Another foolish China-siding gesture in the works?

Image result for pics of Indian foreign secretary v gokhale with chinese leaders

[Foreign Secretary Gokhale with Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi]

President Donald Trump has announced a general military withdrawal of US military forces from various locations, in the main, Iraq and Afghanistan. These two countries are semi- permanently destabilized, turned into perennial hot spots-cum-enduring sources of worry for countries in the vicinity owing to the original, ill-advised, armed American intervention. So, the US scooting out of trouble they created for themselves and the world is not new, having done it first in Vietnam  and, in this Century, in Iraq and Afghanistan — in each case being bloodied by hard-charging denizens of these states who felt hard done by the Americans and decided to act.

The people most allergic to foreign dictation are, of course, the Vietnamese and the Afghans — the latter a particularly nettlesome lot and, in the modern era, the only Asians not to be conquered and colonized by the West. So when the Americans with their crass over-confidence chose to  go punitive and hunt for the al-Qaeda leaders in the hills and remove the Taliban regime in Afghanistan that hosted them after 9/11, it was only a matter of time before they were served their just desserts. After spending $50 billion annually for the last 17 years for a total of some $850 billion  — in excess of trillion $ actually if the costs of the prep, etc are counted — an exhausted US is hightailing it back to CONUS, letting Kabul and the rest of that country slip back to the Taliban. So much for going nowhere fast and losing  a fortune in the bargain — just the sort of deal Afghans have time and again imposed on intruders.

What the US Special Envoy Zalmay Khalilzad is negotiating with the Taliban is plain: a fig-leaf for an American military pullout. He may not get it. The Taliban who sense power once again in their grasp have rejected out of hand Washington’s suggestion of peace talks involving all Afghan parties, and vetoed sitting across the table with the Ashraf Ghani government reps considered by them as American puppets. Indeed, the growing irrelevance of the Ghani regime is reflected in the report of  the Special Investigator General for Afghan Reconstruction, which the Pakistani press reports as revealing the tenuous hold of the US-assisted Kabul government. It controls only 219 of Afghanistan’s 407 districts, or 54 % of the territory. This claim is however refuted by independent sources who say the Afghan security forces securely control only 35% of the country, of the rest 12% is controlled by the Taliban and 34% is contested ground.

After six days of hard negotiations (January 21-26)  in Doha from which the Ghani government was excluded on Taliban’s say-so, two things are clear. One, that no deal was hammered out, nor is any on the horizon. And secondly that the Taliban are divided between the hardliners who are willing to talk and the extremists who believe the consolidation of jihad and the spirit of the fighting cadres will suffer by merely interacting with US. While the former are keen to hasten American departure by hammering out a face-saving way out for Washington, the latter more dominant school are convinced US troops will, in any case, leave before Trump gets into the 2020 presidential election cycle and, therefore, no concession need be made to the US, in which event, Kabul will fall into its lap like a plum.

All the stuff about Khalilzad and the Taliban coming to an understanding about a ceasefire followed by a coalition government to run the country, and the US being allowed to retain a small force in Afghanistan is a lot of diplomatic hoo-ha.  Afghans are no damn fools when deal with Americans who they see as intent on cutting and running.

The Ghani government was also kept out of the soiree in Moscow of Afghan leaders from various factions — the Northern Alliance leaders Atta Mohammad Noor, Yunus Qanuni, Mohaqiq, a collection of Pathans, such as former president Hamid Karzai, Hanif Atmar and Syed Hamid Gilani, and a Taliban team headed by Sher Mohammad Abbas Stanakzai. This Meet too, other than showing a Russian hand in the pot, achieved little.

The Modi dispensation, as ever dependent on Washington to do its hard work, was taken aback by Trump’s decision to get the US forces out at any cost because, apparently, it isn’t aware that America is already humiliated, its vaunted Special Forces-led effort proving no match for the Taliban. But more, Modi, Doval and Co., seem unable to grasp the simple truth that there’s no fight left in the Americans and Trump is not one — as he has proved — to fight a war for another country’s sake, least of all India which he views as a contemptibly weak country he can jerk around at any time. Like on H1B visa and “chain immigration” issues.

In this context, Delhi’s interest has been defined at a pollyanna-ish level for consumption by the West as the need to safeguard the infrastructure built by Indian engineers with Indian money and the ongoing investment in other development projects — all worth more than $3 billon, and its policy of doing good by the Afghan people. The dark side of India’s apprehensions has, however, to do with “Islamic inclusivism” but in an emirate that the Taliban have offered as a sop. What it means is anyone’s guess. However, the return of Taliban rule it is feared would have battle-hardened Taliban fighters, the various Lashkars in Pakistan preoccupied with  Kashmir, Islamic State remnants streaming back from the Syrian war zone, and activated IS sleeper cells, all  relying on Pakistan’s tested infrastructure to support  terrorism, combining to  realize the longstanding Islamic fantasy of Ghuzwatul-Hind — a prophecy of the Islamic conquest of Hindustan that finds repeated mention in the Hadith.

