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New alliance: India-China exploring joint strategy for Afghanistan
The specter of post 2014 Afghanistan is haunting the regional powers. The Great American retreat is perhaps forcing the allies and enemies of Taliban to discuss their fate on a common platform. The Americans and their western allies may be living in illusion that Afghanistan will continue to be ruled by the democratic forces.

However, it is not a million dollar question and the regional powers have taken it as a foregone conclusion that the bearded Mullahs will take over the country. Afghans are asking, whether the Americans are fleeing their land leaving them in the hands of their Allah? Who will be in charge of Afghanistan after 2014?

Even President Karzai will have to abdicate power, as the next Presidential elections are scheduled in 2014. President Karzai will be completing his two terms, who some how clung to power on the US led NATO support for a decade.

The brazenness with which the Taliban is able to hit the targets according to its chosen time and place has not only terrified the ordinary Afghans but also the foes and friends of Taliban as well.

Only the Pakistani Army seems to be in victorious mood but the civil society is worried as they imagine the consequences of Taliban taking over in Kabul. Also, Pakistan’s all weather friend China is not impressed and in a significant move has asked India to engage in bilateral dialogue with them to safeguard their political and economic interests in the country.

Even the Iranians have assured India that they would not like Taliban to return to power. But, the strategic experts would be observing with great interest the next move of China which is considered an ally of Pakistan and likely to be interested in safeguarding Pakistan’s interests.

But the Chinese have made US$ 3 billion investment in the mining sector of the country which has a potential of unearthing US$ one trillion wealth and Indians have over last one decade took part in the repair of the social and economic impairment caused by the Taliban in the nineties by investing over US$ 2 billion in the social and economic infrastructure of the country, which was very interestingly described by the US Defence Secretary Chuck Hagel as “financing of Pakistan’s problems”

Uncertain future

If the Americans are leaving the country with this mindset, Allah saves them from future 9/11. After withdrawing its forces from Afghanistan, the US administration will wash its sins in its Potomac River and leave the region at the mercy of gun toting Taliban, which will once again try to enforce Sharia law and send the country once again to the dark middle ages.

No country, even Pakistan will be able to face the onslaught of fundamentalists after the rise of Taliban in the war ravaged country, which is struggling hard to stand on its own feet and join the comity of civilized nations.

When the newly nominated defence Secretary Chuck Hagel paid his visit to the militant-ravaged country on 10th March, the Taliban displayed its muscle brazenly and conveyed a stern message to the international powers that their patience and struggle for retaking Kabul will soon be rewarded. In fact the Americans are negotiating with the Taliban, how best to plunder the riches they have created in last 12 years.

But the regional powers are getting jittery as the big question before the international community, especially, the neighboring countries is who will fill the power vacuum in the country?

Will the Afghan National Army be able to sustain its presence even in Kabul, leave alone the rest of the country? Will not the ANA disintegrate? If yes, will Taliban do a cake walk through the roads and streets of Kabul and occupy the palace of the late King Zahir Shah, who was brought from Paris in 2003 to restore the dignity of his country men?

Will the regional powers like China, Russia or Iran rest in peace after the feared return of Taliban to Kabul? No doubt it will be a victory of sorts for Pakistan who was forced by the US Administration to surrender its ambitions of maintaining strategic depth vis a vis India after 9/11.

But Pakistan’s policy of outright support to Taliban may backfire and the Pakistan Taliban will be the biggest gainer, as it will find the dream of occupying Islamabad very easy to achieve. The strong Pakistan army will eventually not allow that but the TTP will certainly not permit the Army and the people of Pakistan to rest in peace.

With these possible scenario countries of the region especially China and India have decided to shed their traditional rivalry and sit together on the table to discuss ways and means to ensure that Afghanistan continues to remain democratic and the Taliban respect the democratic Constitution and allow the country to walk freely on the road to economic development.

In fact the geopolitical location of Afghanistan is so significant that China, India and Russia have similar interest in coming together. In fact India, Russia and Iran were already supporting the Northern Alliance to dethrone the Taliban from Kabul before 9/11.

Similar alliance does not seem probable again as the Iranians would not be comfortable with the presence of American forces in post 2014 Afghanistan. In the coming years the Iranians will not join the same triumvirate to promote its national economic interests, and is likely to be replaced by China, which now has a huge stake in Afghanistan’s democratic stability.

The three countries who already have a trilateral dialogue on various international issues have now specifically taken up the issue of Afghanistan.

India and Russia were already discussing the Afghan issue bilaterally and now China has taken the initiative by approaching India to discuss the issue bilaterally.

Russia believes that if Taliban regains Afghanistan, the Central Asian region will once again become unstable and China has similar concerns regarding the possible export of terrorism to its restive Xinjiang region. India believes that a resurgent Taliban will incite terrorism in Jammu and Kashmir as well.

Security concerns

All three have huge security concerns but they also view the largely barren country as source and medium of economic development for the whole region. It is only possible if peace and stability prevails in the country.

China would like to ride on the credibility of India among Afghans, which at present is known as an ally of Pakistan and which is an anathema among the Afghans.

India would also feel comfortable with Chinese supporting Indian presence in the country which will balance Pakistani efforts to throw India out of the country. If China and India come together on the issue of maintaining peace and stability in Afghanistan, the Pakistani aggressiveness will be taken care of by the Chinese.

The Afghan doomsday scenario and its future patrons are now a huge issue before the concerned neighbors of Afghanistan.

The Afghans, left on their own, will continue to engage in tribal warfare of one-upmanship. Some outside powers are required to guide the Afghans towards a stable democratic polity.

In the absence of the American and Western forces, the regional powers must ensure that a United Nations Peace Keeping Force is deployed in the deeply divided country to maintain law and order and allow the democratic government to rule with ease. Presently, there seems to be no end to the misery of the Afghan people.

Ever since the powerful rulers around the country crisscrossed the area from the beginning of history, the Afghans faced the wrath of the outside powers. Its geographical location should have been a boon for its people but it has proved to be bane for them.

But, after 9/11 Afghanistan witnessed an unprecedented decade of reconstruction and social upliftment and the US administration played a leadership role in this, for which the credit must go to the US administration.

But the US Administration also deserves the discredit for allowing the country to slide into chaos. The regional powers must take the responsibility of ensuring political stability in the country for which countries like India, China, Iran and Russia will have to play a lead role.

The ensuing bilateral dialogue between India and China, India and Iran, India and Russia, India and the US over the future management of Afghanistan should be pursued seriously and honestly so that the entire region collectively benefits from the geopolitical location of the country.

Though Afghanistan has been incorporated into South Asia, it can easily be accommodated either in Central Asia or West Asia. Thus Afghans sits across three major regions of Asia, which can prove to be not only the energy lifeline for the entire continent but source of economic strength for the whole region.

With this objective the bilateral dialogue between India and China must lead to a joint strategy in association with Russia under the aegis of the UN Peacekeeping forces, which will lead to the widening of the alliance with Russia and Iran joining later.