After almost three months of the Taliban takeover of Kabul, India convened a meeting of the heads of the National Security Councils of seven nations in New Delhi on November 10 for the “Regional Security Dialogue” on Afghanistan. This was the third meeting of the process and the two earlier meetings were hosted by Iran. The exercise was to reiterate the consensus that after the withdrawal of the US and NATO troops from Afghanistan, the regional countries need to come together to address the crisis in Afghanistan.
The third chapter of the NSA level meeting was chaired by Indian National Security Advisor Ajit Doval and was attended by the representatives from Russia, Iran and the five Central Asian states namely Kazakhstan, Tajikistan, Kyrgyzstan, Turkmenistan and Uzbekistan. One of the crucial agendas of the meeting was to discuss the evolving situation in Afghanistan and how to deal with threats to security emanating from the developments there. Afghanistan’s immediate neighbours, Pakistan and China were also invited by India to participate in the consultation by India, but both countries stayed away.
In the meeting[i] India focused on the security challenges for Afghanistan’s neighbours, Iran raised the issues of cross border migration and Afghan refugees and the need for an inclusive government in Afghanistan to tackle that. Kazakhstan highlighted about the deteriorating security situation, Tajikistan mentioned about the cross-border terrorism and drug trafficking while Kyrgyzstan pointed out the resurgence of terrorist groups in Afghanistan. Russia, Uzbekistan and Turkmenistan called for joint efforts to restore peace in the country.
In his remarks, India’s NSA stated that all the countries in the region have been keenly watching the developments in Afghanistan as these have important implications not only for Afghanistan but also its neighbours and the region at large. NSA Doval emphasised that “this is the time for close consultations, greater cooperation, interaction and coordination among the regional countries.”[ii] India’s outreach to the regional countries was welcomed by the key stakeholders. The participation of Russia, Iran and the Central Asian states in the India led dialogue can be seen as an acknowledgement of New Delhi’s legitimate interests and leadership role on this important issue.
The dialogue was followed by bilateral meetings with India and then the leaders of the delegation of participating countries collectively called on Prime Minister Modi after the completion of the Dialogue. During the meeting with the Prime Minister they conveyed the perspectives of their respective countries on the situation in Afghanistan.[iii] The senior security officers of the seven countries in their comments to the Prime Minister also expressed their appreciation for India’s initiative in organising the dialogue and expressed their satisfaction about the quality of exchanges.
Delhi Declaration on Afghanistan
Following the series of meetings, an important joint statement called “Delhi Declaration on Afghanistan” was released which stated that the participants of the meeting paid special attention to the current political situation in Afghanistan and threats arising from terrorism, radicalisation, drug trafficking as well as the need for humanitarian assistance.[iv]
Some of the key points mentioned in the Delhi Declaration were: First, Afghanistan’s territory should not be used for sheltering, training, planning or financing of any terrorist acts. Second, there should be cooperation against the menace of radicalisation, extremism, separatism and drug trafficking in the region. Third, there should be an open and truly inclusive government that represents the will of the people of Afghanistan. Fourth, the United Nations has a central role to play in Afghanistan, its continued presence must be preserved and finally, ensuring that the fundamental rights of women, children and minority communities are not violated.
The statement also expressed concerns about deteriorating socio-economic and humanitarian situation in Afghanistan and underlined the need to provide urgent humanitarian assistance to the people of Afghanistan. Since the Taliban seized power in Afghanistan, the war-torn country has been grappling with political turmoil on one hand and severe economic crisis and increasing food shortage on the other. The departure of foreign forces and many international donors have left the country without the grants that financed three quarters of public spending. Some $9.5 billion in Central Bank reserves remain blocked outside the country and the international support given to the previous government has dried up.[v] Mary-Ellen McGroathy, the head of the World Food Program in Afghanistan in October stated that 8.7 million people are “one step away from starvation”.[vi] Severe drought and the coronavirus pandemic has only aggravated the sufferings of the people of Afghanistan and has left millions facing acute hunger. Additionally, the recent bombings and targeted attacks by the Islamic State of Khorasan Province in provinces such as Kunduz and Kandahar, which killed hundreds of Afghans, have further increased miseries of the common Afghans already battling hunger and deprivation.
To address the unfolding humanitarian catastrophe in Afghanistan, the Group of 20 (G20) countries plus Qatar held an ‘Extraordinary Leaders’ Meeting on Afghanistan’ in October[vii]. India, along with other countries agreed to provide aid to help Afghan people navigate these difficult times. However, one of the critical areas of concern for the international community was about how to deliver the aid to Afghan people without (or limited) coordination with the Taliban government, which the international community has not recognised.
To conclude, it can be said that unlike the West, the regional countries do not have the luxury of moving out of the region and therefore have to find some mechanism to deal with a highly volatile Afghanistan. The Delhi Declaration on Afghanistan is undoubtedly an important step towards coming up with a coordinated regional response to the crisis in Afghanistan. It was also significant because it signaled that New Delhi is ready to coordinate its Afghanistan policy with important regional countries while asserting its role as a key interlocutor on the issue. Undoubtedly, the points highlighted in the joint statement of the Third Regional Security Dialogue are extremely crucial and pertinent but the key challenge would be to translate the pledges into practice. With spoilers like Pakistan, the road ahead for a coordinated and harmonised regional approach on Afghanistan is likely to be difficult.
*Dr. Anwesha Ghosh, Research Fellow, Indian Council of World Affairs, New Delhi.
Disclaimer: Views are personal
[i] “NSA-Level Meet on Afghanistan to be held in India | Afghan Crisis | International News | Taliban”. Wion, November 10, 2021. Available at: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=1QWlnvDGd9w&t=134s (Accessed on 10.11.2021)
[iii] “ (Accessed on 10.11.2021)
[iv] “Delhi Declaration on Afghanistan: Statement”. DDNews Twitter Handle @DDNewslive, November 10, 2021. Available at: https://twitter.com/DDNewslive/status/1458360221701599234?ref_src=twsrc%5Egoogle%7Ctwcamp%5Eserp%7Ctwgr%5Etweet (Accessed on 11.11.2021)
[vii] G20 agrees aid to avert Afghanistan humanitarian crisis”, Al Jazeera, Oct13, 2021. Available at: https://www.aljazeera.com/news/2021/10/13/g20-agrees-aid-to-avert-afghanistan-humanitarian-crisis (Accessed on 11.10.2021)