New Delhi: As Russia, China and Pakistan work towards building a new axis in Afghanistan to accommodate Taliban as a tool against the Islamic Sate terror group, it could have unforeseen consequences for the RussiaIndia relationship.
On Tuesday, China, Pakistan and Russia met in Moscow to discuss Afghanistan’s “deteriorating” security situation, despite strong protests from the Afghan government. The three countries relented towards the end of the day’s discussions and said that they would expand the group to include Afghanistan the next time. There is already a move to induct Iran into this group.
Nandan Unnikrishnan, Russia analyst at Observer Research Foundation, said, “In the present context of limited communication between India and Russia, Russia’s actions could lead to a drift in relations.” India only recently reaffirmed its ties with Russia by announcing almost $10 billion in defence purchases from Moscow.
The statement issued at the end of the meeting said, “The Russian Federation and the People’s Republic of China as the UN Security Council permanent members confirmed their flexible approach to delisting Afghan individuals from the UN sanctions lists as their contribution to the efforts aimed at launching peaceful dialogue between Kabul and Taliban.”
This could, if Russia and China press ahead, and if the US does not block, result in the removal of some top Taliban leaders from the UNSC sanctions list. Afghanistan, incidentally, has asked for the new Taliban chief to be included in the list.
Conspicuous by its absence at the meet was India, which continues to hold Taliban as the biggest threat in Afghanistan. Besides India, the Afghan government and the US both agree to this.
The Afghan government is currently going through its own political crisis, with the two key leaders of the unity government, Presi dent Ashraf Ghani and CEO Abdullah Abdullah, at loggerheads. The US, which has 9,800 troops in a counter-terrorism role is unsure of how it will utilise its presence in Afghanistan under a Trump administration.
India is holding on to the “red lines” for integration of Taliban into the Afghan government but that seems to be getting diluted by the new axis, which is less Afghan-led and more Pakistan-led, putting Pakistan once again in the driver’s seat on Afghanistan’s future.
Iran, which has been doing its own outreach to Taliban, is equally apprehensive of the fallout of IS cadres relocating to Afghanistan as they get driven out of Syria and Iraq.
This is essentially a return to the good-Taliban, bad-Taliban argument, as everybody wants to do a peace settlement in Afghanistan. India will remain out of this move yet again. Russia is looking for two things -an opening to Pakistan and a lever against IS that Moscow believes could be at its doorstep, given Russians form the largest group of IS fighters. The last time Russia was on India’s side. But this time, Russia says its more worried about the IS than about losing India’s friendship.