Current Affairs (16th April 2021)
US exit from Afghanistan
- The announcement by President Joe Biden that the US will withdraw all its troops from Afghanistan by September 11, 2021, the 20th anniversary of the 9/11 attacks, has sent tremors through the region’s fault-lines.
- Unlike the Trump Administration, which made its troop withdrawal by May 1 conditional — on Taliban taking steps to prevent al-Qaeda or any other group from sheltering in Afghanistan, and agreeing to a dialogue on power sharing with the Afghan government — the Biden plan has no strings attached.
- There are about 2,500-3,500 US troops in Afghanistan at present, plus a NATO force of under 8,000.
- The impact of this announcement on various actors within Afghanistan and outside is bound to be far-reaching. It can be said with certainty that no country in the region will remain untouched.
Afghanistan: advantage Taliban
- US’s announcement has removed all incentives for the Taliban to agree for a dialogue with the Afghan government.
- US in March proposed a 90-day ceasefire; talks under the auspices of the UN for a consensus plan for Afghanistan among the US, Russia, China, Pakistan, Iran and India; and a meeting in Turkey between the Taliban and Afghan government towards an “inclusive” interim government, an agreement on the foundational principles of the future political order and for a permanent ceasefire but everything dead in the water.
- Taliban are in control of 76 or 19%, and government forces 127 or 32%. The remaining are contested. Taliban are stronger now than at any point since 2001, when US forces invaded Afghanistan.
- American officials have understood the Afghan situation but as the withdrawal had been put off “by several months” to September, rather than stick to the Doha Agreement (signed between the Trump Administration’s special envoy Zalmay Khalilzad and the Taliban last March) date of May 1, America had violated the agreement.
- This had “opened the way” for the Taliban to take “counter-measures”, and the American side “will be held responsible for all future consequences, and not the Islamic Emirate.
- After the full withdrawal of troops, Taliban are likely to see the war, which they believe they have already won, to its completion.
- Prospects for a peace deal are dim, the Taliban are confident of victory in the battlefield, and the Afghan government will struggle to hold them at bay.
Stand of Afghanistan:
- It “respects the US decision and will work with its US partners to ensure a smooth transition”. But the country is close to losing all the gains of the last 15 years.
- There is deep apprehension of a return to the 1990s, although there is also a view that the Taliban too have changed over 25 years, and would not want to alienate the international community as they did when they ruled Afghanistan during 1996-01.
- Earlier, President of Afghanistan had proposed that if the Taliban were ready to talk, he would give up what remained if his presidential term, and hold a re-election in which the Taliban were free to participate. The Taliban have always rejected elections as un-Islamic, and the government of Afghanistan as a “puppet” of the US. President of Afghanistan’s proposal gained no traction.
Pakistan: gains, concerns
- This is a moment of both vindication and concern in Islamabad. The Taliban are a creation of the Pakistani security establishment.
- After the US invasion of Afghanistan, they removed themselves to safe havens in Pakistan territory, and the Taliban High Council operated from Quetta in Balochistan.
- It was Pakistan that persuaded the Taliban to do a deal with the Trump Administration. For the Pakistani Army, which has always seen Afghanistan in terms of “strategic depth” in its forever hostility with India, a Taliban capture of Afghanistan would finally bring a friendly force in power in Kabul after 20 years. India, which has had excellent relations with the Karzai and Ghani governments, would be cut to size.
- But a US withdrawal also means Pakistan will need to shoulder the entire burden of the chaos that experts predict. Civil war is not ruled out and with it, the flow of refugees into Pakistan once again, even as the country struggles with refugees from the first Afghan war.
- All this at a time when the economy is flailing, and Pakistan stays afloat on an IMF loan with strict conditionalities.
- Plus, the Taliban are not a monolith, and have recently shown streaks of independence from Pakistan. It has to guard against instability in Afghanistan from spilling over the border. Pakistan’s eastern front with India is quiet at the moment, so that is one headache less, but it would remain a concern for the Pakistan Army.
India: time to be wary
- New Delhi, which was hoping to be part of the Blinken initiative, would be nervous about the US withdrawal.
- India was on the outer edges of the Trump drive to exit Afghanistan that culminated in the Doha Accord, and was a reluctant supporter of the “intra-Afghan talks” between the Taliban and Afghan government.
