U.S. pullout a big step, must ensure democracy prevails in Afghanistan, says Jaishankar

External Affairs Minister calls for a ‘responsible drawdown’ of American and NATO forces.

April 16, 2021 10:29 pm | Updated 10:29 pm IST - NEW DELHI

NEW DELHI, 02/12/202: External Affairs Minister S. Jaishankar during a Interview with The Hindu at South Block in New Delhi on December 02, 2020. Photo: R. V. Moorthy

NEW DELHI, 02/12/202: External Affairs Minister S. Jaishankar during a Interview with The Hindu at South Block in New Delhi on December 02, 2020. Photo: R. V. Moorthy

The U.S. decision to pull out all forces from Afghanistan is a “big step” which will have deep consequences, said External Affairs Minister S. Jaishankar, who called for a “responsible drawdown” of American and NATO forces. Along with Iranian Foreign Minister Javad Zarif and Afghanistan National Security Adviser Mohib, Mr. Jaishankar said it was necessary that Afghanistan’s constitution, democratic processes, and the rights accorded to women and minorities were ensured under any circumstances, and that the “endgame” in Afghanistan be “united, democratic and sovereign”.

“What all of us see in [U.S.] President Biden’s announcement is a big step that is going to take Afghanistan in a certain direction and it is important that we all work together to ensure that the direction is right and the outcomes are good for Afghanistan,” Mr. Jaishankar said speaking at the Ministry of External Affairs’s annual Raisina Dialogue on a panel with Mr. Zarif and Mr. Mohib during a virtual session.

India’s concerns

Mr. Jaishankar’s comment indicated India’s concerns about a hasty withdrawal of U.S. and allied forces from Afghanistan that could bring the Taliban into a powerful role in Kabul. On Thursday, Chief of Defence Services (CDS) General (Retd) Bipin Rawat had said that India’s concern is that “the vacuum that is going to be created should not create space for disruptors to step in, and, therefore, the violence continues in Afghanistan.”

Mr. Mohib, who said he had called National Security Adviser Ajit Doval on Friday and spoke to him about the transition plan as well as upcoming intra-Afghan and regional talks in Turkey, added that much would depend on the troops withdrawal plan and what kind of assistance they would continue to provide the Afghan National Security and Defence Forces (ANSDF). “We are in uncharted territory, and the devil is in the details of what we negotiate with NATO forces,” he said, referring to the continuing threat of violence from foreign fighters as well as the Taliban. In particular, referring to Islamic State (IS) fighters present in Afghanistan, Mr. Zarif said it was necessary to see that Afghanistan and all its neighbours faced “common threats, common challenges.”

Development assistance

Enumerating India’s development assistance to Afghanistan since 2001, Mr. Jaishankar said it was an “absolute fantasy” that India’s actions in Afghanistan were aimed at Pakistan, and a cause of bilateral differences and regional instability.

He said India’s role including in the construction of the Afghan parliament, the Salma Dam and road networks, was a “positive” one unlike other neighbours, in a pointed reference to Pakistan’s support to the Taliban and terror groups operating there. However, Mr. Jaishankar refused to answer questions about whether India is engaging Pakistan or the Taliban.

“The situation is evolving and everybody wants to make the best contribution that they can and shape the outcomes in Afghanistan as positively as they can. So anybody responsible would consider all the aspects of that,” Mr. Jaishankar replied.

Speculation about an India-Pakistan back-channel process over the last few months, spurred by the impending situation in Afghanistan was strengthened this week as UAE’s Ambassador to the U.S., Yousef Al Otaiba claimed that the UAE had brokered talks between India and Pakistan that led to the DGMO ceasefire on February 25.

Mr. Mohib also did not mention Pakistan directly, but said that the last 18 months had made it clear that the Taliban received support from Afghanistan’s “neighbour”, and that the presence of the Taliban leadership there indicated direct interference by the “said neighbour”. “If this continues there would be a huge blowback to our neighbour,” Mr. Mohib warned, adding that this is time now for the Taliban and [Pakistan] to recognise this, and support a ceasefire and peace talks.

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