Foreign Policy Blogs

India is Apprehensive of President Karzai's Negotiation Approach

“There really are only two choices confronting the international community – to invest and endure, or to improve conditions to a point that we can exit.” This is how India, in words of Shashi Tharoor, India’s Minister of State for External Affairs, expects the international community to deal with the challenges in Afghanistan. These expectations do not confirm to the surge-negotiate-exist strategy gaining favor among some stakeholders in Afghanistan. India is apprehensive, with valid reasons, about the emerging Af-Pak strategy wherein negotiations with the Taliban are being actively considered.
Recent developments in the Af-Pak theatre are troublesome for India. The U.N. has delisted names of some senior Taliban leaders from the consolidated lists of terrorists, as a step for facilitating negotiations. Among those delisted, the name of Wakil Ahmad Muttawakil, Foreign Minster of the Taliban government, is most difficult for India to accept. Three militants released by India during the Indian Airlines hostage crisis of December 1999 were received and welcomed by Wakil Ahmand.
The U.S. is not leading the negotiation process from the front. Though Obama Administration has expressed support for ‘reintegrating’ segments of the Taliban there is no clear strategy for talks with the leadership. During his recent trip to Afghanistan, Defense Secretary Robert Gates said it was premature to expect senior members of the Taliban to reconcile with the government. Secretary of State Clinton has also clarified that the US had “urged caution and real standards that are expected to be met by anyone who is engaged in these conversations.” Despite U.S. skepticism, Karzai government appears adamant on opening dialogue with the Taliban.
After several failed attempts to convince the U.S. on the necessity of negotiation, President Karzai announced at the London Conference in January that he would invite the Taliban leadership to a peace jirga to be held in April. The peace jirga is expected to craft the action plan for reintegrating ‘low to mid level’ insurgent fighters into the society and negotiate with the Taliban leadership. Though Karzai has ruled out withdrawal of foreign troops, he has over-looked vital U.S. concerns like acceptance of constitution and renunciation of violence as qualifiers for opening negotiations with the Taliban. To facilitate the dialogue process, President Karzai has enacted into law a blanket pardon for war crimes and human rights abuses that took place before 2001.   
President Karzai’s keenness to co-opt Taliban and U.S. indecision over the timing and strategy of such a policy has created space for Pakistan to assume a larger role in influencing the course of events in Afghanistan. Taliban leaders with whom Karzai seeks to negotiate are funded, equipped and protected by Pakistan’s military and ISI, thereby enhancing criticality of the latter’s involvement in the negotiation process. This new lease of life for the Pakistani military could not only destabilize the regional situation but also adversely impact the civilian government’s capacity within Pakistan. As a demonstration of its inevitability to the Afghanistan-Taliban peace talks, the Pakistani military nabbed Mullah Ghani Baradar, Taliban’s second in command in early February. Baradar was involved in direct peace talks with the Karzai Government and was captured by Pakistan to ostensibly gain control of the talks.
Though President Karzai was infuriated by Pakistan’s action, he realizes that Pakistan is his bet for successful negotiations with the Taliban. President Karzai’s statement that Afghanistan and India were friends but Afghanistan and Pakistan were conjoined twins was meant to assuage Pakistan’s concern over India’s influence in Afghanistan.   
Even though the U.S. does not wholly approve of President Karzai’s negotiation approach there are signs that the Obama Administration is expecting some positive results to emerge from it. Moreover, the U.S. seems to have accepted Pakistani military’s central role in the process, evident from the fact that General Kiyani is to attend the upcoming US-Pakistan Strategic Dialogue.
As President Obama and President Karzai reluctantly accept the Pakistani military, more specifically General Kiyani as the intermediary for talks with the Taliban, India fears this might adversely affect peace and stability in J&K. According to Ahmed Rashid, India sees the Afghan and Pakistani Taliban and Al Qaeda working closely with anti-Indian groups based in Pakistani Punjab, such as Lashkar, who have begun to re-infiltrate into Indian Kashmir to restart the guerrilla war which has been dormant since 2004.The efficacy of negotiations with Taliban is also questionable. There is no indication that Taliban want to negotiate. A Statement posted on the Taliban website referred to the London Conference as ‘waste of time’ and refused to give up their cause in exchange for financial incentives. It is possible that negotiations are being used by Taliban and Pakistan to achieve their respective strategic interests in the region. 
Even if the negotiations go through, it is naive to expect that the Taliban will not demand a) withdrawal of foreign troops from Afghanistan and b) power-sharing deal with the Government. It is difficult to foresee how these demands can be balanced with President Obama’s politico-strategic objectives in the region.  
National Security Adviser Shivsankar Menon’s Kabul visit, Foreign Minister S. M. Krishna’s Iran visit and Foreign Secretary Nirupama Rao’s visit to Washington are attempts by India to diplomatically communicate unease over the emerging Afghanistan-Pakistan-Taliban negotiation network. Nonetheless, India’s diplomacy in the Af-Pak theater remains under stress and much depends on how the international community chooses to deal with the Pakistani military.



Madhavi Bhasin

Blogger, avid reader, observer and passionate about empowerment issues in developing countries.
Work as a researcher at Center for South Asia Studies, UC Berkeley and intern at Institute of International Education.
Areas of special interest include civil society, new social media, social and political trends in India.