US-Taliban Treaty: Comprehensive Analysis of Its Impact on India-Afghanistan Relations

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Impact of US-Taliban Treaty on India-Afghanistan Relations

Bilateral relations between both India and Afghanistan is friendly and the public perception in both countries is positive with respect to each other. And this has continued ever since Modi took office in India in 2014. Their relationship pans over the following key sectors:

  • Political
  • Economical
  • Security

This paper focuses on the above topics and specifically the impact of the US-Taliban treaty on Afghanistan and subsequently on Indian investments in Afghanistan and also the risks involved in future investments.

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Political Relations:

The new dispensation in India traded cautiously during the Afghan presidential election and also during the initial months of incumbent Afghan President Ashraf Ghani’s presidency. The commonly held perception at that time was that this caution was due to President Ghani’s overtures to China and Pakistan. However, India demonstrated strategic patience and gauged developments; it continued with its developmental assistance and engagement in Afghanistan [1].

Meanwhile, as the Afghan-Pakistan relations worsened, President Ghani focused more effort towards strengthening their relations with India. Since May 2014, several high-level visits have taken place between the Indian and Afghan governments, including those of India’s vice president, prime minister, external affairs minister, national security adviser (NSA), and minister of law and justice; and Afghanistan’s former president, chief executive officer (CEO), NSA, deputy foreign minister, and army chief. Recently, the Indian ambassador to Afghanistan met Gulbuddin Hekmatyar, the leader of the Hezb-e-Islami Afghanistan (HIG), soon after the latter signed a peace deal with the Afghan government. This was the first such interaction between the two sides [1].

Economic Relations:

Since 2001, India has spent US$ 3 billion on development assistance in Afghanistan. The past three years have seen continuity on this front. The previous government in New Delhi initiated numerous infrastructure projects in Afghanistan, including the construction of Route 606, the new Afghan parliament complex and the Salma Dam (officially, the Afghan-India Friendship Dam), the establishment of the Afghan National Agricultural Sciences and Technology University (ANASTU), and investments in small development projects and skill-building-related initiatives[1].

India is also Afghanistan’s fifth largest donor overall, in addition to being by far the largest donor in the region. Moreover, the development assistance India gives to Afghanistan is greater than the amount given to Sri Lanka or Bangladesh – both of who have traditionally received substantial development assistance from India [2].

After taking charge in 2014, the Modi government ensured completion of key pending projects such as that of the parliament and Salma Dam – both of which Prime Minister (PM) Modi jointly inaugurated with President Ghani during his visits to Afghanistan in 2015 and 2016, respectively. Visas for Afghan businesspersons and tourists were further liberalised; 500 scholarships were announced for the children of the martyrs of Afghan security forces; restoration of the Stor Palace was completed. In 2016, India pledged an additional US $1 billion in assistance to Afghanistan [1].

Additionally, India has steadily been working with regional countries on developing landlocked Afghanistan's connectivity to facilitate trade and movement of goods. In 2016, India, Iran and Afghanistan signed the Trilateral Agreement on Establishment of International Transport and Transit Corridor (the Chabahar Agreement) and by September 2017, India will begin shipping 35,000 containers of wheat to Afghanistan via Iran's Chabahar port [2].

Security Relations:

Bilateral engagement in security-related issues has seen continuity and some enhancement. Although India is hesitant to supply lethal weapons to Afghanistan, it delivered three unarmed Cheetal helicopters and four refurbished Mi-25 assault helicopters to the Afghan Air Force (AAF) in April 2015 and December 2016, respectively. In 2016 and 2017, New Delhi participated in multiple Russia-led regional multilateral meetings aimed at addressing the security situation in Afghanistan and its neighbourhood, in addition to participating in other ongoing initiatives. Meanwhile, the new administration in the US may be considering different ideas regarding Indian participation in resolving the security situation in Afghanistan. India, too, is evaluating its options [1].

There have been a fair number of attacks on Indians on Afghanistan soil. The September 2011 assassination of former Afghan president Burhanuddin Rabbani was condemned by India, which stated that, 'Tragically, the forces of terror and hatred have silenced yet another powerful voice of reason and peace in Afghanistan. We unreservedly condemn this act of great brutality,' and reiterated the steadfast support of the people and government of India in Afghanistan's 'quest for peace and efforts to strengthen the roots of democracy'. On 22 May 2014 the Indian consulate in Herat was attacked by 3 militants equipped with AK-47s, RPGs, hand grenades and suicide vests. 'Our premises have been repeatedly attacked by those who do not support India's development work in Afghanistan. The attack will not dilute India's development assistance and its contribution to rehabilitation and reconstruction of Afghanistan,' India's ambassador to Kabul Amar Sinha said at the time [3].

