New Delhi: Even as Pakistan continues to seek the pivotal role in Afghanistan, a crucial meeting of all stakeholder countries has been scheduled in Kabul on Tuesday to decide on a possible timetable for a formal handover of the administration, particularly with respect to internal security, to the local government.
India’s foreign minister S.M.Krishna left on Monday to represent the country at the meeting, which is also expected to decide on whether or not to integrate sections of the insurgent Taliban group, some of whom are backed by Pakistan, into the Afghan administration.
The meeting is particularly crucial for India, because Afghanistan is of strategic importance to it and hence opposes a Pakistan-friendly administration in Kabul. India, which has actively contributed to the economic reconstruction of the country, has been seeking a larger role for itself and has at the same time sought to oppose integration of the Taliban.
The meeting on Tuesday brings together delegates representing countries, international and regional aid organizations and financial institutions “to deliberate and endorse an Afghan government-led plan for improved development, governance and stability”, said the Afghan foreign ministry website.
The high-stakes event aims to demonstrate that Kabul is ready to make the transition from dependence on Western countries to running its own affairs responsibly.
India is one of the biggest aid donors to Afghanistan, having invested $1.3 billion (around Rs6,123 crore) in reconstruction and development to shore up goodwill among Afghans.
“For India the conference is important to put forth its views on for example the Taliban reintegration,” said Srinath Raghavan, senior fellow with the Centre for Policy Research think tank in New Delhi. “New Delhi will, I think, point out the red lines that the Afghan government and international community would need to pay heed to while discussing reintegration of the Taliban—that only those Taliban are taken in who forswear arms and those who promise to adhere to the Afghan constitution.”
India is wary of a Pakistan- friendly administration taking office in Kabul as New Delhi has bad memories of the nexus between the Taliban and militants operating in disputed Kashmir between 1996 and 2001. India is also worried about the possible radicalization of its own large Muslim population.
Given these New Delhi would like international troops stay on till the Taliban is routed. “I think we could see the timelines for US troops leaving getting blurred in the future. In the meantime, India should stick to flexing its economic muscle in Afghanistan, that is the best policy for New Delhi,” Raghavan said.
He was referring to Washington’s announcement of starting a troop pull out from Afghanistan from July 2011 and Britain saying its soldiers would leave by 2014.
With the troops’ exit looming, Afghan President Hamid Karzai has been eager to strike a deal with the Taliban. Karzai in recent times has toned down his criticism of Pakistan, who he had repeatedly accused of harbouring the Taliban. Of late, he has been lending a ear to Pakistani generals and intelligence officials calling on him with offers of brokering a deal with the Taliban.
Islamabad has always wanted a friendly administration in Kabul that it can fall back on in case of a war with New Delhi.
According to Raghavan, the appointment of General David Petraus as the new head of the US military in Afghanistan has changed equations.
“Petraus is credited with turning the war round in Iraq, There are chances that his request of troops staying longer in Afghanistan could be accepted. He has spoken of negotiations only after the war in Afghanistan turns in the US favour,” he said. “Let’s wait and see how the military operations scheduled for October/November proceed.”
Raghavan also pointed out Petraus in contrast to his predecessor General Stanley McChrystal, had spoken up for an Indian role in Afghanistan, something McChrystal had warned against citing Pakistani sensibilities.
According to the Afghan foreign ministry, Kabul intends “to present, in clear terms, what is needed to deliver effective services in the short and medium-term to all Afghan citizens across the entire country”.
“A new era of stability and prosperity will require national priority programmes able to address the acute needs of our population,” it said in a bid to crush criticism over rampant corruption among its ranks that has seen only 20% of pledged funds—of an estimated total of $40 billion—channelled through the Afghan budget, according to reports.