Outside powers seem to be equating with legitimate Afghan govt: Former NSA

New Delhi: Former Indian National Security Advisor (NSA) Shivshankar Menon on Wednesday said outside powers seem to be equating with the legitimate government of Afghanistan with insurgent groups like the Taliban, which is creating more instability in Afghanistan, Pakistan and elsewhere, and it is Afghanistan and the region as a whole that pay the price of that intervention.

“We are today witness a very strange spectacle with the U.S., China and Pakistan negotiating to bring the Taliban into an Afghan government without any democratic test of their support or confirmation that they are willing to abide by the Bonn Agreement redlines for shaking violence, accepting the Constitution and cutting the ties with the Al-Qaeda for instance.

“In the fact, outside powers seem to be equating with the legitimate government of Afghanistan with insurgent groups like the Taliban. Now it seems unlikely, to me at least, that this can end any differently from previous foreign interventions in that proud and independent nation. In other words, it is creating more instability in Afghanistan, in Pakistan and elsewhere. And, once again, it is Afghanistan and the region as a whole that pays the price of that intervention,’ said Menon.

The former NSA was speaking at the launch of book, ‘ Afghanistan-Pakistan-India: A Paradigm Shift’, authored by Afghanistan Ambassador to India Shaida Abdali here.

Menon further said, “We are today at the other critical moment, where the issues are the same but the choice between radicals and extremists on the one hand, who claimed to represent tradition, don’t necessarily and, on the other hand, modernisers, democrats and others who want to change. And thirdly, the space this opens up for outsiders to interfere.”

“The breeding ground for terrorism in Pakistan and west of Afghanistan is actually growing. You can see everyday happening around us and terrorism still remains an instrument of state policy. Until these changes, it is hard to see meaningful progress in the lives of Afghan people and that should be really the test of our Afghan policy, whether it is Indian Afghan policy or Pakistani or anyone else’s,” he added.

Shedding some light on Abdali’s book, Menon said this is indeed a very important book, which is essential for anyone with the interest in foreign and security policy in subcontinent, and who wishes to know not just how we have come to this point but also what we might do about it, what should be we doing for the future, because the book itself make a very valuable practical suggestions for how we can move towards more cooperative future.

It makes a very strong plea for much more rational government policies in the region, particularly between Afghanistan, Pakistan and India, he added.

“I frankly knew of no one that a qualified to do this than Ambassador Abdali, who is uniquely qualified to describe both – how we have got here and what we should be doing about it, because served as an special assistant to President Karzai 2001-08. He was then the deputy NSA in Afghanistan from 2009-12; and since 2012, he has been here as an Ambassador. So, he is being a witness, actually a participant, in the making of history in our sub,” he said, adding that the book really is an insider’s view, the view of an Afghan patriot on these issues.

“The book is valuable because it lays it out very clearly how we have come to this point. As the book reminds us, since the 19th century internal Afghan politics have not remained internal,” he added.

The other part of the book, he said, is particularly useful for its detailed treatment of the India-Afghan relationship. “He does mention that Afghanistan has consistently sought a greater Indian political, economic and military role in Afghanistan. And he seems to think that it is due to Indian sensitivity to Pakistani concerns that India didn’t play a bigger role,” said Menon, adding, “I am not so sure frankly. My own experience suggests it is little more complex, but that something that may be the panel could discuss.”

“He (Abdali) also hints at a core Afghan concern when he says, ‘On any given day, New Delhi would opt for normalisation of relations with Pakistan over a greater role in Afghanistan’,” said Menon, adding, “I am again not so sure. In the first place given our history, promises of normalisation from Pakistan are unlikely to be particularly credible in India. Besides, Pakistan will only like to be inclined to normalise relations with India if there are strong, viable and visible India-Afghan ties.”

“And most important, the India-Afghan ties have a logic of their own, which is why they survived in every twist and turn in India-Pakistan relations and in the internal dynamics of Afghanistan right through 60-plus years, if you look at it,” he added.

Saying that the book is also very useful as reminder why we should encourage scholarship within the region by scholars from our countries that bring a unique and insider’s point of view for to policy debates which are normally framed faraway and then we carry them on here, he added, “For instance, I personally think, that in Indian study what we might have done differently, what more we might have done in Afghanistan would be useful as we prepare for the next phase of evolution of the situation in Afghanistan and of relations between India, Afghanistan and Pakistan.”

Finally, he said, some of you might ask how you can speak at this time, as Ambassador Abdali does, of a new paradigm, of a cooperative, connected region, particularly between these three countries.

“Given our recent experience, my own answer to that it is fairly simple: what is manmade can be undone by man. And certainly, the state our relationship today is manmade, but more than that from my generation, now speaks an old man, his vision is not purely hypothetical. We have seen it in our own lifetimes with our own eyes. During my childhood in Delhi, the kabuliwal who brought dry fruits, the Chinaman who brought shark’s skin, silk and double-horse bosky to our doorstep was a common feature,” he added.

Recalling that until 1969, it was possible to drive, and I know this having done it, from India through Pakistan, through Afghanistan, Iran into Turkey and onwards, Menon said, “The extended G.T. (Grand Trunk) Road that Ambassador Abdali’s book speaks of was the reality stretching all the way back to the Mauryan Uttarapatha, which extended through Afghanistan to the Persian Royal Roads, which went all the way up to the Mediterranean. And connectivity was therefore a reality which many of us can remember in living memory actually and if you think of it we have broken the world down into small pieces, frankly, within our lifetimes.”

“Visas to travel were the exception before 1984, before we in India imposed visas on everybody else and then faced it ourselves. And our present insecurities have really made the world much colder, broken and much more forbidding place. And this book reminds us of what it could be and our own better selves of what we were,” he added.

‘Afghanistan Pakistan India: A Paradigm Shift’ is published by Pentagon Press. (ANI)