Except, this madcap notion exactly overlays the extremist Hindu fear and dislike of Muslims that the RSS ideology reflects, and which fuels the paranoia and over the past five years has led Modi repeatedly to spurn peace initiatives by Pakistan, most recently by Prime Minister Imran Khan.  If Imran, like earlier Pakistani PMs, dutifully talks about “atrocities” in “Indian-occupied Kashmir”, why is it surprising? But, equally, both he and the Man who really matters in that country, General Qamar Bajwa are one in hinting that such ejaculations should be taken as the usual wallpaper — an inert aspect — of Indo-Pak diplomacy  and ought not to prevent the two sides from talking formally to each other. Common sense, which is generally missing in our foreign policy, would suggest that talks, any kind of formal or even back-channel dialogue, is more likely to incentivize Islamabad and, depending on the stakes created by these talks and actions Delhi could mount in support of them, motivate it to clamp down on the jihadis, than if Modi carried on as he has done.

So instead of working with Islamabad to put a lid on potential Islamist troublemakers that the Imran regime is wary about, what the Modi government is contemplating is partnering China in containing the Afghanistan problem. It is a policy balloon the MEA has put out to see if it flies. Is working with China the answer, considering Beijing has remorselessly reduced India into a nonentity in the subcontinent, and shrunk its vestigial influence in the extended region in every possible way? Who’s the source of such damn fool ideas?

It is not hard to surmise that it comes from the Chinese-speaking quarter of the Ministry. These diplomats who have spent long years in China or on the China watch, like their counterparts in other countries are mesmerized by the zhanguo — “the central kingdom” to a point where they become Beijing’s apologists, promoters of the Chinese perspective, and even protectors of China’s interests to the detriment of that of their home country. We have such a  mandarin, Vijay Gokahle, heading the Foreign Office. On what basis does Gokhale think the interests of India and China converge on any thing, and Afghanistan in particular? Beijing would rather have Pakistan in the driver’s seat. Does that suit Messrs Modi and Doval?

India has the choice to get together with Imran-Bajwa’s Pakistan and the Afghan disputants and, using diplomatic finesse, get the US, Russia and China out of the huddle and, progressively, out of the game. Because of its anti-Pakistan prejudice Modi will obviously reject this option. Or, it can be the spoiler, injecting India forcefully into the Afghan mix by channeling a lot of monies and war materiel to trusted friends in the Northern Alliance and to certain sections of the Afghan Taliban and Pakistani Taliban Delhi has long cultivated, and otherwise to emerge as a party every side wants not to muck around and mess up things for everybody. It is the sort of disruptive role Modi has shown he has no imagination to conceive or stomach to implement.

So the third safe, passive, option of doing nothing beckons and is what Modi will choose: India, as always, will squirm on the sidelines, ride on the American military bandwagon as far as it will go, then jump off and clamber on to the Chinese jalopy. Except, the road the last will take is the CPEC.

About Bharat Karnad

Senior Fellow in National Security Studies at the Centre for Policy Research, New Delhi, he was Member of the (1st) National Security Advisory Board and the Nuclear Doctrine-drafting Group, and author, among other books of, 'Nuclear Weapons and Indian Security: The Realist Foundations of Strategy', 'India's Nuclear Policy' and most recently, 'Why India is Not a Great Power (Yet)'. Educated at the University of California (undergrad and grad), he was Visiting Scholar at Princeton University, University of Pennsylvania, the Shanghai Institutes of International Studies, and Henry L. Stimson Center, Washington, DC.
This entry was posted in Afghanistan. Bookmark the permalink.

7 Responses to Another foolish China-siding gesture in the works?

  1. ankithood says:

    Sir, any hope of india putting troops on ground in Afghanistan, perhaps forming a joint indo-afghan army which may have legitimacy in Afghanistan of being one’s own and may work as a eye wash for military support to northern alliance.
    Or perhaps bifurcation of Afghanistan?

