The presidential election in Afghanistan is scheduled for September 28. But there is uncertainty. Many things are happening on the Afghan front. The US and Taliban are expected to reach some agreement in the first week of September. On August 19, Afghanistan celebrated a hundred years of its independence from British rule. The history of Afghanistan is that they have always beaten foreign armies.
A suicide bomber of Islamic State (IS) detonated his explosives vest in a wedding hall in Kabul, two days before Independence Day, and killed around 70 people. The minority Shia Hazara community were having a meeting at the wedding hall. The Hazaras have been targeted by militant groups. The IS is targeting the Hazara community since the militant organization arrived in Afghanistan in 2014. Three days later the same organisation targeted Jalalabad city in Nangarhar province. The IS has a significant influence in Nangarhar. In April 2017, the US military dropped an 11-tonne bomb known as ‘mother of all bombs’ killing more than 90 militants of IS.
The main contest is between President Ashraf Ghani and Chief Executive Dr Abdullah Abdullah. In the 2014 elections, Ghani defeated Abdullah. Abdullah had accused Ghani of fraud and refused to accept the result. Subsequently, the US-brokered an agreement between both of them and a National Unity Government was formed. Abdullah was made Chief Executive. On the first day of campaigning on July 28, militants attacked Ghani’s running mate, Amrullah Saleh. At least 20 people were killed in the attack and Saleh was injured. Saleh is an uncompromising opponent of the Taliban and other militant groups. He also worked closely with the late Ahmed Shah Massoud, a leader of Northern Alliance. Massoud was known as ‘Lion of Panjshir Valley’.
Though Afghanistan became independent a hundred years ago, the country never witnessed peace. The USSR entered Afghanistan in 1979 on the pretext of helping the then left-leaning government. But, they had to withdraw ten years later following stiff resistance from the Afghan people and militant organisations backed by the US, Pakistan and Saudi Arabia. Now, the US is desperate to withdraw its remaining 14,000 soldiers. This was one of the promises Trump had given to the Americans during his election campaign in 2016. Again, the US will have elections next year and in all probability, Trump will be the Republican candidate. The reality is that the US cannot withdraw its forces until the Taliban give them some concrete assurances. The US wants the Taliban to commit that they will not support any foreign militant organizations like IS, Al Qaeda, on Afghanistan’s soil. The US and Taliban are on the same page as far as IS is concerned.
Finally, the Taliban has to speak to the Afghan government for peace. As of now, the Taliban is not prepared to negotiate with the Ghani government as it says the Afghan government has no power and considers it as a ‘puppet regime’ of the US. Taliban will have to speak to the Afghan government once they reach an agreement with the US. The point how the Taliban can be accommodated in the Afghan government is not clear. There are different views within the government involving militant organisations. The general perception is peace cannot return to Afghanistan without involving the Taliban. India needs to realize this ground reality and take steps accordingly. For the US, the role of Pakistan is important as they are in a position to influence the Taliban. Apart from the US, countries like Russia, China, and Turkey are talking to the Taliban. But nobody can be sure how the Taliban will react even if they reach some agreement with the US. Will they follow the agreement in letter and spirit is a big question.
India has excellent relations with Afghan President Ghani. India is helping Afghanistan in its reconstruction. Afghanistan has serious issues with Pakistan and their relations are not too friendly.
India also has excellent equations with Abdullah. India will continue to play a positive role irrespective of who wins elections.