New Delhi: India will host Afghan President Ashraf Ghani on Tuesday for consultations on stabilizing his war-torn country as well as coordinating strategy amid separate moves by countries in the region to broker peace between Kabul and the Taliban rebels.
Ghani is the third among a list of key visitors from Afghanistan in the past several weeks—chief executive Abdullah Abdullah and foreign minister Salahuddin Rabbani were in India last month. India’s national security adviser Ajit Doval was in Kabul on 16 October to meet his counterpart Hanif Atmar.
US secretary of state Rex Tillerson will also arrive in India on Tuesday, almost two months after the US unveiled a revamped strategy to defeat the Taliban in which India is seen as key to bringing economic stability to Afghanistan.
On Monday, Tillerson made a surprise stopover in Afghanistan to discuss Washington’s new strategy with Ghani, the US embassy in Kabul said. Tillerson reiterated the US’ commitment to working with the Kabul government and regional partners “to achieve peace in Afghanistan and deny safe havens to terrorists who threaten that goal," a statement posted by the embassy on Twitter said.
A statement from the Indian foreign ministry said Ghani will hold talks with Prime Minister Narendra Modi, President Ram Nath Kovind and foreign minister Sushma Swaraj.
“Both sides will have the opportunity to review the entire gamut of the multifaceted bilateral strategic partnership, including the New Development Partnership; hold consultations and coordinate on furthering the shared objective of promoting peace, security, stability and prosperity in Afghanistan and efforts to combat the menace of terrorism; and discuss regional and global issues of mutual interest," the statement said.
Ghani’s visit comes amid moves by the US, China, Pakistan and Afghanistan to revive peace talks with the Taliban. The four countries—known as the Quadrilateral Coordination Group—met in Oman’s capital Muscat last week after a previous round of talks in Islamabad early last year. The group has been trying to ease the path to direct talks between Kabul and the Taliban, with little success.
Another group of countries led by Russia and including Pakistan and China, has also been trying to broker peace between Kabul and the Taliban.
The frequency of attacks by the Taliban showed a sharp spurt last week with 56 people being killed in one incident alone on Friday,
“There are a lot of diplomatic moves being made vis-a-vis Afghanistan and there appears to be a a much higher degree of coordination between Afghanistan and India and I would see the Ashraf Ghani visit in this context," said Sushant Sareen, a Pakistan-Afghanistan analyst with the Vivekananda International Foundation think tank in New Delhi.
“Afghanistan is keeping India in the loop on recent developments like the talks in Oman," Sareen said, noting that Russia’s special envoy on Afghanistan Zamir Kabulov was in New Delhi for consultations in September. “These developments show that India now is a country that cannot be ignored when it comes to discussing Afghanistan’s future," he added.
Once left out of consultations on Afghanistan thanks to its rivalry with Pakistan, India was in August named by US President Donald Trump as a country that the US looked to for stabilizing Afghanistan economically. Trump in his speech also berated Pakistan for providing safe havens to the Taliban and affiliated groups on its soil.
India has considered Afghanistan as part of its extended neighbourhood and extended $3.1 billion in aid to the country. Last month, India announced 116 new high-impact projects in Afghanistan with the aim of shoring up goodwill. New Delhi hopes to have a neutral government in Afghanistan that will not tilt towards Pakistan, while Islamabad is keen to have a government in Kabul that it can fall back on, in case of a war with India.
“The messaging from these visits from Kabul, from the US and from Russia to Pakistan is that India will be involved when discussing the future of Afghanistan. Some countries like Russia and India may not be on the same page on the challenge posed by the Taliban but nevertheless, India will be consulted and it very much has a role to play in Afghanistan," Sareen said.