China, US Come Together On Afghanistan: Where Is India?
US and China: a new' partnership'?
NEW DELHI: While Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi was busy entertaining corporate heads in New York, and flying to Silicon Valley to visit the Facebook headquarters, a very important, substantive, and significant meeting was held on the sidelines of the UN General Assembly at New York that heralds a major change in the power politics of Afghanistan.
U.S, China and Afghanistan co-convened a high level meeting on Afghanistan’s peaceful development and regional cooperation. Months of efforts by both Pakistan and the U.S. to ease out differences and bring China on board finally bore fruit, with the first-of-its-kind meet being held on the sidelines of the United Nations General Assembly.
In the chair were the Chief Executive of Afghanistan Abdullah Abdullah, U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry, Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi, and Afghan Foreign Minister Salahuddin Rabbani. Those who participated in the talks were ministers from Turkey, Saudi Arabia, Iran,Australia, Italy, Norway.Kazakhstan. Pakistan was represented by National Security Advisor Sartaj Aziz. There was no sign of India, clearly not even invited as a participant.
1. expressed its strong support for the National Unity government in Afghanistan;
2. welcomed steps taken to implement the reform agenda;
3. reiterated support for an Afghan led and Afghan owned peace process;
4. supported government efforts to further advance reconciliation with the Taliban and other armed groups;
5. called upon these groups to enter into direct talks with the Afghan government;
6. China, U.S and Afghanistan reiterated their conviction that Afghanistan will never be used as a safe-haven for international terrorists and called for regional and international cooperation on this.
The next major events will be a donors conference in Brussels, and what was discussed and commended at the meeting, the Heart of Asia-Istanbul Process Ministerial Conference in Islamabad. All present hoped that this would renew a commitment for peace and non-interference in Afghanistan’s regional affairs.
China has thus stepped in, where India seems to have been afraid to tread. In that it has expanded its role from economic and financial assistance to a clearly strategic partnership, sitting on the same side of the table as the US on this issue. As a result India, which seems to be happy with the “fondness” that the common Afghan reportedly has for Indians, is now completely out of the picture as the two major global competitors join hands to tackle the challenges posed by Afghanistan, and the fast deteriorating situation there.
India’s strategy---if it can be called that---is limited to exchanging dossiers on terrorism with Pakistan, and threatening war through media channels every other day. The absence of dialogue, or as a senior retired diplomat said, even basic strategic thinking has pushed India out on the periphery with even that position----as the meeting above indicated--now under serious threat.
PM Modi’s visit to the US this time wove itself around investment, with the occasion providing a great photo opportunity. However, except for promises, little of substance was placed on the table, well placed sources said, to convince American business that the bottlenecks will be removed at break neck speed, which is what most of them reportedly insisted on.
The strategic agenda, if it existed, was barely visible during this visit by PM Modi even as China’s premier Xi Jianping on his first state visit to the US moved out of the ‘grand events” frame for an itinerary that was broad based, substantive and strategic. The focus points of his discussions with US President Barack Obama and top officials were cybersecurity where gaps were narrowed, climate change that remains with both still on the same page although with differences, South China Sea where there has been little breakthrough as yet, all under the enveloping blanket of Xi’s avowed aim to develop a “great power relationship” with the US.
The cooperation on Afghanistan, with China now sharing the grand high table with the US, is clearly a major move forward in this direction. China’s interest in Afghanistan shifted from the financial to the strategic about two years ago according to experts here. In fact the Wall Street Journal the first to take note of the shift wrote: During Afghanistan’s tumultuous political transition last year, Chinese security officials began visiting Kabul regularly, and expressed concerns about militant havens, according to a former senior Afghan security official.
Franz-Michael Mellbin, the European Union envoy to Afghanistan, said he first noticed increased Chinese interest in Afghanistan in 2013. “They have been looking for an area to expand their foreign policy toolbox,” he said, “but also doing it in a way that would not be seen strategically threatening to the U.S.”
During an October conference on Afghanistan in Beijing, a Chinese general surprised some U.S. participants by suggesting the Pentagon inquire about a joint effort with China to train Afghan security forces, say people familiar with the matter.”’
This was followed by a secret meeting of the Taliban in China in May, this year, with the news being leaked at the time to the Wall Street Journal in the U.S. Top officials from Afghanistan and Pakistan were present at the meeting, that really became the turn point for full blown Chinese participation in the Afghan peace process. The U.S has been in close contact with Beijing with Secretary of State John Kerry speaking highly of the new found cooperation with China at the New York meeting just a day ago. He went on to describe China “as a country that understands very deeply the cross currents in Afghanistan.”
Relations between China and Pakistan are close and strategic, leading to discomfort in New Delhi and also Washington, that the latter has clearly overcome. The Wall Street Journal quoted Hu Shisheng, an Afghanistan expert at the China Institutes of Contemporary International Relations, a think tank linked to the Ministry of State Security saying that the training of Afghan forces outside Afghanistan by both US and China was seen as “feasible and realistic.” The two countries are jointly training diplomats as well.
Pakistan is supportive, with a foreign ministry statement from Islamabad maintaining earlier that the Sharif government will work closely with China to support the Afghan peace process. U.S media reports also suggest a lowering of tensions with senior officials being quoted as saying that they do not see China as a competitor to its relations with Afghanistan and Pakistan. The major meeting in New York was a clear example of this major shift in policy, with close coordination being the key word even as India is eased out. Or as a source said, eases itself out of the Afghan peace process altogether.