US – Taliban Treaty:

Special Representative Khalilzad signed a formal agreement in Doha with Taliban deputy political leader Mullah Abdul Ghani Baradar on February 29, 2020. On the same day in Kabul, Secretary of Defence Mark Esper met with Afghan President Ashraf Ghani to issue a joint U.S.-Afghan declaration reaffirming U.S. support for the Afghan government and reiterating the Afghan government’s longstanding willingness to negotiate with the Taliban without preconditions [4].

As part of the U.S.-Taliban agreement, the United States agreed to draw down its forces from 13,000 to 8,600 within 135 days (with proportionate decreases in allied force levels). CENTCOM Commander General Kenneth McKenzie confirmed on June 18 that U.S. forces have been reduced to that level nearly a month ahead of schedule. The U.S. further committed to withdraw all of its forces within 14 months (April 2021). Other U.S. commitments included working to facilitate a prisoner exchange between the Taliban and the Afghan government (more below) and removing U.S. sanctions on Taliban members by August 27, 2020. The sanctions removal is contingent upon the start of intra-Afghan negotiations. In exchange, the Taliban committed to not allow its members or other groups, including Al Qaeda, to use Afghan soil to threaten the U.S. or its allies, including by preventing recruiting, training, and fundraising [4].

Effect of COVID-19 Pandemic on the Treaty:

Overshadowing all of the developments above is the continued spread of COVID-19 in Afghanistan, which reported over 30,000 cases as of June 25, 2020, though that figure likely understates the scale of the virus in Afghanistan due to extremely limited testing [5]. COVID-19 has impacted a number of dynamics related to the U.S.-Taliban agreement and potential intra-Afghan talks. Most notably, the United States announced on March 18 that it was pausing the movement of personnel into and out of the region due to concerns about COVID-19 [6]. The withdrawal evidently resumed after that announcement, and NBC News reported in April 2020 that President Trump had advocated accelerating the withdrawal of all U.S. troops out of Afghanistan because of the pandemic [7]. COVID-19 also presents logistical hurdles to convening large groups of negotiating teams.

The further spread of COVID-19 in Afghanistan could cause additional disruptions to the nascent peace process, but might also present opportunities for compromise and intra-Afghan cooperation. For example, Afghan government representatives have expressed support for Taliban efforts to combat the virus in areas they control [8]. At the same time, some observers dismiss the Taliban’s actions as a propagandistic attempt to undermine the legitimacy of the Afghan government, and charge that the Taliban’s escalation of violence since February 2020 is the main factor impeding the country’s response to the pandemic [9]. Afghanistan may be at particularly high risk of a widespread outbreak, due in part to its weak public health infrastructure and its porous border with Iran, a regional epicentre of the pandemic where up to three million Afghan refugees live: nearly 300,000 Afghans returned from Iran between January 1, 2020 and late May, 2020 [10].

Risk Assessment:

Terrorism:

The first set of risks has to do with the possibility of international and regional terrorism. One of the four guiding principles mentioned in the joint declaration between the United States and the Afghan government includes “guarantees to prevent the use of Afghan soil by any international terrorist groups or individuals against the security of the United States and its allies” [11]. However well-intentioned these words might be, there is little clarity on how these guarantees will be upheld. After all, the factions to be reconciled will also include those elements who have fronted the ISI’s war against India from within Afghanistan. The evidence supporting this claim is overwhelming [12].

Pakistani Influence:

The second related set of risks has to do with the ISI’s increasing influence in Afghanistan. The nexus between the Taliban (especially the Haqqani group) and the ISI underscores Pakistan’s increasing influence within the country. The Taliban leadership may not always see eye to eye with the Pakistani state and the ISI, but the ISI’s influence over the Taliban is undeniable [13]. Given the potential of Taliban representation in Kabul in the near future, this state of affairs is naturally far from comfortable for India [14].

Divided Afghan Government:

The third set of risks has to do with the perpetually divided Afghan government. While a semi-united government led by Ghani and Abdullah might have offered India some options for mitigating the risks mentioned above, such an arrangement seemed unlikely with both sides engaged in a months-long bitter rivalry while violence escalated. The recent political agreement between Ghani and Abdullah, while welcome, does not guarantee political stability [15]. The two leaders, on opposing sides until very recently, will now have to find ways to work together. India will need to identify its own strategic actions and not rely on an Afghan-led approach on reconciliation, which carries the risk of disintegrating because of the sharply competing politics and the outsized battle of egos among Afghanistan’s leaders.

