Strategic experts and analysts from Moscow and New Delhi took part in a video conference titled “Afghanistan and Regional Security” on Thursday, July 18. The conference was organized by the Russian news agency RIA Novosti.
Vishal Chandra, from the Institute of Defence and Strategic Analysis (New Delhi) and Rahul Bhonsle, Retired Brigadier-General, both analysts who follow the developments of the Indian Defence Ministry programmes, took part in the discussion from the Indian side. Nikolai Kozyrev, retired ambassador and advisor of the Centre of Eurasian Research of the Diplomatic academy of Russia’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs, was the Russian participant.
US President Barack Obama’s statement voicing plans to withdraw the US troops from Afghanistan in 2014 triggered an intense hour and a half discussion in which participants analysed possible outcomes and the impact on the war-torn country and its neighbours.
Nikolai Kozyrev said that Obama’s statement came out of the blue for many and called this initiative “a political manoeuvre aimed at stabilising the situation in the country, with Americans holding talks with Taliban in Qatar.” Kozyrev said: “It seems to me that Obama is to a certain extent playing into the hands of the Taliban. Hamid Karzai’s second term as Afghan president is over so he won’t be running for presidency in 2014, which means the Americans are no longer interested in dealing with him.”
In Kozyrev’s opinion, the Americans are unlikely to completely withdraw their troops from Afghanistan. Kozyrev says: “It’s not in their geopolitical interests. I think there will still remain a certain US military presence in Afghanistan. There is Central Asia nearby and Russia too, and also Iran which might turn into the next conflict zone after Syria if Syria follows the Western scenario.” Also, he believes the USA as a country aiming high on the international arena, is highly unlikely to leave the region only due to discord with some separately taken politicians.
Vishal Chandra agrees with his Russian counterpart as far as the issue of the US troops’ withdrawal from Afghanistan is concerned. Chandra says: “Americans are concerned about leaving Afghanistan. They already spent billions of dollars during last 5 years and many soldiers’ lives. Leaving Afghanistan completely in 2014 is a zero option.”
Chandra said that India is looking at the development of the situation in Afghanistan very intensely and closely because it affects Indian security scenario as much as it affects Moscow. He added that both countries have a long history of engagement in Afghanistan. In Chandra’s opinion, “with very strong commitment from Russia and India the situation in Afghanistan will continue to progress in a positive and stable direction.”
Chandra also emphasised the importance of Pakistan’s role in Afghanistan. “Whether we like it or not Pakistan is strong,” Chandra said. “Pakistan has huge amount of control on Taliban, and it is an important question if Afghanistan is going to particularly engage Pakistan because this factor is going to have an impact on the new Afghan government’s policy.”
Rahul Bhonsle said that the statements about zero options and withdrawal of troops belong to political and diplomatic posturing. He said a lot depends on what kind of leaderships will emerge in Afghanistan after the 2014 presidential election and how effective the new president will be.
Bhonsle said that Taliban often mocks the Western engagement saying “you may have watches but we have the time.” He believes it gives a good insight into what Taliban has been thinking, it’s been building capacities, and in the current situation it’s essential to engage all political parties in the dialogue on Afghanistan’s future.
Kozyrev also believes that today the Taliban is not quite the same as they used to be and that they will not use their methods of 1995-2001. And elaborating on the quote about time used by his Indian counterpart, Kozyrev said he doubts that time is on the Taliban’s side. According to Kozyrev, “Taliban is tired of that endless exhausting war, they also have losses just like everyone else.” Kozyrev thinks that at the moment Taliban is more willing to enter the international negotiations as the official political power. Kozyrev opines: “To be able to work out a “road map” on the Afghan post 2014 strategy, an essential step would be to arrange an international conference where India and Russia will participate as well as the USA. It should be a sort of Geneva 2, similar to Geneva 1 conference held after the withdrawal of the Soviet troops form Afghanistan in 1989.”
Kozyrev also believes the Shangai Cooperation Organisation (SCO) could have a major impact on the situation in Afghanistan. Under Karzai’s presidency the SCO took a number of decisions on Afghanistan, and with Afghanistan holding an observer status in the organisation the SCO could be helpful in settling the political situation in the country.
While the participants of the conference agree about the necessity of involving different political parties in the process of determining the future political landscape of Afghanistan, they are still wary about the Taliban’s role in it.
Bhosle puts it this way: “Taliban has no intention of sitting in their caves. They want to be active agents of society. But the movement is divided. There are certain elements within the Taliban that strive for peaceful solution whereas at the same time there is a very strong group that still believes that they can come to power by using guns. I think this group also gets supported by certain elements in Pakistan.”
All in all, the participants of the discussion put a large emphasis on both India and Russia actively contributing to the stabilisation of the situation in Afghanistan.
“What does Russia want for Afghanistan,” Kozyrev asked. “I believe the same things as India. Russia would like Afghanistan to become a safe state with friendly attitude towards its neighbours, a state that doesn’t emanate terrorist threat.”
Source: RIA Novosti
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