India Afghanistan conundrum-What is at stake for New Delhi in Afghanistan??

If there is one territory in the world which is difficult to govern since time immemorial it is without any doubt  Afghanistan. Afghanistan is a notoriously difficult country to govern. Empire after empire, nation after nation have failed to pacify what is today the modern territory of Afghanistan, giving the region the nickname “Graveyard of Empires” even if sometimes those empires won some initial battles and made in roads into the region. Starting by Britishers and their defeat in 1839-42 1st Afghan war , followed by Russian invasion in 1980s . Since then, as both the British and Russians have learned, that while it is possible to conquer territory in Afghanistan temporarily, and defeat Afghans militarily in open battle, it is virtually impossible to hold the region down for long, when it is filled with guerrillas, tribes, and castles that can constantly weigh down a foreign power. Now Americans have also realised this , that it is fighting a  never ending war and that it is a drain on its exchequer for 18 years. However the way  Trump’s administration in its desperation( for its domestic reasons and nearby elections) have hastily concluded the deal gave  Taliban (in a way Pakistan) an edge over Washington. Also the democratically elected Ghani government was not even included in this deal shows the lack of inclusiveness in the deal. Now it is confirmed that American will leave Afghanistan and withdraw all its soldiers from there. The relevant questions we must ask here is – what this means for India’ regional security?? Won’t it will create a power void in this region which has become a fertile ground for various players for their geopolitical ambition?? Lastly and more importantly what will happen to state of Afghanistan and it’s people after Taliban takes the power whose ideology is essentially of religious fundamentalist ??

Afghanistan is a state which is strategically located  as a gateway for central Asia . India Afghanistan shares a “strategic partnership” which is marked by our tremdous goodwill in the region. This goodwill is because of our development initiative taken in Afghanistan and increasing its government capabilities. We have  approximately invested 2 billion dollars there and it’s results are clearly visible be the  development of its Parliament, Salma dam, various housing projects, etc .We are even developing a port Chabahar in Iran mainly to bypass Pakistan and from that Delaram-Zaranj Highway as tool to provide connectivity to landlocked state of Afghanistan . Afghanistan importance for New Delhi can be seen from various facets – it’s geographical location as it is a part of India’s neighborhood . This region is also important for our regional influence as a net security provider , as a gateway to Centra Asia. This region is also important to counter Pakistani activities . There are also confirmation from various geological surveys that this region is rich in minerals. Afghanistan stability is important for not only for the whole region but for also our country too. Thus importance of Afghanistan for India cannot be overstated and which is also outside the purview of this article and already many articles have been written about it by our many diplomats and strategic analysts.

But the more pertinent question are remains to be answered . Firstly what will happen to India’s long stated position of “Afghan led Afghan owned and Afghan controlled” development?Have we put all our eggs in Ghani’s( democratically elected government) basket by boycotting Taliban ? Do we need to open channel of communication with Taliban at this point of time ?? Lastly what is at stake in Afghanistan for India after so many years of investment??

Whether we like it or not today Taliban is most important factor in the polity of Afghanistan and after sharing table with Usa in signing the peace deal it has gained legitimacy . Even other players like Russia, China has in a way or other open their channels with Taliban. This is due to the fact that Afghanistan was able to survive after so many years of war with Afghanistan’s government and Usa as it enjoyed safe havens in Pakistan. Even last year we sent our two diplomats although in non official capacity in a process led by Russia. There are two factions in which people are divided. One proposes to open talks with Taliban and secure our national interest. They put forward their theory that India’s cost of inaction will make us less relevant in the region and further decrease our ability to shape the realities on ground. Even American diplomat Zalimay Khalilzad who negotiated the deal with Taliban for America recently came to New Delhi . He was also asking New Delhi to open talks with Taliban if we read between the lines of his statements. Even Taliban is giving India signals that it is open to talks and in a way it does not want to interfere in internal matters of India like Kashmir issue . Other group is strictly in opposes this stand . The say Taliban is essentially under control of Pakistan and it’s agencies like ISI . Also its ideology is completely opposite to what we stand for. The recent revelation of Taliban being paid by Russia to kill USA soldiers further adds complexity to already complicated situation.

Ghani and Abdullah Abdullah after initial fued between them have agreed to a power sharing deal which are putting a united front against Taliban . The talks between democratically elected government lead by Abdullah and Taliban has been started. Only future will tell about the outcomes of such talk and how the power sharing agreement takes the shape.

