Besmillah Jahed, a young development professional in Afghanistan, was returning from Bamiyan, when a massive explosion rocked the entrance of the Kabul Airport on 10 Aug 2015.He had narrowly escaped death, while dismembered bodies flew around him. 3000 kms away his message, "I am lucky, I survived," sent a splinter through a festering wound. Where is Afghanistan headed is the obvious question. But the other looming threat of the Islamic State's plan to take over the world can no more be ignored.
Earlier this May when Martha Farrell (Director, Society for Participatory Research in Asia) was shot in her Kabul guest house, it occurred what infinite luck had favoured some of us Indians who had been travelling into the remotest corners of northern Afghanistan. Opportunities to work in the process of Afghanistan's democratic governance may be fulfilling, but they come with a caveat. Hired resource personnel, experts and engineers from India have been increasingly targeted by the Pakistani military intelligence agency ISI, of late.
This has led to the speculation that Pakistan intends to hijack the peace process in Afghanistan, by working against India. The fact that Mullah Akhtar Mansour the new Taliban chieftain is a close ally of ISI that created the Taliban in the 1990s, corroborates this fear. His sudden anointment this July, after the mysterious disappearance of Mullah Omar in 2001, is a red alert for all. His explosive entry, literally so, makes it amply evident that matters can turn for the worse, anytime. Under the leadership of the deceased Mullah Omar (who had sheltered Osama bin Laden's al-Qaida in the wake of Sept 11), the Taliban have been making fierce inroads into the northern territories, away from its traditional bastions in the south. This summer, things heated up some more and witnessed one of the heaviest civilian casualty--of 5000 dead as against 3,699 reported by UN in 2014--over and above the routine targeted killings of police and military personnel escalating every day.
Pakistan's role in Ashraf Ghani's victory in the presidential election last year had started the ball rolling towards a pro-Pak, anti-India, proxy government, to deliberately scuttle India's attempt at strengthening its ties with Afghanistan. By keeping India away from the peace talks, Pakistan may gain strategic depth in Afghanistan, but will that ensure a safe and secure Afghanistan is the question. If India is left out of the peace process, will the second round of peace talks to be held in China have anything to do with a democratic, independent Afghanistan is another question.
For those who see India's need to play a leadership role in the peace process as an interventionist step may be reminded that the splinter group in ISIS, getting ready in the shadows to announce its caliphate all over the world, can only be deterred in India, if Afghanistan has a stable government. India's need to be part of the peace talk is therefore legitimate, even if as an observer.
India undoubtedly has a huge stake in Afghanistan, but not merely as a gateway to Central-Asia, like adversaries think. As an important member of South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation (SAARC), India plays an important role in regional peace and politics. A stable Afghanistan can have significant impact on several of its internal and external issues and an equally strong bearing on South Asia as whole.
The $2 billion invested in the process of Afghanistan's reconstruction is meant to generate goodwill for India. But by restoring stability and growth it will pay dividends to not only the Indians and the Afghans but to South Asia at large. The success of the Turkmenistan-Afghanistan-Pakistan-India (TAPI) pipeline and the connectivity project to the Chabahar port in Iran will benefit the neighbouring countries as well. Any adverse development in Afghanistan, on the other hand, will not only undermine the Indian effort in establishing peace in this region, it will open up a hornet's nest for both Central and South Asia in the years to come.
Meanwhile, for those who have had a close shave with death in Afghanistan, luck is running out. They wonder if this macabre festivity is a celebration and a clarion call to what is to follow. Will an independent, stable Afghan regime remain a pipe dream? Can Kabul wrench away from the tightening grip of Islamabad? How many more lives need to be lost before Afghanistan is stable at last? An inescapable time bomb continues to tick as they watch the sky light up with deathly explosions, with no solutions in sight.