On 15th August 2021, the fall of Kabul seemed to indicate a new era for Afghanistan and its neighbors. Questions about the Taliban government’s legitimacy, their policies, and intentions towards others have been the subject of hot debate. Several high level meetings have been held on the region’s future, and the possible consequences of a long-term Taliban government.
Earlier last month, India hosted the ‘Delhi Regional Security Dialogue on Afghanistan’, which focused on the security concerns pertaining to Afghanistan in the South and Central Asian regions, its current situation and future outlook. Top Indian security establishment, the National Security Council Secretariat, led the event and saw the participation of the National Security Advisors of Iran, Tajikistan, Uzbekistan, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, and Russia.
Notably, both China and Pakistan, two countries of great influence in South Asian geopolitics, were missing from the discussion.
The Dialogue was an opportunity for Russia, Iran, India and the Central Asian countries to discuss their “shared concerns” regarding five main challenges: terrorism in Afghanistan spilling outside its borders, radicalization and extremism, cross border movement of people, drug production and trafficking, and the vast amounts of weapons left behind by the US and its allies in Afghanistan.
To better understand the significance of this meeting, and the consequences of an extremist Afghanistan in South and Central Asia, The Paris Globalist spoke with Mr. Gautam Bambawale, an Indian diplomat and foremost expert in South Asian international relations. He was the Indian Ambassador to China from 2017 to 2018, and previously served as the Indian High Commissioner to Pakistan.
New Delhi hosted the NSA meeting last month focusing on the implications of the rise of Taliban in Afghanistan. What do you think are the implications and consequences of the missing representation from Pakistan and China?
“The New Delhi meeting of Security Advisors from several countries in the region was a very important development. Russia, Iran, India and Central Asian countries which were represented at the meeting discussed the subject of recent developments in Afghanistan, especially the security situation and its regional and global ramifications”, he emphasized.
Amb. Bambawale pointed out the signing of the Delhi Declaration on Afghanistan, which brought together the consensus views of all participating countries, which included a commitment to preserve the territorial integrity of Afghanistan with no outside interference.
It was emphasized how Afghanistan’s territory should not be used for sheltering, training, planning, or financing any terrorist acts, and deep concern was expressed for the suffering of the people of Afghanistan.
“A peaceful, secure, and stable Afghanistan is in the interest of all in the region. The fact that Pakistan and China were unable to attend this meeting does not detract from the conclusions reached at the meeting”.
Since there seems to be no alternative, can we expect the Taliban government to be accepted by the world order, if not recognized as the legitimate government of Afghanistan?
“Some countries are having discussions with the Taliban government in Afghanistan. However, this is a far cry from recognizing it as the legitimate government of Afghanistan. Isn’t it telling that so many months after the Taliban took over in Afghanistan not a single country has recognized it?”
How much influence does the Pakistani military have over the Taliban government? How will that affect the security of the subcontinent?
“You should ask that question to the Pakistan military authorities. They should be able to tell you more authoritatively”, said the Ambassador. “However, the whole world saw the images of the Pakistan ISI Chief visiting Kabul before the Taliban announced their interim Cabinet. That tells a story by itself.”
Regarding the security of the subcontinent, he pointed out that Pakistan is widely known to be a state that uses terrorism as an instrument of State policy. He expects the security of the region to continue to be adversely affected by this policy of Pakistan as it has been before.
With Pakistan’s and China’s lack of representation at the Delhi NSA Dialogues, and alliance with each other, India seems to be facing isolation in the region. How can India strengthen its position in the subcontinent, and uphold values of democracy and human rights?
“This is not correct at all. India’s relations with many countries in the region are strong and expanding”, he explained, citing the majority participation of invited countries in the NSA meeting as an example of India’s companionship in the region. He also pointed out how India has good relations with major nations such as the USA, Russia, Japan, UK, France, Vietnam, Bangladesh, etc, which have developed over the past few years.
Since the fall of Kabul we have seen the Western governments move to be more involved in the Indo-Pacific region through the QUAD and AUKUS. In addition, China’s alliance towards Afghanistan is predicted to hasten the Belt and Road Initiative. Do you think there is a possibility of a Cold War in the Indo-Pacific?
It depends on China, according to Ambassador Bambawale. “Over the past few years China has been increasingly assertive, and even aggressive in the Indo-Pacific. Their ‘wolf-warrior diplomacy’, has been evidenced and experienced by most of the world. The question that arises is whether China’s rise is going to be a peaceful rise.”
“If China’s rise is going to be less than peaceful, as all current developments portend, then China will need to be stopped. I visualize that a coalition of nations will do this in the Indo-Pacific”.
Many of our readers hope to be future ambassadors and diplomats, and many focus on South Asia. What advice or recommendations do you have for those of us who would like to work in this field?
“In international relations – the concept of regions and regional security is a tool at limiting the area of study. It may have been a useful concept in the past. However, in the 21st century it is important to take as global a perspective as possible”
“What was the major lesson of the 9/11 incident? That international terrorism in one remote country of the globe has the potential to destablize the security of all countries including the pre-eminent power of the globe. Hence, in the 21st century world, you need to analyze events and developments from a global perspective rather than a regional one. You have to connect all the dots across the world to have a clear understanding of the situation.”