  2. Rupam says:

    Bharat Karnad ji I do not seem get it, on one hand you say there are jihadist who want to wage their religious war on the other hand you seem to say the Hindu fear of this conquest of India by Islam which is pretty clear from prior evidence is unfounded. Do you mean to say that if the govt. were to follow the steps as you have suggested in Foreign Policy, simply out of economic concerns the attacks will cease. Do you think that Indian Muslims as a whole are not susceptible to larger Islamic goal of Gazwa i Hind. Even when evidence is abound with steady increase in population. Formation of ghettos in cities. Various Atrocities such as forced conversions, rape, torture, kidnapping of Hindu women systematically carried out. Or do you mean to say that After all this, nothing can be done for now and the aim should be to first get our external security in order. You also say the Hindu pandering govt., I would really like that you get in touch with not secular Hindus and the champagne drinking Lutyens Hindu but the ordinary temple going Hindu to know really how much minority pandering and anti-Hindu this govt. has been really.

    • Yes. If the Pakistan establishment — the army, political class and bureaucracy who are on the same page as regards the dangers posed by the Islamic extremists to their state — is given an economic lifeline, whence the sheer necessity and the relief of not going under economically will overcome any residual resistance offered by those (mostly in the ISI) dreaming of balkanizing India or fueling the Ghuzwatul-Hind ambitions.

      • Rupam says:

        That is a pretty big ‘IF’ when there is abundant historical evidence against it. Our country had trade relations with the west before the Islamic invasions from the time of Al Kawarizmi who took maths from here to there. But why did they attack us. Ghori was repelled 17 times by Prithviraj Chauhan and still he kept attacking. If economic stability and wealth was their goal why do they proclaim the killing of infidels and kafirs as their right and their goal in their records. If economic stability was the goal then why has the Indic minority in Pakistan, Bangladesh, Indonesia, Afghanistan etc. is close being zero now, while we have more Muslims with a steady rate of increase in their population. Why is it that if a locality is majority filled with Muslims then it becomes difficult for Hindus to live there and they are driven out? In your latest book you say deification cows is unraveling the delicate sociocultural weave and undermining social harmony. Now I do not seem understand, if majority of this country is Hindu and our culture is Hindu and we treat cows as sacred and will not tolerate killing of cows then what is wrong with it. Have we ever went in the west and gave them sermons to not kill cows? No we do not want that to occur in our land. Also when there is scientific evidence that the rearing of animals for the meat industry is creating a severe burden on our soil and other resources couples with other adverse environmental problems. Why is there rampant cow smuggling when those cows are the livelyhood of farmers? Why are people who try to prevent this are brutally killed even police officers are killed? Why do we get periodic display killing of cows and then public display of the carcass in order to hurt our sentiments. Do you mean that we Hindus should take this lying down to support an illegal activity that is hurting our families and community and strengthening theirs.
        If economics was all their is to it, then why did the Moplah riots occur, Noakhali riots occur, Partition riots occur, Direct action day, 1971 genocide of the Bangladeshi Hindus (which is conveniently ignored and suppressed) and their women raped by the Pakistan army. If economics was all their is to it, why were Hindus massacred in Rakhine province in Myanmar? If economics is only concern why is citizenship bill being opposed by Muslims in Assam?
        If economics was all there it to it, then why was Pakistan demanded in the first place, most of the proponents of Pakistan were not ordinary people on the road but educated and rich people.
        The Pakistan Army’s motto “taqwa, imam, jihad fi abdillah” is itself enlightening as to what their major aim is.
        You also mention in your latest book random killing of Muslim and Dalits. Now I do not seem to understand this correlation and this suggestion that the govt. supports the Hindus in unjust killing of Muslims without any proper examination of evidence in most cases and even evidence to support that we Hindus are out there to go and kill all Muslims when evidence is to the contrary. Also I see that you seem to ignore the rampant killing of our men and kidnapping, rape and forced conversions of our women and girls by Muslims. You also seem to ignore that many of the killing of Dalits also was perpetrated by Muslims and when that is not the case, rather than the case being that of murder, it is later revealed that the killing took place due to something else rather than being motivated just because the person was a Dalit. If economics was all their is to it why did Saudi Arabia give $1 billion to Pakistan to get it out of debt.

        Do you not think that the impression that you get that should the Indian Govt. follow your steps then the Pakistan establishment will stop the attacks is exactly what they want to give out. This is standard playbook of Islam and it adherents ‘Taiqiya’ to deny their motive and aim and misdirect the enemy to save themselves. While Pakistan is fighting a war using Jihadists now, do you not think that with the added economic prosperity they will further incorporate the army into their operations. Do you not think that the impression that you get that the Pakistan establishment is also fearful of the Jihadis is exactly what they want to show you.

