhi, especially as the deal talks of the withdrawal of all foreign troops from Afghanistan over the next 14 months without, what experts say, are adequate guarantees from the terror group.
Asked about the deal during an event organised here by the Centre for Policy Research, Jaishankar said: “To the US and to the West, our message has been that the achievements of the last 18 years, it is in the global interest that those achievements are secured and protected, they are not jeopardised in the process of whatever they do.”
He contended recent events hadn’t come as a surprise because “everybody knew something like this was happening”. Only time will tell, he said, how the US goes about reducing its presence and backing the Afghan government and security forces.
Jaishankar highlighted several issues to which there were “no clear answers”, such as cohesion among different stakeholders and whether the Taliban will join a democratic set-up.
“There is a lot of interest in various countries that the neighbours of Afghanistan and those who have interests there also play some role,” he said, referring to India’s stakes in that country.
People familiar with developments and diplomats of several European countries said they believed the deal didn’t go far enough to address counter-terrorism concerns. In New Delhi, the concerns have centred round reports that some 500 fighters of Pakistan-based Lashkar-e-Taiba (LeT) have been moved into Afghanistan.
The LeT was formed at Kunar in Afghanistan and has long-standing ties with the Taliban and al-Qaeda, and its fighters could pose a threat to Indian interests, the people cited above said.
Anand Arni, a former special secretary in the Research and Analysis Wing (RAW) who closely tracks developments in Afghanistan, said the US-Taliban deal was “lopsided” and had an “unrealistic timeframe” as it speaks of the release of up to 5,000 Taliban prisoners by March 10, delisting of UN-sanctioned Taliban leaders by May 29, and the US reducing its forces by July 15 and removing all its sanctions by August 27.
“By end-August, when the UN and US sanctions are lifted, the Taliban would have achieved most of what it needs – release of 5,000 prisoners, troop withdrawal, closure of US bases, legitimacy for the Haqqani Network and others, but would concede virtually nothing in return,” he said.
The Haqqani Network, Arni pointed out, is a group with deep ties to Pakistan’s Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI) that has specifically targeted Indian interests in Afghanistan. This has even been acknowledged by the US.
The US-Taliban deal also makes no mention of the Afghan Constitution, women’s rights, human rights, democracy or elections, Arni noted.