The Istanbul Process conference on Afghanistan held in Kazakhstan’s Almaty on Friday confirmed a close affinity of views between India and Russia, even as they differ in their assessments of the planned withdrawal of the U.S.-led NATO mission.
“India and Russia have a strong convergence of perceptions of how to move forward [on Afghanistan],” External Affairs Minister Salman Khurshid said after arriving here from Almaty.
“India and Russia agree that the process of peace and reconciliation must be Afghan-owned and Afghan-driven. You can’t give readymade solutions to Afghanistan and tell it to apply them. Solutions have to come from within Afghanistan,” Mr. Khurshid told The Hindu.
Russia takes a similar stand
“We support the process of reconciliation. But it must be led by Afghans and conducted by Afghans,” Russia’s top diplomat for Afghanistan Zamir Kabulov said ahead of the Almaty conference. “It is not right when the Taliban speak to Americans, British or somebody else, who then communicate with the [Hamid] Karzai government.”
India, of course, is more concerned with Pakistan’s role in the Afghan reconciliation efforts. But the biggest difference between New Delhi and Moscow is over the modalities of the drawdown of the International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) for Afghanistan.
Speaking at the Almaty conference, Russia’s Deputy Foreign Minister Igor Morgulov lashed out at U.S. plan to retain military presence in Afghanistan without the United Nations’ mandate. “We do not support plans to reformat the ISAF into a long-term foreign military presence in Afghanistan without a United Nations mandate and under a different guise,” he said.
Moscow is demanding that the NATO countries report to the U.N. Security Council on the implementation of its mandate for intervention in Afghanistan and seek a renewed mandate if they want to stay.
However, India does not support the Russian demand.
“The U.S. did take the Security Council sanction, but it’s not been a U.N. peace-keeping operation,” Mr. Khurshid said. “There is nothing more than the Security Council can do, except to support a peace process where redlines are clearly drawn — that talks are held only with those who abjure violence, give up contacts with terrorists and respect the Constitution of Afghanistan.”
The “redlines” agreed upon at the 2010 London conference were again reiterated in Almaty.
Russia is concerned that permanent military bases the Pentagon plans to set up in Afghanistan may be used to strike at Iran and project American power across Central Asia. India, however, is willing to accept continued U.S. military presence in Afghanistan without a U.N. mandate, though New Delhi agrees with Moscow that the ISAF is winding down too abruptly.
“We think the pullout is being done in a hurry; we do not want it to be done in a hurry. But it’s up to Afghanistan to discuss this with the U.S. We’ll go by what Afghanistan decides,” Mr. Khurshid said.
These differences apart, India supports Russia’s higher profile in Central Asia and is ready to interact closer with Moscow in the region. “If Central Asia moves in the right direction and continues its strong association with Russia, it will become a very solid link between India and Russia,” Mr. Khurshid said. “We need to ensure that Central Asia becomes a very strong bridge between ourselves and Russia.”
Mr. Khurshid is in Moscow for an inter-session meeting of the Indo-Russian Inter-Governmental Commission scheduled for Monday, which he co-chairs with Russian Deputy Prime Minister Dmitry Rogozin.