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Remarks by Amb. Sujan R. Chinoy at SIIS-CICIR International Symposium on Core Concerns of Major Powers and Their Role in Rebuilding of Afghanistan

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  • Amb. Sujan R. Chinoy
    February 16, 2022

    Prof. Wu Chunsi,

    Distinguished Panellists,

    It is an honour for me to speak at the SIIS-CICIR International Symposium on the “Afghanistan Issue”.

    Six months after the Taliban takeover, Afghanistan stands at a new inflection point. It is a worrisome juncture. A new year has dawned without the situation in Afghanistan exhibiting any signs of fundamental change. The so-called interim government of the Taliban is in control of a nation of about 40 million Afghans that it does not truly represent. The new dispensation is seen as disregarding the minorities, women and the democratic forces in terms of their political participation.

    The return of the Taliban has been widely viewed as a failure of the 20-year-long international effort to bring democracy and peace to Afghanistan. Yet, not all of that effort was in vain. In the intervening two decades, the situation concerning women, the girl child and the minorities saw major improvements. Education was made accessible to girls in a conservative society in which the alternative was to be condemned to early matrimony and a life spent behind veils raising large families, with no gender equality to speak of.

    Some new standards have been established in popular Afghan society on which it will be difficult even for the Taliban to turn the clock back. If we go by how much Saudi Arabia has changed over the last two decades, it is imperative that the Taliban should make necessary adjustments to their ideology and outlook in keeping with the times. 

    The biggest challenge for the Taliban today is to transform itself from an insurgency into a political group that is willing to settle internal and external differences through peaceful dialogue. If the Taliban remain violent and intolerant, they will continue to invite criticism from the international community. If they turn benign, they run the risk of condemnation by more radical factions and groups like the Islamic State-Khorasan (IS-K). This is truly ironic.

    Failure by the Taliban to take into account the realities and lessons of history would be a huge mistake. Draconian crackdowns on dissenting civilians, combined with deteriorating economic conditions, could lead to wider social unrest.

    Developments in Afghanistan have broader ramifications in the region and beyond. The return of the Taliban has galvanised radical groups in Pakistan, Central Asia, China, Russia as also in Gaza, Syria and West Africa into believing that violence can bear fruit. An air of triumphalism permeates Jihadist groups, particularly those linked to Al-Qaeda. The Taliban’s return is viewed as a victory for Islamism and Jihadism, reviving hopes for the restoration of the Shariah. This can hardly be helpful to any country.

    The most urgent task before the global community at this moment is the delivery of humanitarian assistance to the Afghan people in a transparent manner. The returning UN and aid workers need to be protected. They should have the freedom to carry out their tasks in an unhindered manner. Their presence will permit not just the monitoring of the distribution of food aid and other assistance, but may also help to check the excesses committed by zealots and criminals on vulnerable sections of society. It is up to the Taliban to ensure that their regime becomes a responsible one, in tune with the expectations and aspirations of the Afghan people and the global community.

    The Taliban have given assurances of security for countries that wish to reopen their diplomatic missions in Afghanistan. Even so, not a single country has so far officially recognised the Taliban regime. This includes those countries that had given quick recognition to the Taliban in 1996 as well as those who actively sought, and celebrated the American departure from Afghanistan. It would be imprudent to take vicarious pleasure or draw vicarious satisfaction from the discomfiture of any particular country in regard to its strategy towards Afghanistan. One must be careful not to subordinate the interests of the people of Afghanistan to geopolitical interests and interplay of power politics. We must all undertake coordinated action, pro bono, to bring a better future for Afghanistan.

    India is a major stakeholder in Afghanistan’s destiny. India has no choice. India’s historical ties with Afghanistan and geographical proximity place a special responsibility on New Delhi.

    As a close neighbour, India has keen stakes in ensuring a stable, secure and developed Afghanistan. For India, the situation in Afghanistan has major implications. The threat of a spill-over of malevolence radiating out of Afghanistan into Kashmir cannot be taken lightly. The Indian Army is fully capable of countering such threats. The priority, however, is to preserve the goodwill earned by India among the people of Afghanistan over years, through capacity-building and high-impact developmental projects at the cost of billions of dollars. India is one of the largest donors, having contributed more than US $ 3 billion over the years for several major developmental projects in Afghanistan.

    A proactive approach has enabled India to actively contribute to the task of building a regional consensus for the future of Afghanistan. UNSC Resolution 2593 adopted on 30 August 2021 during India’s rotational Presidency condemned terrorist attacks, and emphasied the non-use of Afghan territory to shelter terrorism, protect the rights of women, children and minorities and provide humanitarian assistance.

    The Delhi Declaration on Afghanistan, issued at the end of the regional meeting held in New Delhi in November 2021, called for “collective cooperation against the menace of radicalisation, extremism, separatism and drug trafficking in the region”. India has witnessed a spike in drugs seizures in recent months. India’s focus is quite similar to the focus on the "three evils", also called "three evil forces," defined by the first Summit of the Shanghai Cooperation Organisation in 2001, that is, terrorism, separatism, and extremism. These challenges can singe the entire region, especially the countries that border Afghanistan. It is quite unfortunate that neither China nor Pakistan attended the meeting in Delhi.

    Prime Minister Modi has succinctly outlined four key aspects that require focus: The need for an inclusive government in Afghanistan; a zero-tolerance stance about Afghan territory being used by terrorist groups; a strategy to counter drugs and arms trafficking from Afghanistan; and, addressing the increasingly critical humanitarian crisis in Afghanistan.  India had supported the UNSC resolution 2615 in December last year which made exceptions under the sanctions regime for humanitarian assistance to Afghanistan. 

    It is well-known that many countries are challenged today by one or more of these scourges. Such common concerns provide the ground for convergence and cooperation among regional countries, including between India and China. The regional dialogue should be more broad-based, not fractured as it is now in plurilateral and overlapping groups. There are many regional dialogues on Afghanistan taking place. Instead of talking past one another while attempting to do similar things, we should be talking to each other to achieve better results. Working together to deal with such issues enhances trust. It enables all of us to further cooperation in the multilateral space, including at the UN. However, the geostrategic differences between certain members of the UNSC are preventing the UN from doing its best, and perhaps slowing things down. The Afghan people should not have to pay for geostrategic contestation which they have nothing to do with. It is also rather incomprehensible that the global community, especially the big powers, have not anticipated all that is unfolding before us at the level of the humanitarian tragedy.

    India has consistently supported the timely delivery of humanitarian assistance to the Afghan people. India has sent more than 3 tonnes of essential medicines to the Indira Gandhi Institute of Child Health in Kabul. India has donated 500,000 doses of COVID-19 vaccines and has pledged a further 500,000 doses as part of its humanitarian aid for the people of Afghanistan.  The supply of 50,000 metric tonnes of Indian wheat for Afghanistan will start soon.

    I am confident our discussions today will lead to some useful ideas that support a better future for Afghanistan.

    Thank you.