With little on the ground in Afghanistan, and arch-foe Pakistan on the driver’s seat in Kabul, India realises the importance of old friend Russia, in walking through the minefield in the Taliban controlled nation. Diplomats across the world trying to come to grips with the new reality in Afghanistan as they continue to exchange views on how best to manoeuvre their way with the Taliban.
Though India has no leverage in Afghanistan, as an important regional power in the neighbourhood Delhi is also a pit stop for many. Nikolai Patrushev, secretary to security council of Russia was in India on a two-day visit, meeting his counterpart NSA Ajit Doval. He also called on Prime Minister Narendra Modi and foreign minister Subramanyam Jaishankar. On the same day CIA boss Willian Burns was also in town for consultations. A little earlier Britain’s spy chief Richard Moore was in the capital for a meeting with Doval and other Indian top leaders.
Security has now become a major issue for the world as the hard-line Taliban now in positions of power in Kabul, have links with major Islamic terror groups. Though the ISIS-K, responsible for the suicide blast in the Kabul airport which killed 170 Afghans as well as 13 US marines, have major differences with the Taliban, the chaotic condition prevailing in Afghanistan is fertile ground for the ISIS-Khorasan to thrive.
Security threat is of great concern to India. It cannot depend on either China or Pakistan and can rely on trusted ally Russia, which now has some leverage with the Taliban and excellent ties with the Central Asian Republics to keep New Delhi in the loop. It is not surprising that on August 24, when the situation in Afghanistan was deteriorating, Prime Minister Narendra Modi and President Vladimir Putin spoke to each other. India and Russia are on the same page on Afghanistan, despite Moscow’s outreach to the Taliban at a time when New Delhi had turned its back on the group. Modi and Putin decided to keep in touch on developments in Afghanistan and reinvigorate bilateral anti-terror cooperation.
Russia is wary of Islamic groups spreading their net across central Asia and into Russia’s predominantly Muslim region of Chechnya. Chechen groups had targeted Moscow and carried out several daring terror attacks. In the past, Chechen groups had targeted Moscow and carried out several daring terror attacks. One reason for Russia’s engagement with the Taliban was to ensure that Islamic groups are not allowed into its territory and to the Central Asian Republics, which Moscow regards as its backyard. In fact Russia had also advised India to begin engaging with the US, realising that the time was not far-off when US would quit Afghanistan. India’s worry is Kashmir and the possibility of jihadi fighters entering the valley to target Indian forces battling separatists in Kashmir. Delhi believes that Pakistan’s spy agency may try to smuggle through the fighters.
The visit of Nikolai Patrushev yesterday was a follow up to the phone conversation between the Prime Minister and President Putin. The focus naturally was on Afghanistan and its military, political and socio-economic situation. The two senior officials decided to ``intensifying joint work of the both country’s special services and military bodies,’’ a statement released by the Russian embassy said. It also emphasised ``deepening bilateral cooperation in the field of security with an emphasis on further interaction on the anti-terrorist track.’’ So intelligence sharing on Afghanistan and tracking movement of terror groups will be pivotal to intelligence cooperation.
In public perception Russia is seen to have abandoned India and is in the camp of India’s enemies, China and Pakistan. With India’s growing convergence of interest with the US, and Washington’s testy ties with both Russia and China, the common theory is that India and Russia are now on opposite sides of the ideological divide. But Afghanistan has made New Delhi realise the folly of ignoring Vladimir Putin’s Russia. India is now on a course correction mode and is repairing ties with Moscow. But public perception and what is reflected on television chatter is far from the truth. Fact is that in changing world nations are all trying to adjust to suit their particular national interest. Every country is hedging its bets, while not abandoning strategic allies.
Russia’s move towards China is primarily because it was isolated following the annexation of Crimea. Yet there is no love lost between the two. Russia certainly does not want China to be the only power in Asia, and would not take kindly to China spreading its wings in its Central Asian backyard. It will not want China to be a dominant power in Eurasia.
Despite public perception, India -Russia ties have remained firm. There is no question of either country wanting to break the traditional strong political ties, which has served both sides well,’’ says Nandan Unnikrishnan a Russia speaking expert of the New Delhi based think tank, Observer Research Foundation. "The Putin-Modi informal summit in Sochi in May 2018, cleared many of the misperceptions," Unnikrishnan explained. He points to the fact that Modi was committed to purchase the S400 missile system from Russia despite tremendous pressure from the Trump administration and the threat of sanctions. High-level visits and meetings have continued despite the pandemic. Both the defence and foreign ministers were in Moscow last year. During the India-China standoff in Ladakh last year, Russia obliged India by sending spare parts quickly. India may have diversified buying military hardware but Russia still remains on top. India is now looking to invest in Russia’s the Far East.
During his visit to Vladivostok in 2019, the Prime Minister announced a one-billion-dollar credit line for the development of the region. Petroleum minister Hardeep Puri’s visit early this month is an indication that India is looking to further investment and cooperation with Russia’s rich Far Eastern region.