Don’t rely on US
Harsh V Pant
With the swearing in of Ashraf Ghani, a former World Bank economist, Afghanistan now has a new President who has promised reform, development and an end to poverty and corruption. Last week, after months of tortuous negotiations, Afghan presidential candidates Abdullah Abdullah and Ghani finalised and signed a power-sharing pact brokered by the US.
The last disagreement was how to announce the results of the 14th June run-off election vote audit. Abdullah, who was widely assumed to be trailing Ghani, had insisted that the official percentages either not be made public at all or be altered to give him more votes. The election authorities ultimately decided not to reveal the vote tallies, but declared Ghani the president-elect just hours after the agreement was signed. Abdullah has taken on the newly created position of chief executive — similar in power to a prime minister – with a promise to “work together for a better future with trust and honesty.”
The international community, not surprisingly, has welcomed recent developments. The Obama Administration heaved a sigh of relief with this pact and hailed it as an “important opportunity” for unity and increased stability. Washington also congratulated Abdullah and Ghani for ending Afghanistan’s political crisis and confirmed that the United States “stands ready to work with the new administration to ensure its success.” There are hopes that the Bilateral Security Agreement (BSA) would soon be finalised, which would determine the size and scope of any US troop presence that would remain in Afghanistan once the NATO combat mission ends in December. While Karzai refused to sign the BSA on one pretext or another, both Ghani and Abdullah had pledged to sign the pact during their
The Taliban, not surprisingly, has assailed the pact terming it a “sham” orchestrated by the US. In a statement, its spokesman Zabihullah Mujahid said: “Installing Ashraf Ghani and forming a bogus administration will never be acceptable to the Afghans,” adding that: “We reject this American process and vow to continue our jihad until we free our nation from occupation and until we pave the way for a pure Islamic government.”
Defying odds, Afghanistan has now taken a major step towards its post-2014 political future. Much will now depend on how this first democratic transfer of power in the country unfolds. India will now have to articulate its own policy response. So far, the Narendra Modi government has been reluctant to spell out the terms of its engagement with Kabul as the political realities in Afghanistan have been in flux.
Of all India’s South Asian neighbours, the Modi government’s outreach to Kabul has been the most lackadaisical. Perhaps the reason is obvious: the political uncertainty so far in Afghanistan would have made any outreach to Kabul devoid of any real meaning. But when asked whether the new Indian government would review policy towards Afghanistan, Swaraj had suggested that there was no question of any change in it and asserted that India would continue to help the country in its reconstruction.
India’s role in Af
As Afghanistan turns a new leaf in its political destiny, the usual approach from New Delhi won’t do. The argument that India will merely focus on reconstruction and developmental issues without bothering about the security implications of the rapidly changing ground realities in Afghanistan is unlikely to get India any traction. India will have to think more creatively than it has done for the past decade.
It is on Afghanistan where US-India divergences have been getting striking by the day. Forced by India, US Secretary of State John Kerry had underlined that “any political settlement must result in the Taliban breaking ties with al-Qaeda, renouncing violence, and accepting the Afghan constitution, including its protection for all Afghans, women and men.”
The reality, however, is that the peace process is a sham and merely to get the Taliban on board. Washington agreed to let Taliban leader Mullah Omar come to the negotiating table without acceding to any of the “red lines.” There has been no acceptance of the Afghan constitution as was reflected in the title of the office that the Taliban opened in Doha – the Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan. The Taliban has refused to recognise the Afghan Government and cut ties with Al Qaeda. There has been no cease-fire on the ground or even an attempt to delink Afghanistan from global terrorism.