Amid the ongoing intra-Afghan peace talks in Doha, will India assist Afghanistan militarily? According to a report in ThePrint, New Delhi has assured Kabul of military assistance as the US is busy withdrawing troops from the war-ravaged country.
The Pentagon had said in November 2020 that it would reduce the number of US forces in Afghanistan from 4,500 to 2,500 by mid-January. The US military has not halted the troop withdrawal process despite a new law banning the same without prior knowledge of the US Congress. A defense official told Reuters the US troop level already is close to 3,000.
Last week, India’s External Affairs Minister S. Jaishankar and Afghanistan Foreign Minister Mohammed Haneef Atmar had talked over a phone call to discuss the Afghan peace process among other issues such as Covid-19.
ThePrint report claims Afghanistan is seeking to forge national as well as international consensus on the Taliban peace talks in order to assure itself of the support it has from “age-old friends like India”.
A great pleasure to talk to my friend Indian EAM HE @DrSJaishankar. We discussed resumption of #AfghanPeaceTalks in Doha & garnering regional and intl support for a ceasefire leading to a political settlement in AFG. Congrats excellency on Covid vaccine roll out in India. pic.twitter.com/tDK2eP7p9M
— Mohammed Haneef Atmar محمد حنیف اتمر (@MHaneefAtmar) January 8, 2021
With the $2billion investment as aid and construction activity in the country, India has played a significant role in the peace and stability of the country. The report further says India’s quiet effort to ramp-up military assistance in Afghanistan since 2016 has included the supply of four attack helicopters.
Siddhant Kishore, an expert on Afghanistan with Observer Research Foundation, indicates that currently foreign troops are providing security cover to New Delhi’s infrastructure projects across the 34 provinces but changing environment “would require a comprehensive security measure”.
Afghan Leadership Seeks Indian Support
Kishore writes “India has been calling upon all sections across the political spectrum of Afghanistan — to work together — to meet the aspirations of all in the country, including the minority communities”. At the same time, the Afghan leadership is looking at India with hope.
New Delhi has seen a surge in the number of visits from Afghan leaders in 2020. From former Vice President Marshal Abdul Rashid Dostum to the Chairman of the High Council for National Reconciliation (HCNR), Dr. Abdullah Abdullah, and General Atta Mohammad Noor visited the Indian capital within a month.
Their visits were marked with high-profile meetings with India’s top leadership, including Prime Minister Narendra Modi, External Affairs Minister S. Jaishankar, National Security Advisor Ajit Doval, and Foreign Secretary Harsh Vardhan Shringla among others.
The three Afghan leaders have had a long-lasting friendship with India. General Noor is a former Mujahideen commander who had taken up arms against terrorists as the Governor of Balkh Province when the Indian mission had come under an attack in 2016 in Mazar-e-Sharif.
The three leaders have played an important role in building resistance against the Taliban at the time of civil war and now they expect “India to engage in a pro-active role in Afghanistan, not just be a mere spectator of the developments,” Kishore writes.
Status of Peace Talks
The peace deal was signed between US Special Representative for Afghanistan Reconciliation Zalmay Khalilzad and Taliban political chief Mullah Abdul Ghani Baradar, with US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo as a witness, in Doha on February 29, 2020.
The two sides have recently made a breakthrough by agreeing upon the procedural flow of the talks. Khalilzad, who was appointed President Donald Trump’s key negotiator with the Taliban, had recently returned for the talks and expressed concern over the rise in killings.
1/3 I return to Doha and the region with expectations that the parties will make tangible progress in the next round of #Afghanistan Peace Negotiations.
— U.S. Special Representative Zalmay Khalilzad (@US4AfghanPeace) January 4, 2021
India has supported the reconciliation process which is Afghan-led, Afghan-owned, and Afghan-controlled. The sources have told ThePrint that they will see how the peace talks turn out under the President-elect Joe Biden’s administration, which is yet to spell out its Afghanistan policy.