But for India to secure it’s national interest and to remain relevant in the region we must start diplomatic communications with the Taliban. Talking doesn’t mean accepting it’s ideology . We have already started to shift from our earlier stance of realism to pragmatism in various geopolitical aspects . This must be implemented here as stability of Afghanistan is important for us . An unstable Afghanistan can be a breeding ground for Isis or other terrorist organisation to emerge as the same happened in Syria which can have internal security ramifications for states like Jammu and Kashmir . Elections in Washington is also a key factor which will further decide the future outcomes. The road to peace , prosperity and stability for the people of Afghanistan and the region still a long way ahead.

WHO WILL TAME THE DRAGON??

Covid -19 has revealed the 2 most important issues which the international community  was  either neglecting or refusing to accept deliberately due to many reasons.One of them is the inherent lacunae in the various multilateral institutions of the world be it United Nations security council , World Health Organization ,World Trade Organization etc . Secondly and more importantly the true realisation of Chinese state , its intentions and opacity which led to this pandemic. What Asia or perhaps the world is facing today is  not an ordinary rising power troubled by shackles of Indo Pacific vision of various countries .We are facing an expansionist, authoritarian, revisionist power with no regards for international rule based order that wants to create a China centric world order.
     New Delhi was also not remained untouched with this. The recent incident in Galwan valley has made us realise that disputes with China can at best be managed and cannot be resolved. All our efforts since 1993 to this day , and in recent times-  “Whuan spirit ” , talks like our differences should not become our disputes all seems futile. Our approach to look the Sino- India relationship with broader prism and not limiting it to boundary dispute is indeed changing. China was always an expansionist power who is using strategies like “Salami slicing” to grab the territory of its neighbours . It’s 9 dash line approach in South China sea and building up of artificial Islands and it’s clear disregard to the  ruling of Permanent court of Arbitration vis a vis Philippines  was a clear cut sign. Similarly it’s BRI initiative, strategy of encircling India under its string of pearls strategy, African outreach program ,and it’s debt trap diplomacy was a clear sign . However Covid 19 and incidence like Galwan was the final nail in the coffin .

Even other powers were somewhat aware about the nature of Chinese state however they were ignoring this due to reasons like their trade and investment interest, and Chinese promise of peaceful rise  . But the concept of ” hide your strength and bide ur time ” given by Deng Xiaoping  has given way to the “Wolf warrior” diplomacy which is seen in the recent arrogant attitude of the Chinese diplomats too.

Accordingly various countries have responded to this which is getting reflected either by their outspoken criticism or in their  actions. USA  is leading the baton which is taking various measures be it sending it’s air craft carrier to South China sea, passing of bill regarding Xinxiang region inhabited by Uighur Muslims, talking in support of New Delhi and criticising it for its recent Hong Kong bill. Australia is another country which in WHO  asked for the accountability of Chinese in spread of the Covid disease. Europe is also critical about and has  started giving a relook to 5g trails and including Chinese companies in it.Other prominent powers include Japan , Canada, France etc.

Even New Delhi has started to take measures by banning 59 digital apps of Chinese origin citing national security.
However the bigger question remains.What is the end to this and how far China will go with this??  And perhaps more importantly Who will take the lead in taming the dragon?

The natural answer which will come to everyone’s mind will be Washington . Despite it’s Pivot to Asia strategy, miltiatry capabilities, economic might it  is mired with many contradictions.  USA is too much distracted and  divided at this point of time. The transactional approach of USA in the recent times under the Trump’s administration and its disdain towars it’s European partners has created a divide which China wants to utilise. Even the steps like Quad ( Grouping of 4 countries- Usa, Japan, India, Australia) leading to more number of questions rather than giving straight forward answers at this time. What is aim of the Quad?? What it wants to achieve?  What kind of grouping it is? For example for India both Quad and Indo Pacific are separate.Also USA leaving various multilateral institutions like UNESCO , blocking appointments at WTO, leaving Paris climate agreement, quashing Iran nuclear deal unilaterally and  use of tarrifs shows its narrow approach .
Similarly does European powers have that capacity to take on China despite the fact that it’s economic and trade dependence on her?

We have to accept this indeed China is a 2 nd largest economy of the world and the global manufacturing hub .It is so intrinsically linked with the global value chains that decoupling  from her will not be easy .
What should be the role of India in this. Do we join Washington camp who supports New Delhi when it comes to Indo Pacific but at the same times takes a different approach in its Af- Pak policy ?? Usa leaving Afghanistan without caring about India’s national interest, regional security is somewhat holding us back. What will happen to our Stragtic Autonomy which we have always maintained after joining USA camp especially when it comes to South Asia policy??

