NSAs meet on Afghanistan: Delhi’s unidimensional approach falters

India left to watch key Afghan talks from sidelines

Politics

November 10, 2021

/ By / New Delhi

NSAs meet on Afghanistan: Delhi’s unidimensional approach falters

National Security Advisor Ajit Doval chairs the regional security dialogue on Afghanistan

New Delhi’s initiative to lead regional security dialogue in view of the situation in Afghanistan is unlikely to yield any long-term benefit to New Delhi or the region in the absence of four key players – Afghanistan, United States, China and Pakistan. India needs course correction in its foreign policy to build better security environment for itself, and the region.

Today, India’s National Security Adviser Ajit Doval hosts his counterparts from seven countries to discuss the security situation in the region, notably to curb export of terror and drugs from a beleaguered Afghanistan, following the fall of the country to the Taliban three months ago.

The move in itself is a welcome initiative as India is almost certain to be the one country that faces the biggest threat from the rather sudden, but not surprising, downfall of the Afghanistan government led by President Ashraf Ghani after the United States pulled out its last remaining troops from the ground in August.

Over the past three months, as the Taliban have settled in the chair in Presidential Palace in Kabul, it has become increasingly clear that the power dynamics in the Palace and the country have swivelled dramatically, but mainly from the point of view of two South Asian capitals – Islamabad and New Delhi.

While Pakistan is back in the game as one of the key interlocuters, thanks to its two-decade long hosting and promoting Taliban despite the ongoing war in Afghanistan, India has been abruptly ejected from the seat at the power table that it had come to occupy in the period that the Taliban was out of power.

The three principal interlocuters – the United States, Russia and China – have remained the same, but Pakistan has replaced India at the table and there has been hardly anything that India has or could have done to counter it, largely because of its flawed foreign policy approach which has seen India’s relations with both of its largest neighbours – China and Pakistan – nosedive to near historic lows or as is the case with China, to its worst ties in living memory.

Thus, while Doval holds forth on India’s vision for the development of a peaceful and secure environment in South Asia and Central Asia and a peaceful Afghanistan, the missing pivots make the talks simply theoretical and up in the air as any decision arrived at this meeting, which is anyway highly unlikely, is certain to be cast aside by the Taliban as well as Islamabad and Beijing.

Moreover, tomorrow, Pakistan hosts a talk of the countries that currently hold the strings in the beleaguered Afghanistan – the Troika+1, meaning the US, Russia, China and Pakistan – and of course the Taliban shall be duly present.

India should have been present in this dialogue in Islamabad but was not invited largely because neither the Taliban, not Pakistan or China want New Delhi to play any role in the development of future of Afghanistan. For Pakistan, it is more than anything perhaps a revenge for the period that it watched the developments in Kabul from the sidelines while India had a key place at the table in talks about Afghanistan. Moreover, Pakistan is certainly wary of even letting the highly unlikely scenario of the Taliban being swayed by India as it could cost Islamabad its most important trump card in the games that it plays against India.

China, for one, has boycotted the New Delhi meeting as well as would stridently stand against letting India join the Troika+1 talks as it is furious about the direction that India’s foreign and security policy has taken over the past seven years, getting so close to the United States that makes India seem more like a NATO ally than an independent power.

Indeed, on numerous occasions China has referred, formally and informally, to India’s increasing dependence on the US and New Delhi submitting its own foreign policy to the ‘diktats’ from Washington DC. The Chinese observations are not highly exaggerated as indeed India seems to have tied its foreign and security policies intricately with that of the US and its key allies in the region. This is reflected not just in the rapid uptake in US defence equipment by India but also New Delhi joining wholeheartedly the ‘China containment’ policy of the US.

The unprecedented nature of ties between the US and India has also alarmed Russia and it is evident in Moscow’s response to various developments that affect India. For instance, the Russian Special Envoy to Afghanistan had pointed out India’s proximity to the US and expressed concern about it and added that it was the primary reason India was not trusted by some members of Troika+1.

The US has ignored India’s plight as it has not even initiated any move to include India in the key discussions but seems happy with the current situation, as is evident from the upcoming visit of the US Special Envoy to Afghanistan. He will participate in the key meet in Islamabad and then travel to New Delhi, perhaps to update India on the discussions.

It is indeed a sad state of affairs that the country that would be worst impacted by the Afghan debacle is the only one that has to depend on an interlocutor to get a word in on the discussions that could shape the future of Afghanistan.

Even beyond Afghanistan, India has been discovering that mending ties with its neighbours is crucial for it to focus its efforts on development. For that it needs an urgent course correction in its foreign and security policies and re-emerge as an independent power in the Asia Pacific region, rather than a mere pawn on the US gameboard, which unfortunately it has come increasingly to resemble.

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