Connect with us

South Asia

India-US 2+2 Dialogue: Removing Suspicions, Institutionalizing Co-operation

Photo: PTI

Published

on

While the world was engrossed in an intensely fought battle for the Oval office between the Democratic candidate Joe Biden and the incumbent US President Donald Trump, far removed from the partisan politics of the US Capitol, a diplomatic event of significant importance took place in New Delhi.

The occasion was the third edition of the India-US “2+2” Ministerial dialogue which was held in New Delhi on October 27, 2020.  While heavily covered in the Indian media, the American media gave it a miss.

The “2+2” Ministerial Dialogue is a relatively recent innovation in India-US relations. The mechanism involves the ministers of Defence and Foreign relations of the two countries meeting jointly to discuss vital aspects of their diplomatic and strategic partnership.

The US delegation was led by Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and the then Defence Secretary Mark Esper while the Indian side was represented by Defence Minister Rajnath Singh and External Affairs Minister S. Jaishankar. On the agenda was the enhancement of the India-US Global Strategic partnership, deepening of the military engagement between the two countries, access to cutting edge US defence hardware and co-ordinated response to the global COVID-19 pandemic.

From the Indian perspective the dialogue mechanism provides a framework for institutionalizing co-operation between the military and diplomatic establishments of both countries and provides a forum for better understanding of each others security compulsions and co-ordination of diplomatic moves on the world stage.

The “2+2” mechanism also addresses a deep-seated grievance in the Indian strategic establishment, that the US State Department and the CIA have historically been favourably disposed towards Pakistan given the long-term relationships built with the Pakistani military-intelligence complex during the Cold War, the anti-Soviet Afghan jihad, and Pakistan’s position as a frontline state during the War on Terror. Conversely, the Pentagon has been much more favourably disposed towards the Indian assertion of Pakistan being a global hub of Islamic terrorism, as it has had to fight against ISI-backed Taliban insurgents for the last two decades in Afghanistan. The burgeoning US-India military-to-military relations are a case in point with the Pentagon keen on engaging with the Indian military at all levels.

From the US perspective, the dialogue provides a mechanism to enhance institutional understanding between the foreign and military establishments of both countries and to ensure that as India emerges as a counter-weight to China in the Indo-Pacific while balancing China’s growing influence in the Indian Ocean.  The US backing of India’s position since the current military stand-off with China began along the Line of Actual Control in Ladakh, was most conspicuous with Secretary of State Mike Pompeo unambiguously supporting India’s position after the talks.

A key concrete takeaway from the talks was that India finally signed the three foundational logistics & communication agreements (BECA, LEMOA, COMCASA) which form the basis of India-US defence co-operation framework.   The efficacy of the 2+2 dialogue mechanism can be gauged from the fact hat barely a month after the discussions the US allowed Indian Navy to lease two MQ-9B Sea Guardian surveillance drones, for training and familiarization purposes while India firms up a much larger order of 24 such drones via the Foreign Military Sales route.  Interestingly, the Sea Guardian drones are based out of INS Rajali in Tamil Nadu in southern India, the same naval base where the Indian Navy bases its Boeing P-8I anti-submarine warfare and surveillance planes acquired from the US. 

The joint statement at the end of the 2+2 talks also mentioned Afghanistan rather prominently.  For the US a face-saving withdrawal from Afghanistan is a strategic priority. For both the US and India, an Afghanistan dominated by the Taliban, and with a security vacuum after the withdrawal of ISAF forces is a nightmare scenario, with New Delhi having experienced taking on veterans of the Afghan war in Kashmir after the Soviet withdrawal from Kabul in 1989 and 9/11 deeply imprinted in the US consciousness.  India is also keen to preserve the leverage and goodwill it has accrued due to its infrastructure projects which have impacted the common Afghan populace significantly. Within Afghanistan significant sections of the city-dwelling populace who have enjoyed a sort of peace-dividend are worried about the withdrawal of Western forces and the blocking of Western funding should a radical Islamist regime take power in Kabul. 

However, the enhanced India-US co-operation is not without its challenges for India.  In the Indian context, the Indo-US alliance will primarily impact three key foreign relationships of India

India- Russia relationship – Russia will be wary of US overtures to India.  The recent statement by Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov, exemplifies the disquiet in the Kremlin as the US aims to pull India into an ever-closer strategic embrace. As India seeks to diversify its weapon purchases and aggressively develop a domestic arms industry Russia’s pre-eminent position as India’s defence partner will take a hit. India will seek to compensate for this by partnering with Russia for high-end strategic systems like the lease of the second Akula class nuclear submarine, additional orders for the S-400 strategic air defence systems and the emergency purchase of Mig-29 fighter aircraft to shore up dwindling numbers in its air force.  On the diplomatic front, there will be increasing pressure from the US at India to abandon its historic independent foreign policy and to line up Western position in the diplomatic arena.  It will be a significant challenge for Indian diplomats to keep a balance between the Russian & US relationships. 

