Don’t waste the opportunity at UN SC

United Nations Security Council in session, New York (File photo)

India’s thirty-day tenure through August as the president of the UN Security Council has got mired in needless controversy. The issue is about the “emergency meeting” regarding Afghanistan that India convened on Friday. According to Pakistan, it had made a “a formal request” for participation in the meeting but India turned it down. 

Prima facie, it was a fair request from Pakistan, since it is a neighbouring country with vital stakes in Afghanistan, whom the international community acknowledges to be a key player in the search for peace.

Suffice to say, if the Pakistani allegation is true, India acted rather petulantly. After all, India and Pakistan had no problem to find common ground regarding Afghanistan at the recent SCO ministerial in Dushanbe! 

The optics are bad since this bold Indian “initiative” to convene the meeting followed a phone call from the Afghan foreign minister to his Indian counterpart and it all looks like a pre-planned affair to put down Pakistan on the mat. The old “itch”? 

This only leads to misperceptions that India is party to President Ashraf Ghani’s increasingly desperate fight for political survival. Besides, India is flexing its diplomatic muscles even as the American planes are once again bombing the daylight out of Afghans from the safety of the skies.  

Unfortunately, Pakistan is not the only aggrieved party. Russia has also expressed disappointment that Friday’s meeting was devoted exclusively to indulging in diatribes against the Taliban and Pakistan. The Russian diplomat pointed out on Friday that settlement in Afghanistan is possible only via talks, not hostilities, and calls for flexibility should be addressed to “both sides of the conflict, not one of them”.

Indeed, India has a tradition of standing by its Afghan friends in distress. Prime Minister Narasimha Rao’s offer to give political asylum to Najibullah in 1992 was a famous instance. India can do some such thing today. 

If (rather, when) Ghani is forced to relinquish power and if he and his aides fear for their personal safety, we may offer them refuge by all means. The Afghan bazaar will appreciate such behaviour that conforms to their own Pashtunwali! 

To my mind, Delhi should offer refuge to anyone from out there who served Indian interests at any time — and, of course, is genuinely interested in living in our country at such a time in its current history. But, beyond that, to be a partisan in the Afghan fratricidal strife at this late hour will be an unwarranted interference that cannot have a good outcome for India’s long-term interests. 

Discretion is always the better part of valour when the endgame comes in successful insurgencies. False pride should not come in the way. Losers can accept defeat with dignity. The current developments clearly show that Ghani’s writ is steadily shrinking to Kabul city and its immediate environs. America’s B-52 bombers and Spectre gunships cannot change this reality. Pity, like the Bourbons, Americans never forget, never learn. 

The crux of the matter today is that the mistakes of the Afghan jihad should not be repeated — which means effectively that the international community should ensure an orderly transfer of power in Kabul so that the Afghan state structures live to see another day. From all appearances, the Taliban and Pakistan are very keenly pursuing such an orderly outcome. 

To my mind, President Biden too is a realist and after catering to the domestic audience braying for vengeance, he will understand that it does no good to America’s image in the region if these “savage” air strikes continue, which actually constitute war crimes and “demonstrate the depth of depravity and criminal makeup of America internationally, a country that does not care for any humanitarian laws, human rights or international norms when pursuing its imperialistic interests, nor is it bound by any commitments,” as a Taliban statement on Sunday put it. read more 

The pattern of the Taliban offensive shows a certain tactical agenda aimed at gaining control of the border provinces facing Central Asia (and Russia and China), Iran and Pakistan. The focus on the northern and western provinces is self-evident, as it is those non-Pashtun regions where warlords could potentially stir up trouble. The Taliban is literally ensuring that warlordism (“civil war”) is squashed before it takes root with support and financing from Ghani and covert encouragement from the US intelligence. 

Secondly, the Taliban is determined to ensure that Afghanistan’s unity is preserved, and on that basis, to forge a constructive engagement of mutual benefit eventually with the neighbouring countries. The western powers are being delusional that it is they who will determine Taliban’s “legitimacy”.

The Taliban’s string of victories this past week shows that its tenacious political work through the past 4-5 years at the grassroots level to create a non-Pashtun cadre in the northern and western regions has succeeded beyond expectations. On the contrary, the will to fight for the survival of the Ghani government is fast dissipating, as the ruling elite in Kabul are seen by the Afghan people as inept, hopelessly corrupt and merely American puppets and time-servers. 

Ghani himself, who hails from the nomadic Kuchi tribe, has no base in the Pashtun tribal confederation, while his deputy Amrullah Saleh is not even Pashtun. Read up Afghan history. Even the Soviet leadership knew that the words “Afghan” and “Pashtun” are synonymous and interchangeable in that country’s history and politics. It simply goes against the grain of Afghan history that the Ghani-Saleh duo can remain as rulers. 

Therefore, India should understand that the time for propaganda gimmicks is long past. Delhi must coolly assess the gains and losses out of the melodramatic soap opera enacted in New York last Friday — its very relevance, in fact, at this critical juncture when the Troika (comprising Russia, US and China plus Pakistan) is due to meet in Doha on Wednesday. 

Alas, India made a clumsy start to its long-awaited presidency. This farcical performance does no credit to India’s claim for permanent membership of the UN Security Council.  There’s only 20 days left before the rotating presidency is passed on to Ireland. India’s nest turn will come only in December 2022, which is a long time in politics. Therefore, buckle up, mandarins. The country expects skilful, imaginative initiatives in the global commons from its diplomats.