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India strides back Into the Afghan Theatre with the Delhi Regional Security Dialogue

Those in India and abroad who were gleefully announcing that India is out of the reckoning in Afghanistan after the Taliban took control of Kabul on August 15, 2021 were dealt a severe blow with the visit of the seven National Security Advisers (NSAs)/Secretaries of National Security Councils from Russia, Iran and the five Central Asian countries for the Delhi Regional Security Dialogue at the invitation of the Indian NSA Ajit Doval in New Delhi on November 10-11..

This was a befitting response to the two countries that did not accept Doval’s invite–Pakistan and China. Both Islamabad and Beijing would have thought that their absence would rob this meeting of any relevance or significance. The duo would have been sorely disappointed that all the other countries gave an overwhelming positive response to the NSA Doval’s invite.  The presence of the seven NSAs in Delhi is strong testimony that the world at large considers that India has an important role to play in bringing peace, security and stability in Afghanistan and ensuring that the Afghan territory is not used to launch terrorist attacks against its neighbors and beyond.

Also Read: Delhi Declaration proposes two-stage solution to achieve political transition in Afghanistan

Equally disappointing to the critics would have been the fact that although the Taliban was not invited to this conference, they have responded positively both to the gathering as well as to the sturdy and robust Delhi Declaration saying that they have already fulfilled all the demands and conditions contained in this Document. This is a moot point, but the fact that the Taliban has welcomed the Indian initiative clearly demonstrates that it is ready to adopt a stance on relations with India that is widely divergent from what Pakistan would have wanted it to follow.

Also Read: Imran Khan relents – promises to allow transit of Indian wheat to Afghanistan through Pakistan

Pakistan’s NSA Moeed Yusuf had declined the invitation saying that ‘a spoiler can’t be peace-maker’. The presence of delegates from all the other neighbours of Afghanistan, and some more, except China, illustrates the hollowness of his argument.  China possibly felt compelled to stay away as its ‘iron brother’ Pakistan had already refused to come. China’s presence might have given rise to speculation about divergence between the positions of the two countries on this vital subject.

In hindsight, it was a blessing in disguise that these two countries did not attend the Delhi Dialogue. Had they been present it would have been extremely difficult, if not impossible, to adopt such a focused and bold Resolution at the end of the deliberations. A weak and watered-down Declaration would have considerably reduced the significance of these talks. Moreover, it would have been impossible to conduct the meeting in the cordial and amiable atmosphere it was done as both China and Pakistan would have tried to upstage India at every turn. The added advantage that India was able to reap through this meeting was to further deepen the feeling of trust and confidence with all the visiting countries.

It is truly remarkable that not only did the NSAs from Russia, Iran and Central Asia respond enthusiastically and positively to the Indian invitation but some of them decided to come to India although they had visited Delhi for bilateral consultations not too long ago. This is true of the Russian NSA General Nikolai Patrushev who was in India just two months ago on September 8, 2021. The  Kyrgyz NSA Lt. Gen. Marat Imankulov had also visited India only fortnight ago on October 26.

This clearly demonstrates the high regard in which all the visiting countries hold India as also New Delhi’s growing clout and influence in global affairs.

With this master-stroke, India has placed itself firmly as a significant stake-holder and partner in any future discussions and decisions on Afghanistan.

Also Read: Will the Delhi conference turn a new page in Afghanistan's recent history? Meet the eight men who may just be doing so

(Amb. Ashok Sajjanhar, is a former Ambassador of India to Kazakhstan, Sweden and Latvia. He is an Executive Council Member at the Manohar Parrikar Institute for Defence Studies and Analyses and President, Institute of Global Studies.)