Risking Pak ire, US passes Afghan baton to India

New York: Beijing, New Delhi and Islamabad are jockeying for position in Afghanistan after the US draws down most of its forces by the end of 2014. Against this backdrop, the first-ever triangular meeting between the US, India and Afghanistan on Tuesday in New York sent yet another signal that the US is looking to replace Pakistan with India in its stabilization plans.

Washington wants India to fill up a post-US vacuum in Afghanistan and to take a more active role in training Afghan security forces. There is irony in the situation as the same US administration wanted India to downsize its footprint in Afghanistan till a couple of years ago for fear of offending Pakistan. Islamabad has always resisted a bigger Delhi role in Kabul as they have different visions for Afghanistan, and they seek to advance highly disparate interests.

The US now has a fraught relationship with Pakistan and there is growing international disappointment with Pakistan’s negative role in Afghanistan. After the long, hard decade-old war on terrorism, Washington is coming to terms with the fact that the contradiction between its interests in Afghanistan and those of the Pakistan army might be irreconcilable.

In June this year, at the cost of sending Pakistan into paroxysms, US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton proposed a trilateral engagement between the US, India and Afghanistan. As a result, YK Sinha, joint secretary (Pakistan, Afghanistan, Iran) and Jawed Ashraf, joint secretary (Americas) represented India at the meeting on Tuesday with top diplomats from Afghanistan and the US.

 Risking Pak ire, US passes Afghan baton to India

US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton meets with Afghan President Hamid Karzai on the sidelines of the United Nations General Assembly in New York. Reuters

“This trilateral marks the strengthening of Afghanistan's cooperation with two of its key friends and partners who are fully behind the vision of a secure, peaceful, democratic and prosperous Afghanistan,” said Afghan Deputy Foreign Minister Jawed Ludin after the meeting.

The US pullout means that India and China will have to take responsibility for their own volatile regional security as US troops start to head home with the war with the Taliban far from over. India hates the idea of the Taliban coming back, either through force or through a settlement more advantageous to the hardline Islamist group than to departing Western powers. India fears that under a Taliban-led government, Afghanistan could turn into a sanctuary for anti-India militants and Kashmir terrorists.

China would also like to contain Uighur extremists in Afghanistan who are currently working with the Taliban and against China. Both China and India have also been eyeing the country’s vast mineral resources.

India became the first country to sign a strategic partnership agreement with Afghanistan a year ago. Beijing is the second non-Western power to develop such a partnership with Kabul. China has been raising its profile in Kabul and has made the right moves by offering economic sweeteners and signing a variety of agreements with Afghanistan, including one to 'train, fund and equip' the Afghan security forces.

C Raja Mohan noted in The Indian Express that it's not just the US that's losing faith in Pakistan as Beijing is now dealing directly with the regime in Kabul, which is "despised by the Pakistani military powers in Rawalpindi."

"China is no longer willing to put all its bets on the Pakistan army and its proxies, the Taliban and the Haqqani network," Mohan concludes.

Where Pakistan seeks to fashion an Afghan state that would detract from regional security, India would enhance Afghanistan's stability, security, economic growth, and regional integration.

“In the decade since 2001, India has built a fairly formidable relationship in Afghanistan through its developmental projects and by keeping its nose clean on the politics,” said The Times of India.

“Some fear that India could become vulnerable to attacks or be dominated by the US. But as the US and Nato head for the exits, India is being compelled to up its game in a country that has become critical for India's own security,” added the newspaper.

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Updated Date: Sep 27, 2012 08:12:39 IST