New Delhi must use its clout in the UNSC to put pressure on the Taliban
The UN is an indispensable platform for keeping Afghanistan and its government under the global gaze, and India must use its membership of the UNSC and chair of the 1988 committee to ensure this happens. This is not only critical for peace, tranquillity, and globally accepted governance norms in Afghanistan, but also imperative to ensure that there is no threat to international peace and security and spread of terrorism emanating from the regime change in Afghanistan.
Developments in Afghanistan are of critical importance to India from a national security perspective. This is not only on account of geography, but also witnessed in the recent history of dastardly terrorist attacks targeting India when the Taliban was in control of Afghanistan. Matters are now complicated by possible Chinese domination of Afghanistan with geo-strategic implications for India.
India must, therefore, remain vigilant, irrespective of the signals emanating from the Taliban seeking to showcase its changed spots. There is, however, unease about the lack of options available to India. This is not the case.
Having taken over Afghanistan, the key quest for the Taliban is legitimacy and recognition. This is also important to its handlers, Pakistan, and its patron, China. Interestingly, the United States (US), which has been in the tent with the Taliban in Doha, would also like to see movement on this front, under some conditions, as it provides a fig-leaf to cover its disorderly pull-out.
For India, herein lies a key opportunity to use its leverage to engage with the major stakeholders around the Taliban, other than those who are, by design, inimical to us. While this certainly includes the US, with which we are in close consultations, our ambit must encompass Russia, Iran, the Gulf, and central Asian countries. India has often spoken of multi-alignment — Afghanistan is the best case in point to practise it.
With regard to the Taliban, while diplomatic recognition would have to take time, given the terrorism-laden history that can’t be washed away, engaging it has to be part of the equation given the ground realities. Indeed, in international affairs, one must deal with those governing other countries, particularly in the neighbourhood, even if you are not comfortable with their hue. And, here, let us not forget our leverage in economics, with India accounting for nearly half of Afghanistan’s legitimate exports.
Afghanistan has been on the UN Security Council (UNSC) agenda since 1996 after the Taliban overthrew the Soviets. In 1988, it adopted a seminal resolution, UNSCR 1267, sanctioning individuals and entities connected with the Taliban and al-Qaeda. In 2011, UNSCR 1267 was replaced by UNSCR 1988 and 1989, separating the targeting of the Taliban and al-Qaeda. The latter was, by then, of concern to the West; the Taliban was, perhaps, no longer viewed as an enemy with even European human rights groups pushing for blanket delisting of the Taliban. Such blanket delisting was not agreed upon, and the case-by-case provisions of 1267 retained, on the insistence of India, which was on the UNSC.
Coincidentally, India is presently on the UNSC and will remain so till the end of 2022. It also chairs the committee that oversees implementation of UNSCR 1988 through 2021 and holds the presidency of the UNSC this month. The first serious discussion on Afghanistan was held in the UNSC on August 6 under India’s presidency of the UNSC, followed by another meeting on August 16, after which a statement was issued.
External affairs minister S Jaishankar conveyed India’s concerns and the need for the UN to remain involved with and in Afghanistan to the UN chief. A similar message has also been passed on to the foreign minister of Estonia, the UNSC member-country that is the penholder (ie the country in-charge for drafting resolutions) on Afghanistan.
The UN is an indispensable platform for keeping Afghanistan and its government under the global gaze, and India must use its membership of the UNSC and chair of the 1988 committee to ensure this happens. This is not only critical for peace, tranquillity, and globally accepted governance norms in Afghanistan, but also imperative to ensure that there is no threat to international peace and security and spread of terrorism emanating from the regime change in Afghanistan. Interestingly, the foreign service officer heading the UN vertical in the ministry of external affairs was a key member on India’s UNSC team a decade ago and, till recently, India’s ambassador to Afghanistan.
Manjeev Singh Puri is a retired diplomat who served as India’s deputy permanent representative to the United Nations
The views expressed are personal