India- Pakistan relationship – Pakistan will gradually lose its importance in the American calculus especially as the US engagement in Afghanistan winds down.  To compensate for the lack of American and Saudi largesse, Pakistan will further embrace the dragon. China will use Pakistan as a proxy to needle India militarily. Pakistan currently smarting from India’s sudden move to abrogate Article 370 and end autonomy for the Kashmir province, may embark on a small-scale military operation either jointly with China or with Chinese backing to alter the status quo in Kashmir.  Given India’s new policy of defensive offence any such conflict may not stay limited to the areas along the LoC and it may hit back at targets in depth and also escalate the conflict to the air & naval domains.

India-China relationship –  China seems to have taken an aggressive stance with neighbours with which it has disputes (India, Taiwan, Japan). This seems like a tactic by President Xi Jinping to channelize the simmering discontent among the Chinese masses due to the outbreak of Wuhan Coronavirus outwards towards its neighbours and keep a lid on dissent within the PLA and the Chinese Communist party.  With India de-coupling the economies of India and China along with the Make in India initiative, will lead to a correcting of trade imbalance India and China.  The stand-off initiated by China in Ladakh has effectively become a stalemate with a resolute Indian government and Army confronting the Chinese dragon head-on.  The longer the stand-off continues, more will be the deepening of India-US partnership.  If India and China can resolve the current stand-off and settle their boundary dispute along the inhospitable Himalayan regions, then the competition between the two countries can be limited to the economic and technological domains.

The India-US partnership is driven by shared goals and concerns about developments at the global stage.  How the relationship evolves under the incoming Biden-Harris administration is to be seen, as Joe Biden may take a less stringent approach to the trade war with China than Trump.  From the Indian perspective PM Modi has pursued a muscular foreign policy based on achieving national objectives and the deepening of the US – India engagement helps him achieve the target of growing India to a $5 trillion academy.  The 2+2 dialogue provides a bedrock on which to grow the relationship further. 

Varun Chaturvedi is a technology professional based out of Canada with an avid interest in international affairs, financial markets, geopolitics, and security issues with a focus on the Indian sub-continent, Afghanistan, and the Middle East. He holds an MBA with a major in International Business. Varun resides in Toronto.

Continue Reading
Comments

South Asia

Panjshir – the last stronghold of democracy in Afghanistan

Published

on

The Taliban’s rapid advance in Afghanistan has briefly stalled only in the face of strong resistance mounted by the people of the country’s recalcitrant mountainous province of Panjshir. Whoever controls the region’s passes controls the routes leading to China and Tajikistan, but to seize this mountain valley and, most importantly, to keep it permanently under control has always been a problem for all invaders. Eager to let the international community see for the first time in 40 years a united Afghanistan as a sign of their final victory, the radical Islamists were prepared to make any sacrifices, including filling the approaches to the Panjshir Valley up with dead bodies. Moreover, the Taliban’s longtime ally Pakistan, which, regardless of its status of an ally of the United States, has provided them with direct military support. In fact, Islamabad admitted its less than successful role when it proposed signing a truce to find and take out the bodies of its special Ops forces who had died during the attack on the valley. However, drones flown by Pakistani operators, professional commandos (possibly once trained by the Americans), air support and other pleasant gifts from the allies eventually bore fruit letting the Taliban be photographed in front of the mausoleum of Ahmad Shah Massoud Sr., the famous “Lion of Panjshir,” who controlled the valley from 1996 to 2001. The Islamists also took control of the province’s central city of Bazarak.

Having deprived the province much of its Internet access, the radicals, who control most of the Afghan territory, found it easier to wage an information war. Their claims of victories were now more difficult to contest, even though information about their retreat did reach the outside world. Reflective of the heavy losses suffered for the first time by the Taliban and their allies – the Haqqani Network and other remnants of al-Qaeda, as well as by the regular Pakistani army is the brief truce arranged by Islamabad. Looks like the mountain passes leading to Panjshir were literally filled up with corpses…

As for Massoud Jr., the young lion of Panjshir, and his supporters, they retreated to the mountains. In fact, they had nowhere to fall back to. The problem of Afghanistan is its ethnic diversity. Thus, the country is home to 23 percent of ethnic Tajiks, most of whom live in the Panjshir Valley. However, the Taliban rely mainly on the Pashtuns, who account for over 50 percent of the country’s population. As for the new masters of Afghanistan, they are ready to carry out ethnic cleansings and even commit outright genocide in order to bring the valley into submission. To make this happen they are going to resettle there their fellow Pashtun tribesmen. Local men aged between 12 and 50 are already being taken away and, according to the National Resistance Front, no one has seen them again. However, due to the information blockade, the Taliban will not hesitate to refute such facts. One thing is clear: Massoud’s Tajik fighters and the government troops that joined them are fighting for their lives, and there will be no honorable surrender!

