The worsening humanitarian crisis in Afghanistan has been a peril for the states in South Asia as well as Central Asia. Besides an exacerbating humanitarian crisis, Haqqani Network’s muscle-flexing, the tussle of ethnic groups and after all the dystopian law and order situation in Afghanistan will continue to cause migraine to India and Pakistan. These two concerned and arch-rival neighbours of Afghanistan last month hosted two separate high-level security dialogues on peace and stability in Afghanistan to jostle their own influence. India’s National Security Adviser Ajit Doval hosted the Third Regional Security Dialogue on Afghanistan on November 10, 2021, in New Delhi and Pakistan’s special envoy to Afghanistan Mohammad Sadiq Khan hosted the Troika-Plus on November 11, 2021, in Islamabad. Despite the prior invitation, China and Pakistan both walked out of the Regional Security Dialogue in Delhi. Nevertheless, Pakistan and China froze out India in various peace forums on Afghanistan.

Iran’s capital Tehran introduced Regional Security Dialogue in 2018. The second edition was subsequently convoked by Iran in 2019. The Third Regional Security Dialogue couldn’t take place last year due to the pandemic.  This time the National Security Advisers or equivalent Security Council Secretaries of Iran, Russia, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan, Turkmenistan and Uzbekistan congregated in the third edition of Regional Security Dialogue that came up with a collective authoritative paper called Delhi Declaration on Afghanistan on November 10.

At the Regional Security Dialogue, Rear Admiral Ali Shamkhani¸ secretary of Iran’s national security council vouched for representation of major ethnic groups in the Taliban cabinet. Karim Massimov, Kazakhstan’s national security committee chairman raised his concerns related to security threats and challenges to governance.  Tajikistan’s security council secretary Nasrullo Rahmatjon Mahmudzoda urged for aid for the suffering nationals of Afghanistan. Nikolai Patrushev, secretary of Russia’s security council emphasized the significance of the Moscow Format and the Turkic Council.

Hosting the Troika-Plus in Islamabad, Pakistan expressed its penchant for playing a crucial role in Taliban-ruled Afghanistan.  Thomas West, US State Department’s Special Representative and Deputy Assistant Secretary for Afghanistan,  Zamir Kabulov, Russia’s special envoy for Afghanistan and  Yue Xiaoyong, Chinese special envoy for Afghanistan flew down to Islamabad to represent their states in Troika-Plus. The Taliban’s acting Foreign Minister Amir Khan Muttaqi met the representatives of Troika-Plus separately in Islamabad. A contingent of Afghan Taliban leaders including  Minister for Finance Hidayatullah Badri, Minister for Industries and Trade Nooruddin Aziz was led by Muttaqi.

The last round of Troika-Plus commenced in Moscow on October 19, where the US abstained from assigning a representative. Before  Qatar’s capital Doha convened Troika-Plus on August 11, 2021, just a few days before the Taliban’s takeover wherein the US special envoy for Afghanistan Zalmay Khalilzad was present. 

In the absence of the US, NATO and Afghan National Security Forces, the security threat from Afghanistan will be worsening in the coming days. The looming humanitarian crisis in Afghanistan is a call for quick action for New Delhi. The presence of the Islamic State of Khorasan and Al Qaeda in Afghanistan will radiate a wider wave of hazards in the Central and South Asian geography. Central Asian states, sharing boundaries with the northern part of  Afghanistan are the worst affected states. The rampant killing of Shia-Muslims at the hand of Sunni extremists in Western Afghanistan is anxiety for Iran. Assembling the top security functionaries, New Delhi has not only expressed its concerns but also clarified its ambition to contribute to Afghanistan.  In the Regional Security Dialogue, the eight states have agreed to combat the threats from radicalism and drug production as well as trafficking.

The sharp regional divide in South Asia is an issue for the peace dialogue on Afghanistan. But both the talks have raised some amount of hope. The mighty Troika states have kept their sharp eyes on both  India and Pakistan. Turning up in Delhi Regional Security Dialogue and Troika-Plus in Islamabad, Russia has encouraged the exercise of the Moscow Format of Talks. Being a participant of the Troika-Plus, Washington has got the scope to access Pakistan’s motives and closely observe Russia and China’s prompt reactions.  The US  is not a party of Regional Security Dialogue but soon after attending Troika Plus, Thomas West, US Special Representative for Afghanistan called on Indian NSA Ajit Doval and Foreign Secretary Harsh Vardhan Shringla in New Delhi.

The two dialogues were wrapped up with a slew of common goals.  The two dialogues presented two detailed accords. Delhi Declaration on Afghanistan was inked in the Regional Security Summit and the parties of Troika Plus came up with a joint declaration.

Troika-Plus in Islamabad echoed what was said in the Delhi Declaration on the previous day. Both the dialogues stressed an inclusive representation in Kabul and appealed for humanitarian aid. Pakistan in its Troika-Plus raised the issue of allocating the frozen funds to the Taliban.

Albeit no state has not yet recognized the Taliban regime, Pakistan and its all-weather friend China have maintained a proper channel of communication and deft diplomacy with the Taliban leadership. Needless to say,  Pakistan has got the upper hand, since the Taliban seized the power in Kabul. Even though the Taliban was not an attendee in Troika-Plus, their high-level delegation met with each of the Troika-representatives separately. Offering the chance of engaging with high-level representatives of China, Russia and the US, Pakistan has performed the duties of an interlocutor.

But by assembling the triumvirate of  China, Russia and the US in Islamabad, Pakistan most likely intends to construct a positive image of herself in the international community. The stance and moves of the Central Asian states are now clear. They won’t keep all the eggs in the same basket. Alongside China and Russia, the Central Asian states will continue direct and distinct dialogues with India and Pakistan for the reconciliation process in Afghanistan.

The Delhi Declaration on Afghanistan will get advantages as well as gain some weight if all the eight countries act according to the Delhi Declaration. The route permits of Iran, Pakistan and other Central Asian neighbours of  Afghanistan are very significant for essential supplies to war-torn Afghanistan. Both the forums have prospects to overcome such obstacles.

Unlike in the past, the Taliban has reached out to India and shown tremendous interest in having a formal dialogue with New Delhi. The militancy junta is eager to gain investments and other assistance from India. But India will not legitimize the regime so soon. Although the Taliban was kept away from Regional Security Dialogue in Delhi, the Taliban had sent a positive response to Delhi’s NSA level meeting on Afghanistan.

Pakistan hosted about one and half million refugees from Afghanistan till 2021 and Iran nearly less than a million till last year. After the Taliban’s resultant takeover, the Afghan refugee crisis has been a huge burden and immense security threat for these two states. The pathetic financial crisis of Afghanistan may spill over to the neighbouring states anytime. The civil-war climate in Afghanistan would shackle the region severely. The two recently held talks have immense prospects to stave off the worsening scenario in the South and Central Asian region.

Author


  • Ayanangsha Maitra is a freelance journalist in India and associated with The Peninsula Foundation.