Conclusion:

There are two choices before the Indian government. First, it can “wait and watch” to see if Ghani and Abdullah are able to mend fences and provide a degree of political stability. Second, given the “enormous instability” that looms large, in order to remain “engaged in Afghanistan in the future,” India may have to build “new equities.” This will require India to be “actively involved” and, equally important, “to be seen to be actively involved” in a wider set of international and national conversations [16].

References:

  1. India-Afghanistan Relations: Innovating Continuity, by Rajeshwari Krishnamurthy, http://www.ipcs.org/comm_select.php?articleNo=530
  2. Indian development cooperation with Afghanistan and the 'Afghan-India Friendship Dam', by Dr Rani D Mullen, Kashyap Arora, https://cprindia.org/sites/default/files/policy-briefs/Indian%20Development%20Cooperation%20with%20Afghanistan%20and%20the%20%e2%80%98Afghan-India%20Friendship%20Dam%e2%80%99_0.pdf
  3. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Afghanistan%E2%80%93India_relations
  4. Afghanistan: Background and U.S. Policy, by Clayton Thomas, https://fas.org/sgp/crs/row/R45122.pdf
  5. 9 Belquis Ahmadi and Palwasha Kakar, “Coronavirus in Afghanistan: An Opportunity to Build Trust with the Taliban?” United States Institute of Peace, April 16, 2020. See also, Jaffer Shah et al., “COVID-19: the current situation in Afghanistan,” The Lancet, April 2, 2020.
  6. Thomas Gibbons-Neff and Julian Barnes, “Coronavirus Disrupts Troop Withdrawal in Afghanistan,” New York Times, March 18, 2020.
  7. Carol E. Lee and Courtney Kube, “Trump tells advisors U.S. should pull troops as Afghanistan COVID-19 outbreak looms,” NBC News, April 27, 2020.
  8. Ruchi Kumar, “Taliban launches campaign to help Afghanistan fight coronavirus,” Al Jazeera, April 6, 2020.
  9. For the Taliban, the Pandemic is a Ladder,Foreign Policy, May 6, 2020, and “The Taliban are joining Afghanistan’s fight against covid-19,” Economist, May 9, 2020.
  10. International Organization on Migration, Return of Undocumented Afghans Weekly Situation Report, May 24-30, 2020.
  11. Joint Declaration between the Islamic Republic of Afghanistan and the United States of America for Bringing Peace to Afghanistan, U.S. Department of State, February 29, 2020, https://www.state.gov/wp-content/uploads/2020/02/02.29.20-US-Afghanistan-Joint-Declaration.pdf
  12. Why Pakistan Supports Terrorist Groups, and Why the US Finds It So Hard to Induce Change, Brookings, January 5, 2018, https://www.brookings.edu/blog/order-from-chaos/2018/01/05/why-pakistan-supports-terrorist-groups-and-why-the-us-finds-it-so-hard-to-induce-change/
  13. Abdul Salam Zaeef, My Life with the Taliban.
  14. Dealing With the Taliban: India’s Strategy in Afghanistan After U.S. Withdrawal, by Rudra Chaudhuri and Shreyas Shende, https://carnegieindia.org/2020/06/02/dealing-with-taliban-india-s-strategy-in-afghanistan-after-u.s.-withdrawal-pub-81951
  15. Mujib Mashal, “Afghan Rivals Sign Power-Sharing Deal as Political Crisis Subsides,” New York Times, May 17, 2020, https://www.nytimes.com/2020/05/17/world/asia/afghanistan-ghani-abdullah.html?smid=tw-share.
  16. Chaudhuri telephone interview with Rakesh Sood, April 21, 2020.
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US-Taliban Treaty: Comprehensive Analysis of Its Impact on India-Afghanistan Relations. (2023, January 31). Edubirdie. Retrieved July 23, 2024, from https://edubirdie.com/examples/us-taliban-treaty-comprehensive-analysis-of-its-impact-on-india-afghanistan-relations/
“US-Taliban Treaty: Comprehensive Analysis of Its Impact on India-Afghanistan Relations.” Edubirdie, 31 Jan. 2023, edubirdie.com/examples/us-taliban-treaty-comprehensive-analysis-of-its-impact-on-india-afghanistan-relations/
US-Taliban Treaty: Comprehensive Analysis of Its Impact on India-Afghanistan Relations. [online]. Available at: <https://edubirdie.com/examples/us-taliban-treaty-comprehensive-analysis-of-its-impact-on-india-afghanistan-relations/> [Accessed 23 Jul. 2024].
US-Taliban Treaty: Comprehensive Analysis of Its Impact on India-Afghanistan Relations [Internet]. Edubirdie. 2023 Jan 31 [cited 2024 Jul 23]. Available from: https://edubirdie.com/examples/us-taliban-treaty-comprehensive-analysis-of-its-impact-on-india-afghanistan-relations/
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