India’s Role in Afghanistan Peace Process

Adeel Mukhtar


Adeel Mukhtar

The Taliban have now started accusing India playing a negative and destabilizing role in Afghanistan. India, in pursuit of its regional ambitions, has always tried to play a dominant role in Afghanistan. For regional influence, India relies on its influence on regional states, given geographical constraints. Though economic assistance and investments, it has successfully transformed it economic gains into political influence. However, its increased involvement has disturbed internal stakeholders in Afghanistan and many have started questioning its real motives in Afghanistan.

Most recently, in an interview to a news website-Azm, Sher Mohammad Abbas Stanekzai, deputy head of the Taliban’s political office in Qatar and head of the negotiating team with the US, was quoted as saying that “if the Indian government wants to take positive steps in the Afghan peace process and in rebuilding a new Afghanistan, we are counting on it, but according to him, India has been inside Afghanistan for the last 40 years. It played a negative role and maintained economic, military and political ties with a "corrupt” group instead of the nation.” According to online sources, “the recent urgent Khalilzad mission to New Delhi was not so much about asking India to talk to the Taliban, as to get New Delhi to persuade the Kabul government to release the Taliban prisoners. The Ghani government is believed to be dragging its feet, presumably because they don’t believe the Taliban is actually interested in an intra-Afghan dialogue”.

Mr. Stanekzai in its interview to the Pakistan’s Daily Times said that “Intra-Afghan cannot start unless 5000 of our prisoners are released and there would be no ceasefire and reduction in violence unless intra-Afghan dialogue starts. The US and the Kabul administration are responsible for this situation.” In the same pattern, Mr. Zalmay Khalilzad underscoring the importance of the release of the prisoners said that “We have pushed to get both sides, the Afghan Government and the Taliban, to release prisoners. Already some 1,011 prisoners have been released by the government, Talib prisoners, and 253 Afghan Government prisoners have been released by the Taliban.” Stanekzai’s core complaint is directed against the US, which, he said “had been unable to get the Kabul government to release the 5000 Taliban prisoners that had been promised as part of the peace deal with Zalmay Khalilzad.” “That was one of the big deliverables for the Taliban in the US peace deal. The Taliban prisoners were supposed to have been released by March 10,” according to Stanekzai.

In all this political games and scenarios, India now aspires to become an active member of Afghan Peace Process. In other words, it considers Pakistan’s influence on Afghan Taliban a hurdle in achieving its ulterior motives in Afghanistan’s future. According to India, “the US has been playing the Pakistani game by keeping India out of recent consultations on Afghanistan’s future.” In order to stay relevant in Afghan game, it has “unofficial contacts with Taliban” as there are differences within the Taliban regarding India.

The Indian strategy in Afghanistan has been to build local and regional alliances, to enhance people to people contacts and to initiate strategic competition with Pakistan. India is engaging in neutralizing Pakistan’s influence in Afghanistan. In fact, the US-Taliban deal aimed at bringing peace to Afghanistan has set off alarm bells in India. Indian scholars argue that the deal could change the security scenario in South Asia as well, “requiring reorientation of (India’s) strategic policy” in dealing with the Taliban. That is why; Indian Chief of Defence Staff General Bipin Rawat has already stated that it is time that India engages directly with the Taliban if India has interests in Afghanistan.

Multiplicity of the peace efforts are good, but all parties are needed better coordination to create consensus. During this transition phase in Afghanistan, regional countries needs to learn from the factors which were responsible of the breakout of civil war in the post-Soviet withdrawal. Bringing peace in Afghanistan is of immense importance because it will bring peace and prosperity in the region. In this regard, release of Taliban prisoners is prerequisite for national reconciliation in the country and India is not helping in this regard. Nevertheless, Pakistan is aware of its options and constraints in Afghanistan and is well-calculated in its policies. If the Intra-Afghan Dialogue fails, it is likely that the blame might be fixed on Pakistan’s shoulders by the US and other countries. Therefore, Pakistan should balance India’s influence Afghanistan diplomatically.