‘A Pak-free Taliban better for Afghan peace process’
India does not consider the Taliban as the ‘dominant force’ in the Afghan peace process, but if the group were to represent Afghan voices, it would need to leave safe havens in Pakistan and cut-off covert support from Islamabad, a former Indian envoy to Kabul has said.Updated: Mar 03, 2019 16:41 IST
India does not consider the Taliban as the ‘dominant force’ in the Afghan peace process, but if the group were to represent Afghan voices, it would need to leave safe havens in Pakistan and cut-off covert support from Islamabad, a former Indian envoy to Kabul has said.
Gautam Mukhopadhaya, former ambassador to Afghanistan, told a gathering at the International Institute for Strategic Studies (IISS) that the Taliban becoming a nationalist force could not be ruled out, but that would mean ‘independence’ from Pakistan, which is not visible.
Addressing diplomats, policy-makers and researchers on ‘Democratisation in Afghanistan’, Mukhopadhaya said the Taliban exerted power only through “external support and the use of terrorism”, which made the expectation that the ongoing peace talks would “yield an endgame to the conflict” unrealistic.
The Taliban needs to make a break with external support from sanctuaries outside Afghanistan, but having achieved international recognition through the US and Russian-led peace talks, and “sensing blood”, it is in no mood to compromise, he said.
One cannot escape the feeling that the Taliban’s concessions – including on women’s rights - being offered on the table are “just a smokescreen to grab power”, Mukhopadhaya said, adding that any negotiated deal that was “not entirely controlled by Pakistan” would be acceptable to India.
According to him, the first step should be for the people and political parties in Afghanistan to come together with the government to establish their own position on “what is negotiable and what is non-negotiable” with the Taliban.
Delivering a strong critique of the dominant western narrative on the ongoing U.S.-led peace process with the Taliban, he said that under no circumstances should the Afghan government be undermined, delegitimised or marginalised, since it would erode the “entire structure and institutions of post-2001 Afghanistan”.
It is also premature for the US to talk about a withdrawal process without coming to some agreement on a negotiated settlement, the former envoy said, warning that both could result in a “repeat of the post-Soviet withdrawal” period, leading to “anarchy at large”.
To a query from Rahul Roy-Chaudhury, IISS senior fellow for South Asia, Mukhopadhaya said India is not opposed to the peace process with the Taliban as long as it was “Afghan-led, Afghan-owned and Afghan-controlled”, but , as yet, there was no consensus within the Afghan establishment on the terms for a negotiated end to the conflict.
The Afghan people wanted peace, but peace “on their terms and at their pace”; at the very least “they wished to preserve the gains of the last 17 years”, including those of women’s rights, the former envoy added.