Dr D Suba Chandran
What are the likely future outcomes in Afghanistan?
What are India’s options in Afghanistan?
The Future of Afghanistan and India’s Options
Captain (Retd) Alok Bansal
Centre for Land Warfare Studies (CLAWS), New Delhi
The outcomes discussed are based on the paper, ‘Afghanistan’s Region: 2014 and Beyond’, published by Friedrich Ebert Stiftung (FES). The results of the preliminary elections have just been declared and the Afghan Security Forces ensured that they were relatively peaceful. They were able to do so because they have an upper hand with the Taliban. However, upon the imminent departure of the International Security Forces, there is bound to be a dip. Following this dip, there are two likely scenarios. In the first scenario, the Taliban suffers a gradual decline, and the absence of foreign troops eliminates incentives for fighters to join their ranks, thus hindering recruitment. In the second scenario, security rapidly deteriorates with the Taliban establishing a de-facto state, but even this outcome does not anticipate the fall of Kabul. There have been reports of rigging in the elections with prime candidate Abdullah Abdullah slipping in the race and this is problematic because the elections need to have legitimacy in the eyes of the Afghan public. It is also important that the Afghan Security Forces have access to economic resources because they are a key factor in the determination of an outcome.
India’s primary interest in Afghanistan is to ensure that it does not become a sanctuary for anti-India militant outfits and that would include preventing a takeover of the country by extremists. For this to be possible, Afghanistan needs to become a viable economic entity, and for this, India must establish a corridor of trade through Central Asia since it is not viable through Pakistan alone. India has been providing aid but is not prepared to put boots on the ground because of the inherent risk of NATO troops pulling out early if it does so. India has not been very successful in converting goodwill into influence; there also needs to be greater focus on the development of infrastructure in Afghanistan. India should also be a little more discerning about projects taken up in Afghanistan. There has been slight favouritism when it comes to provinces dominated by Pashtuns, and little work has been done in former Northern Alliance states; this could be remedied by partnering with NATO on some of the projects. Afghanistan’s stability is in India’s interest and India must do whatever is feasible in order to achieve the desired outcome and when NATO forces do pull out, India will have to shoulder greater responsibility in Afghanistan.
Former Special Secretary, Cabinet Secretariat & Distinguished Fellow, IPCS
There are three major issues in the current relationship between Afghanistan and Pakistan:
•Border Issues: The ghosts of the Salala incident (November 2011) still haunt the relationship, and despite mutual suspicion, superficial attempts at cooperation have been loosely supervised by the US Afghan Military delegations have been visiting Pakistan in order to have discussions on border machinations. Pakistan has requested the Afghans to ensure that the provinces of Kunar and Nuristan do not harbour any anti-Pakistan elements and that there are no support attacks on any Pakistani installations. In return for this, Pakistan will restrain its support to the Afghan Taliban. Pakistan will also expect assistance in the hunt for Maulana Fazlullah. Expectations for improved relations are low because of the lack of sincerity on both sides and the lack of genuine intelligence sharing.
•Reconciliation with the Taliban: The Afghans want to lead and be in control of the process while Pakistan wants the exact opposite. Meanwhile, there have been developments in the ‘Qatar Process’ because the US has convinced moderate elements in the Taliban based in Qatar to distance themselves from Pakistan’s ISI. The ISI expressed its disapproval by detaining the twin brothers of Tayyab Agha for 15 days. The Afghan Taliban has clearly made its bid for independence but Pakistan will try to scuttle this effort through its own proxies and will use limited violence to get what it wants.
•Trade Issues: Trade and transit issues have been bedevilled right from the time of the first 1950 treaty, which gives Afghanistan access to the port of Karachi. However, 80 per cent of the imports come back into Pakistan even though they are assigned for Afghanistan because they are brought back in and sold at premium prices. There is an adverse balance of trade. Afghanistan wants to be able to send its goods to India via Pakistan and it is currently impossible for Indian goods to make their way to Afghanistan through Pakistan despite the heavy demand for them. Another issue is the corruption of Pakistani Customs, which has completely looted the container cargo business and causes frequent delays of perishable goods in transit, rendering them useless.
The Report by Friedrich Ebert Stiftung (FES)
Major General (Retd) Ashok K Mehta
Founder-member of the Defence Planning Staff in the Ministry of Defence, India
Over 60 experts drafted the report over 2 years. Iran, Turkey, China and the Central Asian Republics also provided inputs. These were drafted from a country point of view and the agreement on what was required was unanimous. The report has been launched in Kabul, Islamabad, Istanbul and Tehran. It will soon be launched in New Delhi as well. There was a great deal of movement in the selling of these ideas and that is the essence of the report.
•Confidence-building measures: To improve bilateral relations between Afghanistan and Pakistan, which have been clouded by mutual distrust.
•The implementation of a non-interference agreement: Everybody involved in the drafting of the report supported this agreement with the exception of the Pakistani Army and the ISI. The code of conduct expected and punishments for non-adherents has been spelt out.
•Policy of neutrality: A clause that was insisted on by the Afghan Policy Group that drafted the report.
•A situation that demands boots on the ground should never arise.
•The Afghan Taliban wants independence from the ISI and it is inexorable. Their inevitable independence must therefore be factored into any plans for the future.
•The Shia-Sunni dichotomy should also be taken into account.
•The withdrawal of American troops is a vote-catcher for President Obama and the Republican Party cannot use it against him.
•Supporting any candidate in the election might not have worked out for India and Ashraf Ghani is very likely to come under US pressure. India would in fact have been much happier with Zalmai Rasool but he did not go past the first round.
•An academy to train the Afghan Security Forces must be set up in Afghanistan itself.
•The worst-case scenario is either trifurcation or civil war but all of this is based on whether everyone abandons Afghanistan. Other actors react to the source of the threat and do not wait till it is knocking at the doorstep. It is time to start thinking about the abandonment situation and burden-sharing.
Rapporteured by Ishan Dhar, Research Intern, IPCS