Event ReportsPublished on Jul 12, 2016
Kabul-Delhi-Islamabad: Is a new paradigm possible?

It is a well-accepted fact that there should be better relations between Kabul, Islamabad and New Delhi to bring in peace and stability in the region. But the question is: Will it be possible to have such relations between the three countries? A recently launched book by Afghanistan’s Ambassador to India Shaida Abdali, Afghanistan-Pakistan-India: A Paradigm Shift, has re-ignited this debate.

The book was released by India’s former National Security Advisor Shivshankar Menon at Observer Research Foundation on June 22, 2016. The book focuses on how to find a new paradigm involving the three countries and highlighting their common interests. It provides an analytical approach by looking at the events that occurred in the past in Afghanistan and looks to re-establish a stable Afghanistan in the future. The book not only consists of the analysis of Ambassador Abdali, but also the experiences of political experts from both Pakistan and India. It reflects the potential that the three countries have to reassess the dynamics of the region.

Releasing the book, Mr. Menon, one of the well-respected strategic thinkers of the region, said a strong, viable and visible Afghan-India relations can help improve India’s relations with Pakistan.

Mr. Menon said he did not agree with the view in Kabul that India prefers normalisation of relations with Pakistan over its relations with Afghanistan. He also did not agree with the view in Kabul that India’s sensitivity to Pakistan’s concerns is affecting it playing a much bigger role in Afghanistan. “I am not so sure. It is much more complex,” Mr. Menon said.

He said India-Afghan ties are based on much stronger logic that it has survived all twists and turns in the last 60 plus years.

Mr. Menon said the “strange spectacle of” US, China and Pakistan negotiating with Taliban into taking part in government is unlikely to solve the problem and bring stability to Afghanistan and the region as Taliban has no respect for democratic principles or modern government systems. “We have seen foreign interventions earlier too.  This too cannot end any different,” he remarked.

He said until there is a meaningful change in Pakistan’s policy on terror and using it as a state policy, the situation is very difficult to improve.

Saying it is possible to make the optimism expressed by Ambassador Abdali in the book real, of cooperation and connectivity between India, Pakistan and Afghanistan, Mr. Menon said “we have broken down the world into pieces”, reminiscing his younger days when traders from Kabul used to go door to door, selling their products and his own drive through the region.

Mr. Menon noted that the author, Mr. Abdali, is himself a participant in the history-in-making, being the executive assistant to former president Hamid Karzai, then deputy National Security Advisor and now Ambassador.

After the release, there was a discussion on the book. The panel comprised Mr. Rakesh Sood, Distinguished Fellow at ORF and a former ambassador, Mr. Vivek Katju, former ambassador to Afghanisan, Ms. Suhasini Haidar, Diplomatic Affairs Editor, The Hindu and Mr. Vikram Sood, Advisor, ORF and former head of Research and Analysis Wing.

Ambassador Abdali said his book is based on inputs from sources from all the countries besides his own experiences in the processes. He said if the three countries bring about a paradigm shift in their policies, he is sure they can build themselves a bright future for the region. He said for India, Afghanistan is a strategic priority as terrorism is a big threat to Afghanistan as well as India. Saying Chabahar deal is a message to Pakistan, Mr. Abdali said connectivity through India-Pakistan-Afghanistan can bring about wonders to the region.

Addressing the issue of an unstable Afghanistan, Ambassador Abdali separated the external and internal causes. He listed the strategic location of Afghanistan as an external factor which has been drawing other countries to get involved in the politics of the country. Along with that, the use of terrorism as a foreign policy tool by Pakistan in Afghanistan has contributed to the instability of the Afghan government. He also mentioned how the influence and presence of other nations over the past few decades in Afghanistan and the debate with Pakistan over the Durand line have also kept matters unsettled.

In addition to the external factors, Ambassador Abdali also pointed out that due to a weak government structure and a corrupt bureaucracy, the country is suffering internally. Another significant internal factor is the lack of skilled human resource present in Afghanistan. There is a dire need of highly skilled and efficient labour and adequate performance management structure. Lastly, the drug production and poppy cultivation is a serious problem that plagues the youth of the country. Terror groups like the Taliban get their revenue from elicit narcotic trade. Moreover, 90 percent of the world’s opium is produced in Afghanistan. The amalgamation of these external and internal factors has proved to be dangerous for the Afghan government and the book has dealt with these issues in great detail.

Ambassador Abdali said that the economic and political vacuum that Afghanistan was left in post the removal of Soviet troops became the perfect situation for terror groups and civil insurgents to thrive in. The lack of engagement by the United States and the absence of a constructive foreign policy by Pakistan placed Afghanistan in a civil, political and strategic turmoil.

Talking about the paradigm shift between the three countries, Ambassador Abdali highlighted that Indian and Afghanistan share a ‘strategic’ relationship whereas Pakistan and Afghanistan share a ‘strange’ relationship. A converging point for the three countries could be the inclusion of India in the APTTA (Afghan-Pakistan Transit Trade Agreement) and the involvement of Pakistan in the Chabahar deal. The former shall boost trade between the three nations and also give India a faster access to Central Asia whereas the latter could improve cooperation between Pakistan and India.

After the release, there was a discussion on the book. The panel comprised Mr. Rakesh Sood, Distinguished Fellow at ORF and a former ambassador, Mr. Vivek Katju, former ambassador to Afghanisan, Ms. Suhasini Haidar, Diplomatic Affairs Editor, The Hindu and Mr. Vikram Sood, Advisor, ORF and former head of Research and Analysis Wing.

Mr. Sood said the book is full of hope to solve “the tricky situation” in the region. He said after spending more 60 billion dollars in the last 16 years, US will not leave Afghanistan without results. Addressing the question of a paradigm shift, Mr. Sood denied of any such change unless the Pakistani government and non-cooperative actors allow major policy changes. Unless the United States takes a firm stand against Pakistan and the military and its surrogates aren’t curbed, there will be no paradigm shift. Reiterating the external and internal factors, Mr. Sood concluded that the internal factors like that of drug trade and poppy cultivation have not been discussed thoroughly.

Mr. Vivek Katju, who was in Kabul after the fall of the Taliban government, said India had never imposed its agenda on Afghanistan and it was only interested in the development of the people and the country.

Mr. Katju said that TAPI pipeline (Turkmenistan-Afghanistan-Pakistan-India) must be looked at along with APTTA and the Chabahar deal. Highlighting hope as the main theme of the book, he recognised the need for an essential validity of a cooperative relationship between the three countries. The common interests of trade and economic cooperation, energy flows and people exchanges, are vital in forming a new paradigm among these nations.

Quoting Ambassador Abdali from his book on the topic of terrorism, Mr. Katju noted that with Pakistan and the ISI being the sponsors of terrorism, especially in India, it will make the policy makers sceptical in moving towards the goal of cooperation.

Ms. Suhasini Haidar clarified that the book is not written from a purely academic point of view. Contrary to the number of literature written on Afghanistan by non-Afghans, this has been written by an Afghan and has dealt with the issues of the past, present and the future. Not only has the book provided an in-depth analysis of the Indo-Pak-Afghan policies, but it has also given hope to a change in the dynamics of the three countries which can mould the future of the region.

This report is written by Vatsal Chandra, Research Intern, Observer Research Foundation, New Delhi.

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