- When the Biden Administration came in, India was hopeful of a US reset.
- The Blinken proposal gave India a role, by recognising it as a regional stakeholder, but this proposal seems to have no future. The Haqqani group, fostered by the ISI, would have a large role in any Taliban regime.
- Another concern would be India-focused militants such as Laskhar- e-Toiba and Jaish-e-Mohamed, which the Indian security establishment already believes to have relocated in large numbers to Afghanistan.
Russia, China & Iran
- China would have much to lose from instability in Afghanistan as this could have an impact on the China Pakistan Economic Corridor. A Taliban regime in Afghanistan might end up stirring unrest in the Xinjiang Autonomous region, home to the Uighur minority.
- Conversely, as an ally of Pakistan, it could see a bigger role for itself in Afghanistan.
- The US exit is for Russia a full circle after its own defeat at the hands of US-backed Mujahideen and exit from Afghanistan three decades ago.
- In recent years, Russia has taken on the role of peacemaker in Afghanistan. But both the Taliban and the Afghan government have been wary of its efforts.
- After a conference in March of Russia, US, China and Pakistan, along with Taliban and Afghan delegates, a joint statement by the four principals said they did not support the establishment of an Islamic Emirate, leaving the Taliban angry. Russia’s growing links with Pakistan could translate into a post-US role for Moscow in Afghanistan.
- As a country that shares borders with Pakistan and Afghanistan, Iran perceives active security threats from both. And a Taliban regime in Kabul would only increase this threat perception. But Iran, with links to the Hazaras in Afghanistan, has of late played all sides.
- Despite the mutual hostility and the theological divide between the two, Iran opened channels to the Taliban a few years ago, and recently, even hosted a Taliban delegation at Tehran.
UN Food Systems Summit 2021
- The United Nations Secretary General has called for the first ever UN Food Systems Summit to be held in September 2021 to strategize the actions for positive change in Agri-food systems in the World to realize the vision of the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development.
- The Summit will focus on levers and pathways to shape food systems nationally and globally to accelerate progress in the SDGs.
- The Summit 2021 is planned to be essentially participatory and consultative and needs the game changing ideas from the experiences through the National, Sub-national (State) and independent consultation for the five Action Tracks related to safe and nutritious food, sustainable consumption patterns, nature-positive production, advance equitable livelihoods, and resilience to vulnerabilities, shocks and stress.
- The COVID-19 pandemic led vulnerability and challenges faced by the humanity in food and related system has further added to the need for reorienting our actions and strategies beyond specific cropping or farming systems to entire agri-food systems covering production, distribution and consumption.
- India with close to 18% humanity on the Globe owes paramount stake in this Food System Summit. India has volunteered, but not limited to, to the Action Track 4: Advance Equitable Livelihoods for the UN Food System Summit 2021.
- To take the process further the Government has constituted a high level Inter departmental Group along with the representatives from Ministries of Agriculture and Farmers’ Welfare (MoAFW), Rural Development and others.
- The prime function assigned to this group is to conduct National Dialogues with all the stakeholders of agri-food systems for exploring national pathways towards creating sustainable and equitable food systems in India and suitably contribute to transformation in global food systems to meet the needs of present and future.
- The consultative processes shall culminate in the Food System Summit in September, 2021 in which Prime Minister is likely to participate along with other Global leaders.
- The first National Level Dialogue on Agri-Food Systems-Advancing Equitable Livelihoods has been conducted on 12 April, 2021.
- The National Dialogue was facilitated by the Inter departmental Group constituted by Department of Agriculture Cooperation & Farmers Welfare and the representatives from UN Agencies in Delhi.
- On the pattern of National Dialogues, the State Governments have also been requested to conduct the state-level dialogues with all the stakeholders involved directly or indirectly in the agri-food systems in India.
- Such grass root dialogues offer a unique opportunity to various stakeholders to involve and provide inputs for sustainable food systems in India.
- The Ministry of Agriculture & Farmers Welfare has created a website for this purpose to seek the inputs and ideas of all the stakeholders and the public on the Action Track 4, and other Action Tracks of the UN Food System Summit-2021.