As the US gets ready to sign the much-awaited peace deal with the Taliban, Indian army veterans and foreign policy experts have cautioned that any such agreement would entail the Donald Trump administration renewing its earlier demand of having Indian soldiers stationed in Afghanistan.
“In all probability, President Trump may once again throw in a request for Indian troops to be stationed in Afghanistan, a proposal clearly outside Indian interests and capability,” Lieutenant General (Retired) Syed Ata Hasnain, the former commander of the XV Corps of the Indian Army, a strike force stationed in Srinagar, said.
The retired three-star general, however, added, that New Delhi could still consider ceding to US’ request, only if Indian troops are part of a “UN-sponsored peace-keeping” mission under Chapter 6 of the United Nations charter.
The sixth chapter of the UN Charter categorically stipulates that conflicts involving UN forces should only be settled by peaceful means.
President Trump had last year been mildly critical of Afghanistan’s neighbours for not doing enough to combat extremism in the country. In his remarks, he had pointed out a potential role for New Delhi in the insurgency-ravaged country.
On its part, India has maintained that it firmly backs an Afghan-led peace process, in what has been a subtle rebuke to US’ demands. Having said that, India is involved in training personnel of Afghanistan’s armed forces.
Former foreign secretary Kanwal Sibal also opined that the US would expect India to become more involved in Afghanistan in the wake of the sealing of the US-Taliban peace deal.
Sibal, who has also served as India’s ambassador to Russia, however, stated that the timing of the signing of the peace deal had little to do with President Trump’s maiden visit to the country, scheduled for Feb 24 and 25.
“The timing has little to do with the US President’s visit to India. The US has been negotiating its exit from Afghanistan for some time now. President Trump would like to conclude the negotiations and withdrawal before the next Presidential election,” said Sibal.
After suffering several hiccups over the definition of ‘reduction in violence,’ the peace deal is finally set to see the light of the day, it was revealed after a meeting between Afghanistan’s President Ashraf Ghani, and US State and Defence Secretaries, Mike Pompeo and Mark Esper, on the sidelines of Munich Security Conference earlier this week.
“A seven-day truce agreement between the US and the Taliban in Afghanistan will come into effect very soon and could lead to withdrawals of American troops,” a statement from Afghanistan’s President Palace said on Feb 14, citing a US official involved in negotiations with the Taliban.
Indian news agency IANS, citing sources, claimed in a report on Saturday that the deal between the US and Taliban could be signed as early as Feb 29, barely four days after President Trump concludes his two-day visit to the subcontinent.
Keeping out Pakistan from Afghanistan
A major worry playing on the minds of India’s policymakers is the potential role of Pakistan after US begins withdrawing its 11,000-strong army contingent from Afghanistan, sources in the know have told India TV Digital.
However, experts believe that the Taliban no longer trusts Pakistan’s military establishment as it used to in the past, when the insurgency was gaining a toehold in the region in the late 1990s.
Dr Anant Bhagwat, a Pune-based defence expert, reckoned that the very fact that the Taliban and India were on the negotiation table for the first time in history during the Moscow Dialogue in 2018 signals a shift in the terror group’s attitude.
“They are probably looking towards India as a benign force in the region, the one which could check Pakistan’s ulterior motives in the region,” said Dr Bhagwat.
And even the US is looking to keep Pakistan out from Afghanistan in the future, according to Indian Army veteran Colonel (retired) Jaibans Singh.
“President Donald Trump, while in India, will definitely test the waters to see how far India is ready to go so far as engagement in Afghanistan is concerned,” said Colonel Singh.
The army veteran added that, notwithstanding India’s official position till now, he endorsed the idea of having Indian troop presence in Afghanistan.
He said, “Definitely, a lot will depend on how the talks progress in the issue.”