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Oslo Forum and Afghan Peace Talks

  • 17 Jun 2023
  • 9 min read

Prelims: Oslo Forum, Central Asian Republics (CARs), Operation Devi Shakti, SAARC

Mains: India-Afghanistan relations: Significance and Way Forward.

Why in News?

Recently, for the first time, India participated in Norway’s Oslo forum organized for peace talks on Afghanistan.

  • Oslo Forum is the leading series of retreats for international mediators and peacemakers.
  • Earlier India had participated in the Moscow Format dialogue (2022) and in Doha dialogue (2020) for the peace talks.

What is OSLO Forum?

  • The Oslo Forum (started in 2003) is a series of retreats for international conflict mediators, high-level decision-makers, and other peace process actors.
  • It provides a discreet and informal space to reflect on current mediation practice, collaborate across institutional and conceptual divides and advance negotiations.
  • The Forum is co-hosted by the Royal Norwegian Ministry of Foreign Affairs and the Centre for Humanitarian Dialogue (HD).
    • The Centre for Humanitarian Dialogue (HD) is a private diplomacy organization that specializes in mediation and dialogue processes to prevent and resolve armed conflicts.
    • HD was Established in 1999, based in Geneva, Switzerland, and operates globally.
  • All discussions take place under the Chatham House Rule. Participation is by invitation only.
    • Chatham House (UK) is an independent policy institute and a forum for debate and dialogue.
    • When a meeting, or part thereof, is held under the Chatham House Rule, participants are free to use the information received, but neither the identity nor the affiliation of the speaker(s), nor that of any other participant, may be revealed.

What is the Present approach of India towards Afghanistan?

  • India has not recognized the Taliban regime but has engaged with it on humanitarian and security issues.
  • India’s main objectives in Afghanistan are to protect its security interests, to prevent any terrorist threats from Afghan soil.
  • India has cemented its position as a major developmental partner of Afghanistan and has also earned the goodwill of Afghans.
  • It does not project a narrowly defined strategic ambition with its investment in Afghanistan; rather, it seeks to take part in effectively creating a conducive environment for growth for the Afghans.
  • India has also participated in regional and international forums to discuss the situation in Afghanistan and to coordinate efforts for peace and stability.

What is the significance of Afghanistan for India?

  • Gateway to the Central Asia: Afghanistan is a gateway to the Central Asian Republics (CARs), which are rich in natural resources and potential markets for Indian goods and services.
  • Counterbalance to Pakistan and China: A stable and friendly Afghanistan can help India contain the threats of terrorism, extremism and radicalism emanating from Pakistan.
  • Partner in India’s Soft Power assistance: India has invested over $3 billion in various projects in Afghanistan, such as roads, dams, schools, hospitals, parliament building, etc.
    • India also provides scholarships, training, cultural exchanges and humanitarian aid to Afghanistan.
  • Cultural & Historical ties: The two countries share a common heritage of Buddhism, Hinduism, Sufism and the Mughal empire. Many Afghan leaders, including former President Hamid Karzai, have studied in India.

How has the Taliban takeover affected India's interests?

  • Security Risks:
    • The Taliban is seen as a proxy for Pakistan and a supporter of anti-India terrorist groups like Jaish-e-Muhammad and Lashkar-e-Taiba.
    • The Taliban is also close to China, which is India’s strategic rival in the region.
  • Influence and Leverage:
    • India had no direct engagement with the Taliban and had invested heavily in the previous government and its institutions.
    • India also lost its access to the Central Asian Republics through Afghanistan, which was a key part of its connectivity and energy projects.
  • Trade and Development:
    • The Taliban has stopped the movement of cargo through Pakistan and created uncertainty over the future of India’s aid and projects in Afghanistan.
    • India had contributed over $3 billion in various sectors such as infrastructure, health, education, agriculture, etc. in Afghanistan.
  • Humanitarian Crisis:
    • Thousands of Afghans who have worked with India or have family ties with India are seeking refuge and protection from the Taliban’s repression.
    • India has launched an evacuation mission called Operation Devi Shakti to bring back its citizens and Afghan partners from Kabul.

How should India handle the situation?

  • Maintain a Balanced Approach: India should adopt a balanced approach in its dealings with Afghanistan, avoiding excessive alignment or confrontation. While expressing concerns about human rights, terrorism, and the treatment of minorities,
    • India can also explore areas of common interest such as trade, cultural exchange, and regional connectivity.
  • Support Afghan Reconciliation: India can actively support efforts for an inclusive and representative government in Afghanistan. This involves advocating for an inclusive political process that accommodates the interests of all ethnic and religious groups in the country.
  • Engage with Regional Players: India should engage with regional players, particularly neighbouring countries, to coordinate their efforts and ensure a collective approach to stability in Afghanistan.
    • This can involve collaborating with countries such as Iran, Russia, and Central Asian nations to address common concerns and promote stability in the region.
  • Focus on Development Assistance: India has been a significant contributor to Afghanistan's development, providing infrastructure projects, education, and humanitarian aid.
    • Despite the Taliban takeover, India could continue supporting development initiatives that benefit the Afghan people directly, such as infrastructure development, healthcare, education, and capacity building.
  • Strengthen International Partnerships: India should work closely with international partners, including the United States, European Union, United Nations, and regional organizations like the South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation (SAARC), to collectively address the evolving situation in Afghanistan. Collaborative efforts can help shape a more stable and secure environment in the country.

What are Some previous efforts made by India in engaging with Taliban?

  • In 2017, the launch of Moscow dialogue brought together representatives from Afghanistan, China, India and others. The goal of the dialogue is to facilitate the reconciliation process in Afghanistan and to promote regional cooperation on security and economic issues.
    • The Moscow Dialogue has been held several times since its inception. The most recent meeting was held in February 2023.
  • In 2020, India participated in the intra-Afghan peace talks taking place in Doha via video link. This was seen as a significant step forward in India's engagement with the Taliban.
  • In August 2021, two weeks after the Taliban took control of Kabul, India held its first publicly acknowledged meeting with Taliban representatives in Doha. The meeting was described as "exploratory" and focused on humanitarian issues.
  • In June 2022, a team of Indian officials visited Kabul to discuss bilateral ties and humanitarian aid with the Taliban. This was the first such visit by Indian officials since the Taliban took power.

Source: TH

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