India, Iran, Russia mull ways to take on Taliban
NEW DELHI: It's still part of conversations, but old partners, India, Iran and Russia, are dusting out an old mechanism to take on the Taliban
All three countries are still at an exploratory stage, but some articulated realities and possibilities are spurring on these discussions. First, the deteriorating situation in Afghanistan is giving the Taliban and other Pakistan-sponsored jihadists a growing space. Second, a fear that the US and NATO, in their eagerness to craft out an exit strategy in Afghanistan, might fall for a Pakistan-assisted scheme to put some Taliban elements dressed up as "moderate" in charge of governing Afghanistan.
The first time this will be discussed more fully will be during the Shanghai Cooperation Organisation's ministerial meeting in Moscow on March 27. Both Iran and India will attend the SCO meet. Iran's foreign minister Manouchehr Mottaki was in Mazar-e-Sharif last weekend to meet officials from Afghanistan and Tajikistan. India has been much more quiet. But Russia, in its capacity as SCO chairman, is taking a more hands-on position.
It has indicated that Iran might be more comfortable working with Russia and India under the SCO rubric than the US-led effort. The US and Nato are organizing a "big tent" meeting in The Hague on March 31, also on Afghanistan.
Iran has a lot of clout inside Afghanistan due to its ethnic and religious connections with the ethnic Tajiks, Uzbeks and Hazaras. India has steadily built up a lot of equity with its relentless commitment in the developmental field.
Russia has recently entered the Afghanistan equation, and has reportedly allowed the US to transport weaponry through its territory to reach Afghanistan. Currently, the US uses Pakistan, which comes under regular Taliban fire. Interestingly, among the other possibilities, the US is also looking at using the India-built Zaranj-Delaram road from Chahbahar port to enter Afghanistan from Iran. Iran, therefore, is emerging as a key player yet again in the Afghan sweepstakes.
The tri-nation strategy is not yet clear, apart from the fact that the Taliban have to be roundly defeated. This time, there is no Northern Alliance that ensured the defeat of the Taliban in 2001. So for an alternate strategy to work, a different structure would have to be cobbled together.
What is not yet clear is whether there can be some kind of coordination between Afghanistan's neighbours and the Nato-US initiative. Nevertheless, the great game is now fully joined.