The United Service Institution of India (USI), New Delhi and Afghan Institute for Strategic Studies (AISS), Kabul signed a MOU, on 15 March 2017, under which the two institutes host annual “Afghanistan-India Security Dialogue”. This is a Track 1.5 event during which the high ranking officials and esteemed strategic experts from the two countries deliberate over the evolving Indo-Afghanistan relations in a broader geopolitical context and make policy recommendation for enlarging cooperation for the peace building in Afghanistan.
The inaugural “Afghanistan-India Security Dialogue” was hosted by USI at New Delhi on 14-15 March 2016. The Afghan delegates included Mr Ershad Ahmadi, former Deputy Foreign Minister, Lt Gen Atiqullah Baryalay, former Defence Minister, Dr Ranjin Spanta, former NSA, Mr Abdul Hay Akhundzada, MP and Deputy Chair of Defence and Security Committee of Lower House and Dr Davood Moradian, Director General of AISS. The Indian side was represented by Lt Gen PK Singh (Retd), Director USI, Shri Jayant Prasad, IFS (Retd), Shri Vivek Katju, IFS (Retd), Shri Shakti Sinha, IAS (Retd), Shri Rakesh Sood, IFS (Retd), Lt Gen PC Katoch (Retd), Maj Gen BK Sharma (Retd), Prof Gulshan Sachdeva and Shri Vishal Chandra.
The 2nd dialogue was hosted by AISS at Herat, Afghanistan on 16 Oct 2016. The Indian delegates included Mr Manpreet Vohra, Indian Ambassador in Kabul, Mr Jaideep Chola, Indian Consular General in Herat, Mr Shrinivasrao S. Sohoni, IAS (Retd), former Advisor to the President of Afghanistan, Lt Gen PC Katoch (Retd), USI Council Member, Maj Gen BK Sharma (Retd), Deputy Director (Research), USI and Mrs Jyoti Malhotra, Senior Journalist.
The 3rd “Afghanistan-India Security Dialogue” was hosted by the USI at New Delhi on 08 Sep 2017. Delegates from both the countries participated in the endeavor, which addressed the issues and challenges in Afghanistan and India’s evolving relationship with the landlocked country.
The AISS delegation from Afghanistan was led by Dr Davood Moradian, Director General, AISS, Kabul. The other distinguished members were Mr Tamim Asey, Deputy Defense Minister of Afghanistan, Mr Mozammil Shinwari, former Deputy Minister, Ministry of Commerce and Industries of Afghanistan, Mr Abdul Rahman Shekib, Economic and Development Advisor to the CEO of Afghan government, Mr Hamid M Saboory, former Advisor to office of National Security Council of Afghanistan, Col Abdul Matin Sarfraz, Deputy Central Passport Directorate, Ministry of Interior Affairs of Afghanistan, Ms Iran Gul Saihoon, Political Expert, Dr Davood Moradian, Director General, AISS, Kabul.
The USI delegation was headed by Dr Arvind Gupta, IFS (Retd), former Deputy NSA of India. The other distinguished members were Shri Vivek Katju, IFS (Retd), Shri Amar Sinha, IFS (Retd), Shri Shakti Sinha, IAS (Retd), Lt Gen PC Katoch (Retd), Maj Gen BK Sharma (Retd), Deputy Director (Research), USI, Dr Vishal Chandra, Prof Nirmala Joshi, Maj Gen Rajiv Narayanan (Retd), Prof Gulshan Sachdeva, Shri Gautam Mukhopadhaya, IFS (Retd)
The day long dialogue commenced with the opening remarks by the Deputy Director (Research), USI and the Director General, AISS and concluded with ‘Special Addresses’ by the Deputy Defence Minister of Afghanistan and by former Deputy National Security Advisor of India. The following themes were discussed during the dialogue:-
(a) Evolving Geopolitical and Security Situation in Afghanistan and its Impact of Regional Stability.
(b) Role of Regional and External players towards Security and development in Afghanistan.
(c) Indo-Afghanistan Relations: Politico/Diplomatic and Economic Dimensions.
(d) Indo-Afghanistan Security Cooperation.
The highlights of the discussion are summarised as under:-
- India’s consistent engagement, particularly of the current Government, in peace building in Afghanistan and fostering a sense of respect and dignity among Afghan people was much appreciated.
