The Kabul question

Delhi Declaration acknowledges and articulates the region's challenges and concerns, even if answers remain elusive

The Delhi Declaration, issued by National Security Advisers of eight regional countries, reflects the shared interest of the participants in not letting Afghanistan relapse into the terrorist hub that it had become when the Taliban ruled from 1996 to 2001. With jihadists of all hues, including ISIS, present in Afghanistan, and Pakistan a safe haven for many of them, this is a real concern for the neighbours of both countries and beyond. The nations represented at the table have expressed these concerns at other regional meets over the last two months. Not an invitee at most of these except the deliberations in Moscow, Delhi used this meeting, the third since 2018 of the Regional Security Dialogue format, to convey the message that it could not be wished away from any regional brainstorming on Afghanistan. The Delhi Declaration has strong bullet points on terrorism and radicalisation and the need for an inclusive government and women’s rights. Of the countries represented at the security dialogue in Delhi, Iran and Russia are engaged with the Taliban bilaterally and in other multilateral formats, and the five “stans” who attended are fast moving towards acceptance. The day after the Delhi dialogue, Pakistan, which stayed away from the meet hosted the US, Russia and China, which too had turned down India’s invite, to discuss the way forward in Kabul.

As a regional power that has preferred to keep out of sustained engagement with the Taliban regime, bar two meetings, India is the outlier in the region. But the reality that Delhi faces is a world under immense pressure to make an urgent humanitarian intervention in Afghanistan. The onset of a harsh winter is adding to the multiple crises that have beset the Afghans. Starvation is stalking more than 90 per cent of the population because of food shortages, and both people and government are out of money for even essential needs. The Delhi Declaration has demanded free and unimpeded access for the distribution of aid, which is as much a jab at Pakistan’s brazenly self-serving refusal to allow India overland access for its consignments of wheat and medicine, as the concern of all that aid should not be commandeered by the Taliban.

In the international community, there is already talk of a carve-out for Afghanistan from the UN-imposed sanctions by Security Council resolutions on terrorism. As the chair of the Taliban Sanctions Committee, India will soon be called upon to take tough decisions that will impact its own position vis a vis Taliban ruled Afghanistan. That is the real challenge, one that India may not be able to put off much longer.

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