        Now a foreign example, if economics was all their is to it, why is it that even in developed countries we see social harmony being disrupted in places where immigrants from Muslim countries settle. Why did the London grooming gangs originate where all the men were of Pakistani origin and the cause of their actions were attributed to their religious beliefs?

        For how Pakistan establishment is motivated if possible check this out:

        For scientific analysis and pros/cons of meat industry and the affect on econonmy and environment check these out if possible:

        For effect of Religious demography on social harmony etc. check this out if possible:

        Also I would suggest you check out and to understand the above mentioned points more if interested, and why they are correct.

  3. s raja says:

    Dear Sir,
    Humans generally avoid forests where wild animals reside.

  4. Megs says:

    The aspects which stand out about the analysis, as is the case with most of them coming from Dr Karnad, is that it is high on rhetoric, fleshing out strands that tease and tantalise, but the take-aways do not matter much in terms of policy or pragmatism.
    Firstly, lets take talks with Pakistan. How many times have we gone through this ‘talk-attack-sulk-talk’ cycle earlier? Only to burn our fingers? Isn’t it ironical that ‘India’s foremost conservative strategist’ is advocating unconditional talks with a country that has waged a 30 year long proxy war with India. So after losing thousands of soldiers and civilians in this war, India, the stronger power in thiswhich has an upperhand in the war, will now sue for peace talks at Mr Karnad’s suggestion! Clearly, Mr Karnad has been taken in by Imran’s yorkers, meant to fox the unsuspecting analyst at the striking end. Isn’t it apparent that its a tactical ploy by Bajwa and Co, to keep the level of hostility down and bide time till they regain their economic health? If they were so serious, how about the leaders of Kashmiri terrorist groups operating from PoK announcing a cease-fire, or proposing one, at the behest of the establishment ? Can Mr Karnad get it generated through his interlocutors?
    Secondly, lets come to the situation in Afghanistan. Mr Karnad suggests “channeling a lot of monies and war materiel to trusted friends in the Northern Alliance and to certain sections of the Afghan Taliban and Pakistani Taliban Delhi has long cultivated”. Can such an approach be a long term policy choice to bring stability to Afghanistan? By creating more mess, can India solve the current mess? How many more lives need to be taken before the futility of warring is realised by Afghans themselves? Betrays a very shallow understanding of the processes at play.
    At a time when Russia, China, Iran are welcoming our reach-out to join regional efforts in bringing about a mediated solution, and US too has factored India’s bottom-line in its vexed negotiations with Taliban thus far, does a disruptive approach of creating more violence in a trouble torn country make any sense?
    Thirdly, the a word about Dr Karnad’s comments about the proposed cooperation with China, and his needless personal attack on the current Foreign Secretary. Appalling is the word. In the backdrop of the rapidly changing US policy, a reach-out to China seems a very sensible, and pragmatic thing to do, given the leverage it has with a majority of stakeholders who can influence the Afghan reconciliation. China has developed its own communication channel with the Taliban factions, and has close relations with Iran, Russia and of course Pakistan, all of whom matter inthe game. It is the actor which can exercise the largest influence in Pakistan’s behvaiour. So working with China to ensure that own interests remain safeguarded in Afghanistan is not a bad idea at all. Mr Karnad’s long standing personal prejudices against China, and ‘Mandarin speaking’ diplomats in general are evident in the comments. If history, or historical experience was the only thing to go by in diplomacy and statecraft, almost the whole of Asia and Africa would not be on talking terms with the colonial European nations, particularly Britain and France. Japan would not be a close strategic partner of so many ASEAN nations , who were run over by Imperial Japan at some stage, and Vietnam and Philippines would have remained estranged from the US. So, to keep hyping up China’s post-62 behaviour against India, always and everytime, is not likely to help in crafting solutions to emerging problems. Whether Mr Karnad likes it or not, China is rising on an ascendant path, and there is huge asymmetry between India and China in many fields, including defence, in which India is highly import dependent. Dealing with China is a reality of life for India.
    The most bizarre statement of the blog is “India has the choice to get together with Imran-Bajwa’s Pakistan and the Afghan disputants and, using diplomatic finesse, get the US, Russia and China out of the huddle and, progressively, out of the game”. I haven’t heard anything more absurd from a serious analyst lately. Imagine a country, which is propped up by external aid, surviving on hand-outs by opportune friends, and on the FATF Grey list already, keeping three major powers ‘out of the huddle’ on Afghanistan. And for who’s sake – India’s!
    Mt Karnad, I am not sure whom you have been talking to from Pakistan these days to kite-fly these ideas, but whosoever they are, they have taken you for a big ride. Bon voyage! Keep well.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.