- The sides shared concern about the fragile security scenario in Afghanistan. It was brought out that Taliban attempts to capture provinces and districts were effectively repulsed by the ANSDF. Presently, 80% of territory is under the government control, 10% is being contested, and only 10% is under Taliban control (04 districts only). Pakistan continues with its nefarious proxy war in Afghanistan. ISKP was a creation of Pakistan. It is a ploy of Pakistan to portray Taliban as a nationalist movement with no design beyond Afghanistan and project ISKP as a major trans-national terrorist outfit. The two terrorist organizations, in essence, are chips of the same block even though they compete for resources, territory and illegal trade /extortions.
- The socio-political scenario in Afghanistan is in ferment. There is expected to be heightened jostling for influence amongst the political parties, albeit, without scuttling the democratic process. The political turmoil will eventually reach an equilibrium leading to successful conduct of parliamentary and presidential elections. It is noteworthy that the youth of Afghanistan, especially the women, desire change. Economic development and employment are more important to new Afghanistan than ideological bickering and fundamentalism.
- Afghanistan’s economic growth has moved from negative to current 3%. To reduce dependence on foreign aid, the Government needs growth of private sector. To this end, the Government has come up with Sustainable Development Goals (SDG); 2015-2030, that inter alia comprises 17 such projects.
- The divergence or zero sum game of major players is not in the interest of Afghanistan. Russia- China – Iran – Pakistan alignment and supping with Taliban is rooted in their shared animosity towards the US. At the same time, Russia, China, Iran, and Central Asian states are concerned about proliferation of Jihadi violence and narco-terrorism in the region. Reports about Russia’s arm supply to Taliban outfits in the Northern Afghanistan are a cause of concern. Nonetheless, the recent BRICS declaration that names Pakistan sponsored terrorist groups, among others, is a welcome development. As seen from the BRICS statement, there appears to be a shift in China’s position on terrorism vis-à-vis Pakistan. Also, China appears to be seeking a mediatory role on ‘Durand Line’ dispute between Afghanistan and Pakistan. China is also forming a quadrilateral anti-terrorism center / front to address the security issues. In this milieu, Indian assistance in capacity building and rendering diplomatic support to Afghan cause at the international / regional arena has been praiseworthy.
- The new US strategy of sustained engagement in Afghanistan, with focus on defeating Taliban / ISKP, adopting a tough policy on Pakistan and seeking enhanced role of India, is a welcome development. In the light of enunciated policy, it was imperative for India and Afghanistan to review and realign their strategy on peace building in the conflict torn State.
- India’s renewed cooperation with Afghanistan should be based on ‘3D’ approach of Defence, Diplomacy and Development. India need to formulate a comprehensive roadmap for Afghanistan, adopt a long- term strategy wherein, the legitimate aspirations and strategic interests of the two sides are harmonized in terms of judicious utilization of resources for accomplishing strategic goals in a time –bound manner. The need for joint planning, ownership, and implementation is necessary to uphold the legitimacy and credibility of Afghan Government. The Indian side should show expediency in operationalization of Chahbahar project and participation in TAPI. Besides, the developmental projects on the anvil, India should render more assistance in technical education, institution building, strengthening of Afghan air force, Intelligence gathering, and Special Forces, implementation of MOUs on revival of textile industry, and in developing public-private sector model. Keeping in view the security threat to Indian personnel, it would be better to execute projects sponsored and financed by India through Afghan contractors.
- The sides also discussed India’s concerns about lack of clarity on part of Afghanistan on role of China in the country and support to OBOR/ CPEC. Also, there is a need to explore the possibility of developing Indo- Afghan – Central Asia Cooperation, Afghanistan signing Ashgabat agreement while strengthening India-Iran-Afghanistan Trilateral and India-US-Afghanistan dialogue process. Afghanistan must continue to leverage its strategic advantage to deny Pakistan access to Ventral Asia via ‘Wakhan’ corridor till Pakistan provides it access to India via ‘Wagah’ border.
- Also Afghanistan felt that India need to shed her caution and be more forthcoming in fully implementing the ‘Strategic Partnership Agreement’. India must take advantage of the emerging conducive environment to remove political and psychological barriers to complement the profound and exemplary emotional and developmental partnership.
- The discussion concluded on a positive note that posited regular meetings of Strategic Partnership Council, holding of international investors’ conference on Afghanistan, adoption of Afghan initiated development model that clearly spells out assistance needed from India and signing of bilateral defense cooperation agreement.
The 3rd India-Afghanistan Security Dialogue concluded with a resolve to further strengthen the dialogue process with added focus on specific areas of shared concern and interests. It was decided that the 4th Dialogue will be hosted by the AISS in Afghanistan in 2018.