Needed, a more unified Asian voice for Afghanistan

  • IASbaba
  • July 28, 2021
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  • GS-2: India and its neighborhood- relations. 
  • GS-2: Effect of policies and politics of developed and developing countries on India’s interests.

Needed, a more unified Asian voice for Afghanistan

In news: In the backdrop of US pull out of troops from Afghanistan, three recent meetings are turning the spotlight on the Central Asia’s role in dealing with the situation in Afghanistan

  • Shanghai Cooperation Organisation (SCO) contact group on Afghanistan 
  • SCO Defence Ministers in Tajikistan, 
  • Central and South Asia conference on regional connectivity in Uzbekistan

Concerns for India in Central Asia

  • The same powers that invaded Afghanistan post 9/11, and declared the Taliban leadership as UNSC-designated terrorists, are now advocating talks with the Taliban
  • India’s original hesitation in opening talks with the Taliban has cut India out of the current reconciliation process. 
  • The end of any formal dialogue between India and Pakistan since 2016 and trade since 2019, have resulted in Pakistan blocking India’s over-land access to Afghanistan
  • India’s alternative route through Chabahar, though operational, cannot be viable or cost-effective also long as U.S. sanctions on Iran are in place.
  • India’s boycott of the Chinese Belt and Road Initiative (BRI) make another route to Afghanistan off-limits.
  • U.S. has announced a new, surprise formation of a “Quad” on regional connectivity — U.S.-Uzbekistan-Afghanistan-Pakistan that does not include India
  • All the above portends to India’s narrowing window of engagement in Central Asia.

What are the calculation of Central Asian neighbours?

  • Necessity of Afghanistan for access to Ocean: First is that prosperity for these land-locked countries can only flow from access through Afghanistan to the closest ocean, i.e. the Indian Ocean. 
  • Need for Taliban’s Support: Second, all transit through Afghanistan depends on guarantees of safe passage from the Taliban, backed by the group’s mentors in Pakistan. Therefore, Central Asian countries have been at the forefront of mediation of talks with Taliban. 
  • Alignment with China: Third, all five Central Asian Countries are now a part of China’s BRI. Tying their connectivity initiatives with Beijing’s BRI will bring the double promise of investment and some modicum of control over Pakistan.

Given the above, New Delhi’s room for manoeuvre with the five Central Asian countries on Afghanistan appears limited.

Way Ahead for India 

  • Realizing Common Concerns: India and the Central Asian States share common concerns about an Afghanistan overrun by the Taliban and under Pakistan’s thumb: the worries of battles at their borders, safe havens for jihadist terror groups inside Afghanistan and the spill-over of radicalism into their own countries.
  • Supporting Afghan Government: India to work with Central Asian states, and other neighbours to shore up finances for the Afghanistan government to ensure that the government structure does not collapse
  • Fighting Terror: As part of the SCO’s Regional Anti-Terrorist Structure (RATS), India must also step up its engagement with the Central Asian countries on fighting terror.
  • Supporting Afghan Defence Forces: India can support the Afghan National Defense and Security Forces (ANDSF) where it needs it most: in terms of air power. 
  • Engaging with Pakistan: India’s reluctant discussions with the Taliban leadership make little sense unless a less tactical and more strategic engagement with Pakistan is also envisaged.

Connecting the dots:

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