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India’s approach towards Moscow format consultations

By Dr Manabhanjan Meher

The second Moscow Format Consultations on Afghanistan was held in Moscow on November 9, 2018. The discussion was attended by deputy heads of the ministry of foreign affairs and special representatives of Russia, China, CARs, Pakistan and Iran. In addition, the delegation was joined for the first time by the delegation of the Taliban Movement in Doha.Before that, Taliban representatives have never been publicly represented at an international conference of this level.

However, there was an absence of official representation from the government of Afghanistanbut the members of the Afghan High Peace Council (HPC) as the non-government institution was part of the meeting.The United States has sent a representative just to observe the discussions but not to participate. Similarly, following the footsteps of the United States and Afghanistan, India’s participation at the meeting was “at the non-official level”[1] and this decision was taken in close coordination with the Afghan side and asserted that attending the meeting was not talking to the Taliban at all. It was represented by two former diplomats, former Ambassador to Afghanistan Amar Sinha and former High Commissioner to Pakistan T. C. A. Raghavan, at the Moscow format meeting.  India, likewise for the first time share the platform with the Afghan Taliban, a move which is being seen as unprecedented and the shift in India’s position on Taliban Movement.

There have been converging and contrasting opinions prevailed among Indian diplomats on this occasion. The former Ambassador to Afghanistan, Jayant Prasad argued that India did not want to decline Russian invitation and at the same time, it also did not want to upset the ruling NUG in Kabul, so India’s participation was at the low level. He noted “India attended the Moscow meeting because the Russian Federation had convened it and invited India. Since the Afghan government decided to send members of the High Peace Council as ‘national’ yet ‘non-government’ institution representatives, India too sent two former diplomats but did not participate at the official level.”[2] Similarly, Vivek Katju, a former Ambassador to Afghanistan, alsoretaliated that “In not sending serving officials, India followed the NUG example.”[3]

Moreover, it should be noted that India’s participation in Moscow Format “on non-official level” disputes India’s commitment towards the “India-Russia Joint Statement during visit of President of Russia to India”, signed on  October 05, 2018. This statement clearly stipulates that “the Sides resolved to work through the Moscow Format, SCO Contact Group on Afghanistan, and all other recognized formats for an early resolution to the long-term conflict in Afghanistan, end to terrorist violence, external safe havens and sanctuaries for terrorists and the worsening drug problem in the country.”[4] Hence, in the Joint Statement, India has pledged to work with Russian Federation on a various platform which not only include the US-backed “Afghan-led, and Afghan-owned national peace reconciliation process”, but it also includes “Moscow Format”. Therefore, India’s involvement at Moscow Format should not be seen either to impress Afghan NUG or disappoint Russian but as a matter of principled stand towards peace in Afghanistan.

In contrast, former Ambassador to Afghanistan, M. K. Bhadrakumar has adopted a completely a distinct stand with respect to negotiating with Taliban. According to him, “the forthcoming conference provides a useful occasion for India to interact with the Taliban who are definitely going to be in the power structure in some form or the other in a near future in Afghanistan.” He further noted that “the Moscow format provides a unique opportunity for India to harmonise with Pakistan and China. Quite obviously, the Moscow format is at its core SCO+2 (Iran and Turkmenistan).”[5] Likewise, K P Fabian, a retired officer and Permanent Representative to the United Nations noted that India made a course correction and attended the talks without participating in them. According to the diplomat, “Indian policymakers have for a long-held to the erroneous position that the US will successfully fight the Taliban and make them surrender. India is slowly waking up to ground realities.”[6] Recently,as quoted by TOLO News, the Indian ambassador to Kabul, Vinay Kumar while addressing the fourth round of Afghanistan and India’s security dialogue, in Kabul on November 25, 2018, has pledged to continue supporting Afghanistan even if the Taliban ended up being included in government.[7]

It is also true that the Taliban continue to intensify their inhuman brutalities by killing school children, teachers, men, and women of Kabul and continue bombing other cities of Afghanistan. There is no doubt that the insurgent leadership particularly the Taliban and other groups, find a safe haven in Pakistan. In this context, Indian Government officials doing their best to expose that Pakistani leadershipat every platform and forum. But at the same time, it is also important that Indian diplomats, as well as policymakers, should realise that the current NUG of Afghanistan backed by the United States and NATO has failed completely to defeat Taliban Movement through military means. Simultaneously, the Afghan government has also failed so far in addressing people’s grievances such as unemployment, warlordism, lack of social security, bad governance and corruption that made people frustrated and annoyed.

