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As Afghanistan’s security worsens, Kabul back in focus of India’s foreign policy

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NEW DELHI: The latest terror attacks in Kabul this week show once again how the Taliban remains Afghanistan’s greatest security threat and the issue figured prominently when foreign secretary S Jaishankar met new US national security adviser H R McMaster in Washington on Wednesday. Condemning the attacks, India had said, “We reiterate our resolve to work with Afghanistan to bring the perpetrators of terrorist violence to the justice they deserve wherever they may be.”

Last week in Beijing, Jaishankar also found the Chinese eager to talk about Afghanistan and the security situation there. Afghanistan has returned to the centrestage of India’s foreign and security policy, as two key crises rear their heads — a tottering government of Ashraf Ghani beset by numerous political problems and secondly, a renewed threat by Taliban which has found fresh oxygen from apparent political endorsement by a new regional bloc, led by Russia and China.

Ghani’s government is in deep trouble and there is talk in Kabul of a “jirga” (tribal council meeting) that could look for a political alternative, though destabilising the dispensation in the current precarious scenario could be a recipe for disaster. However, political pundits, both within and outside Afghanistan, are looking at former president Hamid Karzai, who has taken a growing political space in Kabul.

What is of greater concern to New Delhi is the new apparent re-alignment of powers in the region which would adversely impact India and Afghanistan, while giving an upper hand to the Taliban and their sponsors in Pakistan. While the US has been absorbed in domestic politics, Russia, China, Iran, Turkey and Pakistan have made common cause by raising the spectre of Daesh/IS in Afghanistan, trying to create an opening to begin political negotiations with the Taliban as a “friendly force” to keep out Daesh.

Shaida Abdali, Afghan ambassador to India, told TOI, “We should not be repeating the mistakes of the 80s and 90s, to use one set of radical extremists against another.”

“It’s a return to the ‘good-terrorists-bad-terrorists’ narrative, so skillfully played by Pakistan in the region. We know the Daesh in Afghanistan, like the Taliban, have their roots in Pakistan,” Abdali said.

India was given a seat at the Moscow meeting in February, which saw an apparent concession by asking the Taliban to enter into direct talks with the Afghan government. In addition, central Asian states have also been invited into the tent, making it a kind of Shanghai Cooperation Organisation, but without US presence. India’s role has become more important, in both restraining old allies Russia and Iran from falling for the Pakistan line, as well as working harder with the US to stabilise Afghanistan. In addition, India will have to put more of its commitment on the ground in Afghanistan, particularly in a Trump administration, which expects its partners to pull their weight. “India and Afghanistan have to defuse this and work together with true and sincere allies for genuine peace and cooperation between big powers in the region,” Abdali said.

The new Trump administration appears to have started out with the right notes. Abdali said, “We feel encouraged by the Trump administration. In their conversations with the Afghan leadership, including the conversation between President Trump and President Ghani, we feel Washington is taking the correct line. President Trump told President Ghani that India would be a good partner for both of us.” “Times of India”