A tale of two meetings: India and Pakistan to hold different conferences on Afghanistan this week

The presence of regional and international states at the two meetings underlines the crucial but differing roles of New Delhi and Islamabad

Updated - November 13, 2021 12:14 am IST

Published - November 09, 2021 06:52 pm IST - NEW DELHI

Delhi and Islamabad will hold two parallel tracks on Afghanistan this week — the two meetings sharpening the divide between India and Pakistan and their view of each other’s role in the region.

On Wednesday, National Security Advisor Ajit Doval will meet his counterparts from Russia, Iran and five Central Asian states, including NSAs and State Security Chiefs from each of these countries, for the Delhi Regional Security Dialogue.

 

On Thursday, Pakistan’s special envoy on Afghanistan Mohammad Sadiq Khan will host a meeting of the “Extended Troika” made up of Russia, China, U.S. and Pakistan. For the first time, the Troika-Plus, as it is called, will also meet with Taliban’s acting Foreign Minister Amir Khan Muttaqi, who is visiting Islamabad for bilateral meetings.

“I will be travelling to Europe and Asia starting today to discuss the way forward on Afghanistan with Allies and partners. The international community must act together to be effective,” tweeted U.S. Special Envoy Thomas West, as he began his tour on Monday.

Regional players engage Delhi and Islamabad

The meetings make it obvious that the United States, and other major countries in the region, which include China, Iran, Russia, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan, Turkmenistan and Uzbekistan, perceive their engagement with India and Pakistan on Afghanistan separately, but equally vital.

Pakistan is seen as a necessary interlocutor with the Taliban leadership, and an important transit point of trade and connectivity from Afghanistan. As a result, China with CPEC and the U.S. and Uzbekistan have all negotiated transit trade agreements with Islamabad, Turkmenistan’s government sent a delegation to Kabul to discuss the TAPI gas pipeline, and Uzbekistan’s government received the Taliban Deputy PM for a visit last month.

India is seen as a powerful force in the region which must be engaged with, and kept onside for the difficult conversations on terrorism, drugs and migration, as well as a traditional bilateral partner to all the countries minus Pakistan.

This explains why Russia has sent its Security Chief Gen. Patrushev to Delhi while special envoy Zamir Kabulov has confirmed he will travel to Islamabad this week, Iran held a Foreign Ministers meeting including Pakistan, but not India, just a fortnight before attending the NSA meet in Delhi. Most of the Central Asian security chiefs visiting Delhi have engaged Kabul and Islamabad in the past few months, and U.S. Special envoy Thomas West is on an extend trip to the region, where he will visit Islamabad, Delhi and Moscow. Beijing declined the invitation to the Delhi meet, citing “scheduling difficulties”, but said it was open to a bilateral discussion.

Different pitches

The NSA meeting in Delhi is a pitch for India’s continuing role in regional security, even if its bilateral relations with Afghanistan are suspended for the moment. The pull-out of U.S. and NATO troops from Afghanistan, exit of the Ghani government and Afghan ANSDF force, and the resultant takeover of Kabul by the Taliban in August this year has dealt a blow to India’s powerful position in the country, both as a development partner and as a promoter of the democratically government there. In addition, the fact that the Taliban leadership, including the Haqqani network that took power, was supported and sheltered by Pakistan over the past three decades, meant that India’s strategic and security partnership with Afghanistan is at an end. However, while India’s engagement with the new Taliban regime is limited, it has not extended support to the “National Resistance Front” led by Ahmed Masoud, has controlled visas to Afghans down to just a few dozen, has not yet announced any monetary aid for Kabul, while its plans to send wheat and medicines by road to Afghanistan have been declined by Pakistan.

“India’s miscalculation was to passively follow a U.S.-led political and security architecture in Afghanistan,” Director of the Kabul-based Afghan Institute of Strategic Studies Davood Moradian told The Hindu. He also called for India to work on an “inclusive approach” on Afghanistan, and focus on “bringing together Afghan regional and international stakeholders to begin a new political process and roadmap towards an inclusive political structure”.

However, while New Delhi has been signatory to many documents calling for a new government that includes other Afghan groups, and ensures rights of minorities and women, it is not inviting any Afghan representatives to the Security dialogue.

Officials briefing the media ahead of the Delhi meet have laid out some of the differences between the two approaches. The NSA meet is seeking to share common concerns on terrorism and extremist ideology, drugs and refugees emanating from Afghanistan, and the officials said that none of the countries involved are close to “legitimising” the Taliban; the countries participating see Pakistan’s role in Kabul, where the ISI chief was seen attempting to negotiate between Taliban factions, as a part of the problem there.

In recent statements, India has called Pakistan “an arsonist trying to play firefighter”.

Meanwhile Pakistan’s PM Imran Khan has repeatedly called for international recognition for the Taliban, and warned that any delay in providing the country humanitarian assistance will result in a crisis the world cannot afford, with a veiled warning that the “abandonment” of Afghanistan under the Taliban regime will lead to “civil unrest”.

Pakistan has consistently sought to include Taliban leaders in its talks, as it will by inviting the Talib FM to the Troika Plus meeting, and to cut India out of the discussion on Afghanistan, with NSA Moeed Yusuf saying while declining India’s invitation that a “spoiler cannot play peacemaker”.

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