AFTER months of sullenly licking its wounds and swallowing its pride, India enjoyed a brief moment of dubious glory: New Delhi was invited to participate in a closed-door meeting at the United Nations (UN) on Afghanistan.
But Indias participation in a meet designed to bring together five permanent members of the UN Security Council, the Organisation of the Islamic Conference (OIC) with 19 other states "which all have influence on one or other of the warring Afghan factions" was for less than glorious reasons.
It is common knowledge that New Delhi has a deep interest in the multi-layered Afghan conflict, through its support for ousted president Burhannudin Rabbani. The world body took up the Afghan issue in October 1996, soon after the commencement of the 51st annual general assembly. What followed was a curious turn of events. According to UN legislation, any state that has lost its confidence in the UN representative of another, has the right to question his or her legitimacy. If a special meeting cannot solve the issue, it must come up for a consensus vote in the assembly.
When the Taliban came to power in Kabul in September, the rumblings were heard as far away as on the banks of New Yorks East River. Reliable sources say the Pakistanis indicated that they would make use of the UN provision to question the legitimacy of the Afghan permanent representative, a Rabbani manRavan Farhadi. They claimed India and Pakistan subsequently struck a deal: India would not harp on Pakistani interference in Afghanistan, for which, Islamabad would leave Farhadi alone. Indian officials in New Delhi, however, vehemently denied such an outlandish agreement.
It was becoming clear to the UN that solutions would have to be found soon, especially after the Taliban named their representative to succeed Farhadi. The UN still recognises the Rabbani government.
After the Security Council passed Resolution 1976, calling for the demilitarisation of Kabul, the stage was set for this meet, the main thrust of which was to emphasise to all parties that peace cannot be enforced through gunfire. Norbert Holl, UN special representative to Afghanistan, outlined positions held by various factions.
At the meetdistracted as it was due to simultaneous discussions in the Security Council over Secretary-General Boutros Boutros-Ghalis attempt for a second termthe speeches were lukewarm. As for India, its contribution to the conference was lame, replete with platitudes. There were no resolutions at the endonly Ghali said the meeting had sent a "resounding message to Afghan factions" that there was no military solution to the conflict. Though the Taliban rejected the conference because there was no Afghan participation, Holl expressed optimism, informally, to many members. But the diplomat has some questions too: Who will fill the vacuum in demilitarised Kabulan international policing force or a peacekeeping UN mission?
"The world community, including the US, is weary of Afghanistan," a high-ranking source in the US administration told Outlook. "It is not the shrinkage of geo-strategic alignments in the region aloneAfghanistan is a buzzing beehive of insurmountable problems. For instance, the Taliban want to emerge the ultimate winners. Iranians (Shias) fear the emergence of Taliban (Sunni) supremacy. Afghanistan is a hotbed of terrorist camps. We know Saudi, Egyptian, Moroccan and Algerian terrorists are in training there. That is what puts off Islamic states and India, which fears that terrorist training to Kashmir militants would be stepped up. Of course, Indias stand on the Taliban is also influenced by the fact that Pakistan is pro-Taliban."
The US administration source sees Pakistan as one of the key players. "The question is: are the Pakistanis willing to come down heavily on the Taliban and drag them to the negotiating table? And will the Taliban listen to the Pakistanis?" The next step is an "Afghan forum", originally slated for December 2-3 in Peshawar, now likely to be held in Genevaafter Pakistan backed out, ostensibly because India was invited. But such meetings are unlikely to bring stability unless warring factions are involved in any peace process, and external forces, which have for nearly two decades divided Afghanistan, get out.