Searching for an elusive peace
Mains Paper 1: International Relations
Prelims level: Afghanistan
Mains level: India and its neighborhood- relations
- Russia hosted a regional conference on Afghanistan last week to
nudge the reconciliation process between the Taliban and the Afghan
- The Taliban were represented by the political council chief, Sher
Mohammad Stanikzai. Representatives from Afghanistan, China, Pakistan, Iran,
Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan, Uzbekistan, Kazakhstan, Turkmenistan, the U.S. and
India were also present at the meeting.
- It making it the first time that all stakeholders were present in
the same room.
Impacts on Taliban
- The Taliban were opposed to attending since the Afghan government
insisted on co-chairing the meeting.
- The diplomatic solution was to have Afghanistan represented by the
High Peace Council (HPC), set up and supported by the government with the
specific aim of furthering peace talks, though formally not part of
- India sent two seasoned former diplomats, with the Ministry of
External Affairs describing its participation as “non-official”.
- The U.S. was represented by its Moscow embassy officials.
- The Russians refrained from attempting a final statement or even a
- With this meeting, Russia has sent a clear signal that it is back
in the game in Afghanistan.
Beginnings of reconciliation
- The idea of reconciliation with the Taliban has been around for
over a decade. As the Taliban insurgency grew 2005 onwards.
- The British, deployed in Helmand, soon found merit in doing side
deals with local Taliban commanders by turning a blind eye to opium
production in the area.
- Germans and the Norwegians, they began to persuade the U.S. to
work for a political outcome.
- The U.S. soon realised that it had run out of options. Insurgency
could not be contained as long as sanctuaries existed in Pakistan and the
carrot and stick policy with Pakistan had cost the U.S. $33 billion but
failed to change Pakistan’s policy.
- A total cut-off was not possible as long as U.S. troops in
Afghanistan depended on supply lines through Pakistan.
- In 12 years, the U.S. had lost 2,300 soldiers and spent $105
billion in rebuilding Afghanistan, more than $103 billion (in
inflation-adjusted terms) spent under the Marshall Plan on rebuilding West
Europe after World War II.
- War weariness demanded an exit and a political solution was
Taliban’s growing visibility
- After prolonged negotiations, a Taliban office opened in Doha in
June 2013 to promote talks and a peace process.
- However, when the office started flying the Taliban flag, calling
itself the political bureau of the Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan, it
angered both the U.S. and Afghan governments.
- The office was closed down though the Qatar authorities continue
to host Taliban leaders.
- An internal power struggle within the Taliban erupted with Mullah
Akhtar Mansour emerging as the leader.
- Insurgency grew with the Taliban briefly taking over Kunduz and
Ghormach districts and threatening Ghazni.
- Mr. Ghani felt betrayed and lashed out, accusing Pakistan of
- A new initiative (Quadrilateral Coordination Group) involving the
U.S., China, Pakistan and Afghanistan was launched in January 2016. After a
couple of meetings, there was a roadmap; Pakistan was to use its influence
to get the Taliban to the negotiating table. Hopes were dashed when the
Taliban demanded exit of foreign troops, release of detainees from
Guantanamo, and removal of its leaders from international blacklists.
Frustrated with Pakistan’s inability to get Mullah Mansour to fall in line,
the U.S. eliminated him in a drone strike in May 2016 in Balochistan. Maulvi
Haibatullah was appointed as his successor.
- Mr. Ghani launched the Kabul Process for Peace and Security
Cooperation, and in February, made an unconditional dialogue offer to the
- The Taliban rejected his overture, declaring that they were ready
to engage in direct talks only with the Americans.
- Mr. Ghani persisted, resulting in a three-day ceasefire during Eid.
The U.S. softened its stand on an “Afghan-led and Afghan owned peace
process”, and in July, senior State Department official Alice Wells was in
Doha for a meeting with the Taliban.
- In September, the State Department announced the appointment of
Zalmay Khalilzad (former U.S. Ambassador to Afghanistan) as Special
Representative for Afghanistan Reconciliation. Mr. Khalilzad.
- It has since been making the rounds in Qatar, Saudi Arabia, the
U.A.E., Pakistan and Afghanistan.
- Today, the Afghan government controls barely half the country,
with one-sixth under Taliban control and the rest contested.
- Most significant is the ongoing depletion in the Afghan security
forces because of casualties, desertions and a growing reluctance to join.
- U.S. President Donald Trump’s South Asia policy announced last
August aimed at breaking the military stalemate by expanding the U.S. and
- It putting Pakistan on notice and strengthening Afghan
capabilities has clearly failed, and this is why multiple processes are
- Everyone agrees that the war has to end.
- The question for the U.S. is how to manage the optics of the exit
while not conceding victory to the Taliban.
Q1. The strategically important Zaranj-Delaram Highway is located in
Q1. India must remain engaged with the multiple processes underway on
Afghan reconciliation. Give your arguments in this regard of this statement.