Under given circumstances, defeating Taliban through militarily and establishing complete control over Afghanistan by ruling NUG is out of the question. Therefore, the Taliban should be engaged in order to establish peace in Afghanistan. It is still uncertain that to what extent the collective efforts by Russia, China and Iran could succeed in taming the Taliban Movement but to a certain degree they managed to get them in negotiating table in Moscow on November 7, 2018. In this context, Pakistan’s role is a key factor for ensuring stability in Afghanistan.

With regard to negotiating with Taliban Movement, it can be said that the Taliban Movement has been talking to Russia, Iran, China, CARs, Pakistan and even the US at the various level at the different point of time. Former Afghanistan President Hamid Karzai during his visit to Delhi lashed out the media stating “The Russians aren’t the only ones to talk to the Taliban. The U.S. held talks with the Taliban, both directly and through Pakistan. The Germans have held talks. The Norwegians conducted meetings between Taliban and Afghan civil society representatives in Oslo. So why single out only Russia?”[8] Therefore, the peace process in Afghanistan is impossible without involving the Taliban which has been accepted by all the neighbouring countries of Afghanistan in the region.

In the framework of Moscow Format, the Indian delegation has agreed to sit down with the Taliban on the same table, but at the same time maintained that “there will be any talks with Taliban.”[9] Two kinds of conclusion can be drawn from the events. At the one hand, this signifies that India has been continuing its years-old policy of non-recognition of Taliban but at the other hand, it also reflects that India has made a strategic shift, trying to move closer to the Taliban whatever may be the grounds.

Thus, it is right-time for India to move closer to all Afghan political forcesincluding the Taliban and all regional stakeholders of the region in ending the war and establishing peace in Afghanistan. Henceforth,Indian policymakers and diplomats shouldrevisit and evolve a strategy to deal with the emerging situation in Afghanistan.

References:

[1]Official Spokesperson’s response to queries regarding India’s participation in a meeting on Afghanistan hosted by Russia, November 08, 2018, at  https://mea.gov.in/media-briefings.htm?dtl/30577/official+spokespersons+response+to+queries+regarding+indias+participation+in+a+meeting+on+afghanistan+hosted+by+russia

[2]Jayant Prasad(2018), “What Talking to the Taliban Means”, November 17, 2018, at https://thewire.in/south-asia/what-talking-to-the-taliban-means

[3]Vivek Katju (2018), “Not all lost in Afghanistan”, November 21, 1018, at https://www.tribuneindia.com/news/comment/not-all-lost-in-afghanistan/686286.html

[4]India-Russia Joint Statement during visit of President of Russia to India (October 05, 2018), October 05, 2018, https://mea.gov.in/bilateral-documents.htm?dtl/30469/IndiaRussia_Joint_Statement_during_visit_of_President_of_Russia_to_India_October_05_2018

[5]M. K. Bhadrakumar(2018), “India has historic role in Moscow format on Afghanistan”, November6, 2018, athttps://indianpunchline.com/india-has-historic-role-in-moscow-format-on-afghanistan/

[6]KP Fabian (2018), “India Attending Moscow Format Talks Indicates Course Correction”, November 14, 2018, at https://sputniknews.com/analysis/201811141069797216-india-moscow-format-talks/

[7]“Kabul hosts 4th Afghanistan-India Security Dialogue”,November 25, 2018, athttps://www.tolonews.com/afghanistan/kabul-hosts%c2%a04th-afghanistan-india-security-dialogue

[8]India should have its own policy on Afghanistan’, former Afghanistan President Hamid Karzai in an interview to The Hindu during a visit to Delhi, May 03, 2017, https://www.thehindu.com/todays-paper/tp-opinion/india-should-have-its-own-policy-on-afghanistan/article18365673.ece

[9]Transcript of Weekly Press Briefing by Official Spokesperson (November 09, 2018), November10, 2018, https://mea.gov.in/media-briefings.htm?dtl/30583/transcript+of+weekly+press+briefing+by+official+spokesperson+november+09+2018

Dr Manabhanjan Meher is a Research Analyst at Europe and Eurasia Centre, Institute for Defence Studies and Analyses (IDSA), New Delhi.

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