India calls for more cooperation in the region on Afghanistan situation

Indian National Security Advisor Ajit Doval addressing the Delhi Regional Security Dialogue on Afghanistan. PHOTO: MINISTRY OF EXTERNAL AFFAIRS, GOVERNMENT OF INDIA

NEW DELHI - India has called for greater cooperation and interaction on Afghanistan at a regional conference on security of Central Asian states, Iran and Russia to help evolve a strategy to deal with the Taliban and a growing humanitarian crisis.

Pakistan, now the key player in Afghanistan and keen to limit any potential Indian role, refused to attend the conference, with its National Security Adviser Moeed Yusuf accusing New Delhi of being a "spoiler".

China, citing earlier commitments, also opted out of the meeting of the Delhi Regional Security Dialogue on Afghanistan.

The security czars of Iran, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Russia, Tajikistan, Turkmenistan, Uzbekistan and India in a declaration on Wednesday (Nov 10) expressed "deep concern" for the Afghan people, and said Afghanistan's territory should not be used to shelter, train, plan or finance terrorist acts.

They condemned recent terror attacks within Afghanistan.

They also stressed the necessity of forming an open and truly inclusive government and safeguarding the fundamental rights of women, children and minorities.

"We all have been keenly watching the developments in that country. These have important implications not only for the people of Afghanistan but also for its neighbours and the region," said India's National Security Adviser Ajit Doval in his opening remarks at the conference.

"This is the time for close consultation amongst us... and coordination among the regional countries."

India, which has played an important role in Afghanistan, investing more than US$3 billion (S$4 billion) under the umbrella of the US military presence in the country, has found itself sidelined in Afghanistan after the Taliban takeover following the US withdrawal.

Developments in Afghanistan have the potential of destabilising the region, and New Delhi is concerned about how it could affect Kashmir, which is at the heart of a long-running dispute between India and Pakistan.

Similarly, the Central Asian countries and Russia also have their own range of concerns following the swift Taliban takeover on Aug 15.

Their concerns range from a refugee exodus to increased drug trafficking and unstable borders.

National Security Advisors from Russia, Iran and five Central Asian countries at the Delhi Regional Security Dialogue on Afghanistan in New Delhi. PHOTO: MINISTRY OF EXTERNAL AFFAIRS, GOVERNMENT OF INDIA

"As we have a long border with Afghanistan, the current situation creates extra risk and possibilities for drug trafficking and terrorism," Tajikistan's Security Council secretary Rahmatjon Mahmudzoda told the conference.

Analysts noted that the meeting indicated a convergence of interests between India and the Central Asian countries, Iran and Russia.

"The meeting of national security advisers is a good beginning from India's perspective. New Delhi was feeling left out from the ongoing regional processes of negotiations on Afghan. It was neither in talks directly with the Taliban nor was included in the negotiations headed by the US and Russia," said Prof essor Rajan Kumar of Jawaharlal Nehru University.

"In my view, it's a significant initiative on the part of India. This dialogue also makes it clear that Russia is willing to accommodate India's interests in Afghanistan. How far can India influence the Taliban government is not certain as neither Afghanistan, nor Pakistan and China are participating in this conference."

Still, the most pressing issue facing Afghanistan is an unfolding humanitarian crisis.

The United Nations estimates that 23 million people, nearly half of the country, will face an acute shortage of food by the end of the year.

Ms Swati Prabhu, associate fellow at the Observer Research Foundation, hopes that the grouping would come up with outcomes for humanitarian assistance.

"Post the Taliban takeover,the Indian development partnership initiatives have been gravely affected. Along with the challenge of dealing with Pakistan in transit and transportation issues, India will have to somehow look at devising a humanitarian aid corridor, as pointed out by several experts," said Ms Prabhu.

She added that the challenge for India, like other countries, is to ensure that aid does not get diluted towards further solidifying the Taliban rule.

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