All will also depend  upon  the upcoming USA elections . What we need today is collaboration between all these like minded countries after leaving their differences aside. But more importantly banning Chinese app will not do the job.We need to increase our economic capability as  there is a realisation now  that the increasing power differential between the India and China is one of reason for  the rogue behaviour of Beijing in Sino – India relationship .Lastly we need to hit China where it hurts the most- Economically. USA, European Union, Japan , Canada, Australia, UK and India all needs to come together to take on China economically .
Well time will only tell how far we are successful after humanity comes out of the pandemic grip.

Why it is important for India to secure it’s own neighborhood???

“You can change your friends but not neighbours”. A very profound statement which was made by our late prime minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee which captures  the essence of the importance of neighborhood in any nation’s foreign policy. It becomes all the more important for our country which is geographical located in South Asia.Our neighborhood primarily consists of SAARC countries .

        South Asia of today is one of the least integrated regions of the world- in terms of intra regional trade, investment, migration. The idea of SAARC and its free trade agreement ( SAFTA) did not take off . This region is also marked by huge asymmetry between us and the other countries  in terms of geographical size, economy, population, which has created a sense that India is playing a big brother attitude . Another matter of deep concern for us is the deep Chinese inroads which has used it’s every tools- coercive actions , cheque book diplomacy ( Belt and road initiative) , debt to equity swap as it’s neo colonialism  to counter India. It is increasingly drawing these nations under its bandwagon by developing trade and investment ties with them and at same time encircling India through its string of pearls strategy. This region is also marked by having high incidences of poverty , hunger issues ,  development issues,  high population ,. This region as said by Ipcc report on climate change is one of the most vulnerable regions of the world because of its tropical location and proximity to climatic disaster events. Others issue which acts as a hindrance in the growth of the region is the Pakistan’s hostility and it’s state sponsored terrorism policy . Also it’s been lately seen that in the internal politics of the neighbouring countries where one political party makes an anti India agenda to garner votes – the example of Nepal is a case in point.

Various projects taken in the neighborhood

Despite our many policies and of late recently Neighborhood first policy have not achieve the desired results . These issue can be solved only by the holistic deliberation and understanding of ground realities.It must start by accepting that China is here to stay and it will do it’s best to counter India.We must not start competing with China as we do not have such deep pockets. We must use our  goodwill and soft power to leverage our position .At the same time we must deliver the commited projects on time- example being BBIN, KALDAN MULTIMODAL PROJECT, IMT HIGHWAY etc. Also we must be realistic that countries will use China card in their diplomatic manuvaure to bargain and strengthen their position. Our domestic politics must be taken out from neighborhood relations. Also red lines need to be drawn in some sensitive issues like territorial integrity, respecting sovereignty. We must start by Gujral doctrine – of following non reciprocity of relationship, solving issues bilaterally through peaceful negotiations , non interference in domestic politics. The lead is taken by us by establishing a Covid fund for the whole region. We must follow it up engaging with every neighbour bilaterally and multilaterally.
This is the only way forward for our country and also for the whole region as the road of net security provider which we are aspiring for goes through our neighborhood.

FOREIGN POLICY IS THE ART OF ESTABLISHING PRIORITIES.

Year 1955: World was divided into two factions-Usa led block and other led by Soviet union ( bipolar world) . There was mounting pressure on each country to choose a block and align with that . In that scenario the better sense prevailed and we gave the concept of NAM ( non alignment movement)to the world which was lead by India itself. That movement India chose it’s priorities by creating a Third block and and not getting involved in any superpower rivalry.
Today the world is defined by Unbalanced Multipolarity which is undergoing through various changes marked by trust defecit among countries. The waves of anti globalization , Usa disdain towards its European partners and it’s backward looking approach , Chinese expansion all are a reality now.
In this unpredictable world we ( India) have already established our priorities in various domains. Today we have move from Saarc to Bimstec, from NAM to Issue based alignment without leaving our Stragtic Autonomy. Geopolitically our focus has been shifted to Indo- Pacific construct which we have define as FREE, OPEN, INCLUSIVE WITH CENTRALITY OF ASEAN . At security level we are moving towards not only Usa by joining 2+2 dialogue , Quad but also with other powers like Australia , France, Japan.
A question at this point of time we must ask ourselves- What should be our priority at this point of time which will define our status in Global order ?? We should develop our own self rather than seeking help of others by strengthening our economy and utilising our demographic dividend. To counter balance Chinese aggression we must enhance our defence capabilities and at the same time realising our manufacturing potential. We must work towards reforming the various multilateral institutions which reflects the 21st century reality. We must think about the future policy which among other things must include- what must be our role in this new global order? Do we fit into the Chinese aspirations of it creating Chinese led Asain order? What should be expect from like minded countries and our partners?
Indeed this is an Asain century and we must establish our priorities right as we did in 1955 , by becoming the” rule maker”” and not just the”” rule taker””.
– I write.