Ajit Doval, national security adviser, rushed to Kabul on Monday to confer with Afghan leadership even as the quadrilateral coordination group (QCG) met in Muscat to reopen the question of a political settlement between the Taliban and the Afghan government.
In a statement, MEA said, Doval and his Afghan counterpart Hanif Atmar “emphasised that bilateral and sincere regional cooperation is important for peace, security and stability in the region. Both sides welcomed the opportunities created by the new US strategy for bringing peace and security to Afghanistan. It was agreed to further strengthen strategic dialogue and consultations for achieving the shared objectives.”
India is not a part of the QCG but is closely following the Afghan talks. India has involved itself much more in Afghan politics and security in recent years, but a more overt Indian role would be a red rag to Pakistan, a fact they are not shy about expressing. Afghanistan, Pakistan, US and China sent senior officials to the talks in Muscat, which was chosen as the venue after Turkmenistan refused to host the talks.
India’s “role” will be as before — increased economic assistance and supporting Afghan government politically and in international forums. Since India is not prepared to put boots on the ground in Afghanistan, there is a limit to what India can do there. Pakistan believes it has clawed its way back into US’ good books after the Canadian-US rescue and has refused to help if India was given any role in Afghanistan.
The sixth round of QCG talks, restarting after over a year, is expected to assess whether Pakistan has “done enough” in the past year, said senior Afghan sources to TOI. The QCG collapsed in 2016 after Taliban leader Mullah Mansour was struck down by a US drone in Pakistan. Sources said the current round of talks was only meant for the four countries to pick up the threads. Afghan officials have openly laid the blame for the stalled talks on Pakistan’s refusal to act against the Taliban.
The Taliban have so far not agreed to join the current round of talks, but Pakistan is under a lot of pressure to “deliver” them to the table.
The talks were preceded by the first senior officials’ talks between US and Pakistan in Islamabad. This week, though, Trump has been all sweetness and light after Pakistan army “rescued” five US-Canadian nationals from the Haqqani network.
The resumption of QCG comes after a Moscow meeting of the SCO contact group on Afghanistan, where India was represented by secretary in MEA, Ruchi Ghanshyam. Indian officials are looking forward to a meeting of the 6+1 grouping also on Afghanistan.
The Trump strategy, said sources, can only succeed if the diplomatic outreach is matched by a robust military strategy on the ground. The latter includes the lifting of some of the restrictions of military engagement for western soldiers, that had been imposed by the Trump administration. An official explained that this means ground forces can call in air support for a larger number of reasons.
In addition, the ANSF received their first Black Hawk helicopters from the US last week, signalling an important shift away from sourcing their defence equipment from Russia. Afghan ambassador, Shaida Abdali had said they expected the ANSF to get about 200 aircraft by 2020, which, he believes, will make a big difference in the war against terror groups in Afghanistan.