India faces a volatile situation in Afghanistan. The withdrawal of the NATO forces has imperilled its stakes in that country. India stuck to its policy of an Afghan-owned, Afghan-led, and Afghan-controlled peace process, while other countries were engaging directly with the Taliban. Its options were also curtailed by the influence of Rawalpindi on the Taliban.
Russia, China, Pakistan, Turkey and Iran are talking to various stakeholders following the withdrawal of the US forces. New Delhi’s interests converge with Tehran and Moscow on Afghanistan. “Therefore, it is not surprising that external affairs minister Jaishankar is pro-actively engaging with these two states. The Shanghai Cooperation Organisation is another forum which can play a stabilising role in Afghanistan,” says Prof Rajan Kumar, School of International Studies, JNU, Delhi.
“If you may recall, a controversy had erupted over Russia not inviting India for a conference on Afghanistan on March 18, 2021. Russia, the US, China and Pakistan along with representatives of Afghanistan participated in that conference. A section of Indian media wrongly interpreted it as a betrayal by a close friend. Moscow clarified that India was not a part of that ongoing process of dialogue on Afghanistan. This was followed by Russia’s Foreign Minister, Sergei Lavrov’s visit to New Delhi in early April 2021, who was accompanied by Russia’s special envoy on Afghanistan, Zamir Kabulov. This was perhaps an attempt by Moscow to assuage New Delhi’s concerns,” Prof Rajan observes.
According to him, “India engaged with multiple stakeholders, but put its premium on the government of Ashraf Ghani.The political atmosphere is deteriorating fast in Kabul. There seems to be a realisation that either a change of regime will happen or the struggle among the various forces will intensify. In any case, the security situation will deteriorate and it will have direct implications for the neighbouring countries. Since New Delhi is hesitant in initiating a dialogue with the Taliban, the second-best option is to become the part of dialogue processes being undertaken by various countries.”
External Affairs Minister Dr Jaishankar is in Moscow, and he has already met with his Russian counterpart Sergey Lavrov. The current deteriorating security situation in Afghanistan, which is a matter of concern not only for India but the region following the withdrawal of the NATO forces, was discussed. The two sides also talked about other bilateral and regional issues of mutual interest. There were also meetings with Deputy Prime Minister Yuri Borisov and Chair of the State Duma Committee on International Affairs, Leonid Slatski.
On his way to Moscow, the minister had made a stopover in Tehran. And called on the President-elect Ayatollah Sayyid Ebrahim Raisi and handed over a personal message from Prime Minister Narendra Modi. Later he held a meeting with Foreign Minister Dr Javad Zarif.
Besides the situation in Afghanistan, other issues of mutual interests were discussed in Iran.
Also on the agenda of talks in both Tehran and Moscow were the Connectivity initiatives in the region. This includes the International North South Transport Corridor (INSTC) and Chabahar Port.
On Thursday, the minister while addressing a Think tank in Moscow said that there is no nuclear arms race between India and China and that both countries acquired the nuclear weapons with different objectives.
In his address he said, “The Chinese decided to make nuclear weapons which were mainly focused on the US and the Soviet Union. China became a nuclear power in 1964, and India in 1998. Therefore, the history, the scale and the nature of the Chinese programme, is more linked to the US and Russia.”
He also stated that “India, is aiming only for a minimum deterrent”. And, the only other country which hinted at that when they made nuclear weapons was France, though “they were not as explicit as we were.”
According to him, the evolution of the Chinese nuclear programme has a much larger dynamic than India.
On the ongoing standoff in Ladakh, the minister said that India and China had a “very stable’’ relationship for the last 40 years despite several challenges. However, the relationship has been strained since 2020. Because of the standoff along the eastern Ladakh, followed by the June clash between the forces of the sides in which India lost 20 soldiers, the relationship is strained. “The relationship and the foundation has got disturbed,” he added.
As agreed by the leaders of India and Russia, the stage is set for the 2+2 dialogue, which is expected to “provide a new vitality” to bilateral ties. Both sides are going to focus on military-to-military ties, which also includes maritime domain too.