IPCS Ambassador Lecture Series
Report drafted by Narayani Basu, Research Officer, IPCS.
(Views expressed are an interpretation and need not necessarily reflect the exact view of the speaker)
India and Afghanistan have had a long, rich and immensely complex history. Indeed, the two countries are so close that they can almost be called family. Like all families, India and Afghanistan have had their ups and downs in bilateral ties, but Afghanistan is privileged to be a partner with India. Today, it is the Afghan peace process that is in the news. The opening of an office, complete with flag and official plaques, in the Gulf state of Qatar is an attempt to divide Afghanistan. This is a misguided attempt to divide the country that has failed in the past and will continue to fail in the future. Indeed, the Doha incident is a violation of the core principles of the peace process. Despite this, the government remains committed to resolving the war in Afghanistan in order to protect the independence and territorial sovereignty of the country.
The Afghan people and government are seeking a peace deal with the opposing armed forces. But it must be remembered that this must an entirely Afghan-controlled peace process. This being said, the Afghan government welcomes the efforts of US President Barack Obama and US Secretary of State, John Kerry toward the peace process. The Afghan government has called on the Taliban as well to abide by the rules of the peace deal. In this regard, the efforts of India and other countries like Russia are welcome. What is crucial to remember is that India has no exit policy in Afghanistan. This is precisely the kind of engagement that Afghanistan needs in order to deal with institutional forces of opposition that exist in and around the borders of the country.
Twelve years after 9/11, the Afghan people have made steps toward an era free of the forces of extremism and terrorism. On 18 June 2013, Afghanistan took over from NATO in the transition to peace. The country and its government welcome the efforts of NATO to equip and arm the Afghan forces to better deal with the process. Indeed, one of the steps that the government is taking towards ensuring a peaceful democratic transition is the call for a free and fair presidential election. The Lower House of the Parliament has approved certain amendments in electoral law. For example, four million names are expected to be added to the electoral rolls this year.
In context to bilateral ties between India and Afghanistan, President Karzai has visited India twice so far. This reflects the deep and enduring friendship between New Delhi and Kabul. In light of the withdrawal of NATO forces from Afghanistan, an Indian delegation from the capital of New Delhi will be visiting Afghanistan in order to better discern the way forward. This is a step that must be carried forward via both bilateral ties and regional initiatives. The implications of winning this battle against the forces of extremism and terrorism clearly have a win-win outcome for the entire region. It is equally clear that zero-sum games have and will prove to be a disaster. Afghanistan stands ready to cooperate in this battle. The government maintains that any shortcut to peace, or any attempt at undermining Afghanistan’s attempts at democracy, can only result in failure.
In this regard, it is important to remember that partnership does not mean interference. Afghanistan has ties with countries all over the world. While Afghanistan has close ties with India, it also has close ties with other countries as well. These ties are subject to the conditions of mutual trust. They do not mean taking over Afghan sovereignty. The Afghan government will not compromise on its sovereign role in decision-making in matters related to the country’s internal affairs. In return, it promises to stand by its commitments to deadlines already made. In this regard, the government would like to thank India for its continual support for the peace process ongoing in the country, in order for successful peace to prevail. Domestically, the Afghan Peace Council is the only designated national body speaking for the peace process within the country.
It is a fact that Afghanistan is being affected by the problems in and around the region. No more time can be lost in merely diagnosing the problem; it is time to act now for the good of the country and the region.For this, the country must be enabled to defend itself against foreign aggressions which it is facing right now. It must be remembered in this regard this is an act that is supported by another state. When a monster is created, it is natural that offshoots and splinters of this monster will be created as well.
In this regard, there have been, in the recent past, most specifically the Doha incident, efforts to ethnicise Afghan politics. But Afghanistan stands united against any efforts like this. The Afghan people are alert and are fully cognizant of who their friends and foes are.
Trust between countries may be defined in terms of national interests. Afghanistan is, at this time, trying to preserve its national interests, and the government is happy to note that its interests are converging with those of the world, particularly with the United States. It is inevitable that certain difficulties will crop up from time to time, but the US remains Afghanistan’s strategic ally, and this phase of strategic partnership will continue in the foreseeable future.
There can be no such thing as a perfect world. But all major players must find issues of mutual interest on which national interests can be converged. Therefore, rather than quarrelling in Afghanistan, there is a dire need for cooperation. The country has been fortunate to find many sympathetic players so far in the determining of its fate – Saudi Arabia, the US and India being prominent examples. There are many doables in formulating bilateral and multilateral ties, such as infrastructure projects, trade and economic cooperation. Regional and extra-regional cooperation is a must at these times, in order to prevent Afghanistan from being burned in the fires of violence and extremism.