Considering the fragile state of India-China relations and the breakdown of the last round of military commanders' talks on Ladakh, it is no surprise that Beijing has opted out of India’s Afghanistan meet on Wednesday. This will be the first major conference hosted by National Security Adviser Ajit Doval for fellow NSAs of the region as the neighbours come to grips with Afghanistan’s new reality.
As an important player in Asia, India believes it has a stake in ensuring that the fallout from an unstable Afghanistan is contained. The fact that Russia, Iran, and several Central Asian countries are coming for the dialogue on Afghanistan indicates the common concerns of the region. If New Delhi was of no relevance, none of the other countries would waste time attending the meeting, said P.S.Raghavan, a former ambassador to Moscow. Russia’s NSA Nikolay Patrushev who was here in September for talks with Doval is expected to arrive early Wednesday. He and his Indian counterpart are in close touch on Afghanistan.
Expectedly Pakistan had turned down India’s invitation on the grounds that "A spoiler can’t be a peacemaker" bent on ensuring that New Delhi does not claw its way back to relevance in Afghanistan. Like Pakistan, China is not in any mood to accommodate India’s interests in Afghanistan. Islamabad, which played an important part in getting the Taliban to negotiate with the Americans, had from the beginning dubbed India a spoiler in Afghanistan and persuaded the US, Iran and China to cut New Delhi out of major meetings. Russia, Iran, and China were together in wanting American troops out of the region would give in to Islamabad’s wish. So did the US, desperate to get its troops out of that country.
Today with the US out of Afghanistan, the situation is very different. All of Afghanistan’s neighbours and regional players have common concerns. As ambassador Raghavan puts it ``None of these countries want an extremist Islamic state in Afghanistan. Terrorism emanating from that country is a headache for all. All neighbours want to see an inclusive government in Kabul. Apart from terrorism, the flow of drugs from Afghanistan is another issue that binds them. The Delhi Security Dialogue will consider all these issues.’’
Central Asian countries, once part of the Soviet Union, are largely secular and are fighting Islamic groups in their own backyard. These nations know that radical groups across the world are energised by the Taliban victory in Kabul. Their interest to ensure that political Islam does not creep into their people is on top of the agenda. Keeping its former republics in its sphere of influence and insulating the region from religious extremist is also important to Russia.
The first meeting of five nation NSAs were held in Iran in 2018. Participants were India, China, Russia, Afghanistan and Iran. The second NSA meet was again in Iran in December 2019. The circle was larger this time with the inclusion of Uzbekistan and Tajikistan. The theme of the meeting was Peace and Stability in Afghanistan. Pakistan was also invited but asked Iran to drop India from the meeting. Iran refused and Pakistan did not attend. This will be the third meeting of NSA’s and this time many more Central Asian countries were invited by Doval. Apart from Tajikistan, Turkmenistan and Uzbekistan, who share a border with Afghanistan, Kazakhstan and Kyrgyzstan who are not immediate neighbours are expected.
What Doval is aiming through calling the Delhi Security Dialogue on Afghanistan, is to show India’s relevance. ``India is trying to write back the script in Afghanistan since being marginalised after August 15,’’ says Nandan Unnikrishnan, a Russia and Central Asian expert from the Delhi-based Observer Research Foundation. Pakistan may be calling the shots at the moment, but once the Taliban government settles down, India could once again make an appearance. So far the Taliban has not been recognised officially by the international community, not even by Pakistan. During the first Taliban government in Kabul, India was completely out of the scene. Yet in 2001, India made its presence felt and for the next twenty years spread its footprints in that country. It may be out of the picture now but international politics is never static.