The Future of Afghanistan: A Perspective from India

March 15, 2010

An interview with Shanthie Mariet D’Souza (Associate Fellow at IDSA, Visiting Research Fellow at the Institute of South Asian Studies (ISAS),National University of Singapore (NUS).

Do you think the London international conference on Afghanistan in the end of January 2010 has ended with a clear strategy for the future of Afghanistan? What was the most significant achievement of the conference in your opinion?

I don’t see it very different from the earlier such international conferences except for the emphasis on the lead role for Afghans, the initiative to talk to the Taliban, (which includes setting up the reintegration trust fund) and search for regional solution. All of these components require time, patience and unified strategy. In terms of strategy, the absence of a unified vision and ‘unity of effort’ severely impedes the ability to adopt a right, purposeful strategy.

What do you think is the right long-term approach to stabilise and pacify Afghanistan?

It is important to make it an Afghan led process with the international community playing an enabling role.
There is a need to engage regional powers particularly Iran, India, China, Russia and Pakistan in stabilization processes in Afghanistan.
There is also an urgent need to build on Afghan government capacities with greater decentralization, institution building and participation of local Afghans in any stabilisation programs.

What role do the neighbouring states such as Iran, Pakistan and also China play in the great power struggle about Afghanistan? Are they more mischief-maker or are they also included in the grand strategy to stabilise and pacify Afghanistan?

Iran, Pakistan and China are primary stakeholders in the regional conflict resolution process essential for Afghanistan. Any stabilisation campaign has to have the active involvement of these three countries. The issue of ‘sanctuary’ inside Pakistan needs to be addressed. Else, the active and porous border would help the Taliban to carry out the nefarious activities inside Afghanistan with severe implications for Pakistan. Likewise, the safe havens provided the Taliban leadership especially the Quetta shura needs to be dismantled for any meaningful reconciliation process. China can play an active role given its leverages within Pakistani army and its economic interests and investments in copper mines of almost US$ 5 billion.

In addition, without US - Iranian dialogue on cooperation in Afghanistan, the great power politics would continue to impede peace building attempts in Afghanistan.

How is India involved in the whole process?

India is actively involved in democratisation and capacity building processes in Afghanistan to help stabilise the nascent democratic government in Kabul.
India is the sixth largest bilateral donor and has considerable stakes in the maintenance of democracy and stability in Afghanistan to prevent a conflict spill over to the entire region.

What do you think is the potential of India to assist Afghanistan to democratise and develop as a peaceful and stable nation in the long run?

India can make significant contributions in institution building and reforms in the political sector, security sector, constitution, decentralised governance and alternate livelihoods project. All these components are essential for any peace making and stability in Afghanistan. India presently provides help in the crucial second tier of the present counter insurgency (COIN) strategy of “clear, hold, build and transfer”. Most of India’s projects are aimed at ‘build and transfer’ components of the strategy which will help in the long term stabilisation of the country.
India can work towards better integration of Afghanistan into SAARC connecting land locked Afghanistan with energy rich Central Asia to energy starved South Asia. The economic benefits of such cooperation could generate ‘constituencies of peace’ in the region.

Interview conducted by Dr. Michael Köberlein, India Office Director, Heinrich Böll Foundation- India

The interviewee’s profile can be seen at following website: http://www.idsa.in/profile/smdsouza
Email: shanthied@gmail.com