J K Tripathi
The fourth Regional Security Dialogue on Afghanistan was held in Dushanbe, the capital of Tajikistan on May 27. This meeting was attended by the national security advisors of eight countries-India, Tajikistan, Kazakhstan, Uzbekistan, Kyrgyzstan, Russia, Iran, and China. The third dialogue was held in New Delhi on November 10 last year. Though the number of members in this forum is not fixed, out of a total of nine members invited last year, Pakistan did not attend criticising this event as an attempt aimed against Pakistan, China excused itself on the dubious ground of "being preoccupied”. Just two days later, Pakistan hosted another security dialogue on Afghanistan called the extended Troika with attendance from China, Russia, and the US in reaction to the Indian event. This year, however. China attended the meeting while Pakistan didn’t like the post of its National Security Advisor that has been vacant. It's anybody's guess that Pakistan would not have attended even if it had an NSA since opposition to India is the cornerstone of its policy.
Taking forward the discussions in the Delhi Declaration, the NSAs pondered on the situation in Afghanistan and the region and underlined the need to find constructive ways to ensure peace and stability in Afghanistan and fight the risks from the terrorism borne in the region.
India’s National Security Advisor, Ajit Doval reiterated the Indian stance by declaring that “India was and is an important stakeholder in Afghanistan.”The special relationship with the people of Afghanistan over the centuries will guide India’s approach. Nothing can change this," he told the gathering. Underlining the importance of women and youth in Afghanistan, Doval said that they were “critical for the future of any society”. He was of the view that “provision of education to girls and employment to women and youth would ensure productivity and spur growth and it would also have a positive social impact including discouraging radical ideologies among youth.” He also hoped that “with collective efforts of Regional Dialogue members, we can help proud people of Afghanistan to build a prosperous and vibrant nation once again.”
"Foremost priority should be right to life and a dignified living as well as protection of human rights," he stressed. Ajit Doval also called for enhancing the capability of the war-torn country to counter terrorism and terrorist groups which pose a threat to regional peace and security.
The NSA highlighted the need for representation of all sections of Afghan society including women and minorities so that the collective energies of the largest possible proportion of the Afghan population feel motivated to contribute to nation building. Doval also said women and youth are critical for the future of any society.
It will not be out of context to mention that India has focused on infrastructure, connectivity, and humanitarian assistance over the decades. After August 2021, India has already provided 17000 MT of Wheat out of a total commitment of 50m000 MT, 500,000 doses of Covaxin, 13 tons of essential life-saving medicines, and winter clothing as well as 60 million doses of polio vaccine.
The Indian NSA also reiterated India's position on the distribution of aid to all sections of society. He highlighted that "Assistance should be accessible to all, respect for all obligations under international humanitarian law should be ensured."
Now the question arises - what is the significance of this event/ Firstly- it's timing. During the first two dialogues in 2018 and 2019, Afghanistan was still under the presence of the US army while the third dialogue took place in Delhi when the world was still not sure as to what turn the events were going to take in Afghanistan under the Taliban control and most countries that mattered in the world were still weighing their options vis-à-vis Afghanistan. This recently concluded meeting has taken place when the Taliban’s true colours have come out in open and the world at large has more or less formed its opinion on the issue of recognition of the current dispensation in Kabul.
Secondly, and equally important, the meeting has taken place when the world is grappling with the prolongation of a cruel war between Russia and Ukraine which is fraught with the danger of transformation into fullfledged nuclear warfare. In such situation, it becomes critical to ensure peace and stability in Afghanistan.
What are the takeaways from this meeting? First, with the attention of the U.S., Russia, China, and NATO having been drawn to the Russia-Ukraine war and the widening tension in the Indo-Pacific region, it was imperative to give an unambiguous message to the Afghan regime that the well-wishers of and stakeholders in Afghanistan have not lost focus on the developments there. Secondly, the issue of economic recovery, guaranteeing the human rights of women and minorities (if any), and avoidance of impending famine-like situations call for constant monitoring and handholding wherever required.
Thirdly, notwithstanding the declared policies and tacit intentions of the Taliban leadership, the need of humanitarian assistance to the country is more pressing now. Though an official declaration of the Dialogue is yet to be issued, it is believed that the participants have discussed in depth the ways and means to address this issue.
One may ask what did India get from this meeting in concrete terms. It is not every time that the result is discernible. At times, it is in the shape of the rise of a country’s regional or even international stature, a recognition of its role to salvage the situation with the best of its material and moral support and the concrete results emerge later. With this meeting, India’s ability and willingness to help purely on a friendly basis without and expectations unlike some other powers have been widely recognized. The Indian representative Ajit Doval has very capably and succinctly given the message that India stands for human rights, assistance to humanity without discrimination, and is always ready for constructive engagement with countries in trouble. At the same time, he was able to convey that there was no place for nurturing, financing, or protecting terrorism in any form.
(J K Tripathi is a former diplomat)