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2019-07-15

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International Relations
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That Afghans of different political hues met in Doha last week to discuss a framework for ending the four decades-old war is good news in itself. After all, the Taliban had refused for long to sit down with the official representatives of the government in Kabul. The Taliban had dismissed the government as a puppet regime of the Americans and insisted that it would only negotiate with the Americans. That the intra-Afghan conference, which saw the participation of Kabul officials in their personal capacity, ended with the identification of a rough road map for peace is even more welcome. Even as the Afghan groups met in Doha, under an initiative taken by Germany and Qatar, the US Special Envoy on Afghanistan, Zalmay Khalilzad, concluded the seventh round of talks in Doha with the Taliban representatives.

It is this direct engagement between the US and the Taliban that is driving the peace process. After declaring that the latest round of talks had made significant progress, Khalilzad traveled to Beijing to brief Chinese and Russian officials on the latest development. This is the third meeting of the trilateral forum and the latest round was joined by officials from Pakistan. The four countries welcomed the latest developments in the peace process and expressed support for an “orderly and responsible transition” to an inclusive political arrangement acceptable to all Afghans. Although last week’s developments have raised the prospects for peace, they have also generated deeply disconcerting questions on the nature of the peace with the Taliban. Most of those arise from the fact that the Taliban has set the terms for the engagement with the US, where political support for the Afghan war is melting down. The Taliban has successfully undermined the legitimacy of the Kabul government, got its way in fighting and talking at the same time, and avoided giving clear commitments on protecting the rights of women and ethnic minorities. It is hard to believe that the international community’s leverage in the negotiations with the Taliban might increase in the days ahead as the peace process seeks specific answers from the Taliban on a ceasefire, assurances on not supporting international terrorism, and a responsible transition to a new political dispensation in Kabul.

As the Taliban gains ground in the Afghan peace process, Delhi seems increasingly marginal to peace diplomacy in Afghanistan. Critics have questioned India’s rigid affiliation to the current political order in Kabul, whose future looks increasingly dim. What matters in the end, though, is not India’s diplomatic presence at various peace initiatives, but Delhi’s quiet but sustained engagement with all the Afghan political formations, including the Taliban. As an important phase in India’s north-western frontiers comes to a close, Delhi will remain relevant so long as it can make a difference to the internal political balance in Afghanistan and effectively contribute to the nation’s strategic autonomy.

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