The main question now is whether the young lion of Panjshir will receive the same support as his father once did, or will find himself without ammunition and food. After all, the Taliban leaders have reached certain agreements with the United States. Suffice it to mention the numerous remarks made, among others, by President Biden himself about the Taliban now being different from what they were 20 years ago.

But no, the Taliban`s remain the same – they have only hired new PR people. Meanwhile, hating to admit their defeat, Brussels and Washington will have to engage in a dialogue with those who are responsible for the tragedy of September 11, 2001, and for the numerous terrorist attacks in Europe. The Taliban are pretending to make minor cosmetic concessions. Minor indeed, since they are still depriving women of the opportunity to work and study, destroying higher and secondary education and brutally clamping down on people who simply do not want to live according to religious norms.

The United States is actually helping the “new-look” Taliban. Their potential opponents, including the famous Marshal Dostum, an ethnic Uzbek, left the country under various guarantees, and Washington is trying to keep them from any further participation in the conflict. Democratic politicians naively believe that by creating an Islamic state and ending the protracted civil war in Afghanistan the Taliban will ensure stability in the region and will not move any further. Uzbekistan and Tajikistan do not think so and are strengthening their borders and preparing to protect their Afghan compatriots, because they know full well that the Taliban`s are not a national political party; they are a radical Islamist ideology.

It knows no borders and spreads like a cancerous tumor, destroying all pockets of Western culture. It can only be stopped by force. However, the two decades of US military presence in Afghanistan showed that Washington, which quickly took control of the country in 2001, simply had no strategy to keep it. The Afghans were given nothing that would appear to them more attractive than the ideas of radical Islam. As a result, the few Afghans who embrace European values are fleeing the country, and those who, like Massoud Jr., decided to fight for their freedom, now risk being left to face their enemy all by themselves.

Continue Reading

South Asia

Misjudgements in India’s Afghan policy

Published

on

India’s Afghan policy has always been obsessed with the desire to deny Pakistan the “strategic depth” that Pakistan, according to India’s perception, yearns. If India had a pragmatic policy, it would not have found itself whimpering and whining like a rueful baby over spilt milk.

India supported the invasion of Afghanistan by both the former Soviet Union and the USA, both losers. President Trump mocked Modi for having built a library for the Afghan people. Trump expected India to contribute foot soldiers, and by corollary, body packs to the Afghan crisis. India played all the tricks up its sleeves to convince the USA to make India a party to the US-Taliban talks. But the USA ditched not only Modi but also Ashraf Ghani to sign the Doha peace deal with the Taliban.

India’s external affairs minister still calls the Taliban government “a dispensation”. Interestingly, the USA has reluctantly accepted that the Taliban government is a de facto government.

Humanitarian crisis

The United Nations’ Development Programme has portrayed a bleak situation in Afghanistan. Afghanistan is faced with multifarious challenges. These include prolonged drought and the effects of the COVID-19 pandemic, upheaval caused by the current political transition: frozen foreign reserves, and rising poverty.

About 47 per cent of its people live below the dollar-a-day poverty line. If the poverty line is pushed to $2 a day, 90 per cent of Afghans would be poor. About 55 per cent of Afghans are illiterate.

Ninety seven percent of the population is at risk of sinking below the poverty line, As such, Afghanistan teeters on the brink of universal poverty. Half of the population is already in need of humanitarian support. The UNDP has proposed to access the most vulnerable nine million people by focusing on essential services, local livelihoods, basic income and small infrastructure.

Currently, the gross national product of Afghanistan is around $190 billion, just a little more than the $160 billion economy of Dhaka city. The country’s legal exports of goods and services every year account for $1 billion. It imports$6 billion worth of goods and services every year.

About 80 per cent of world production of opium comes from Afghanistan. Every year, Afghanistan produces nearly 10,000 tons of opium and the revenue generated from it amounts to $7 billion approximately. About 87 per cent of the income of opium producing farmers comes exclusively from this single product. The illicit opium export by Afghanistan is worth $2 billion every year. The role of opium is significant.

About 80 per cent of public expenditure in this country is funded by grants. Since 2002, the World Bank has provided Afghanistan with a total of $5.3 billion as development and emergency relief assistance. The IMF earmarked for Afghanistan $400 million in Special Drawing Rights (SDR) for combating the Covid-19 pandemic in the country.

The United States has frozen about $10 billion worth of Afghan assets held at various banks in Afghanistan. The International Monetary Fund (IMF) has withdrawn the $400 million worth of SDRs allocated earlier to Afghanistan for addressing the Covid-19 crisis. The World Bank has not said anything as of yet, but it may also put restrictions on its funding to Afghanistan.

India’s lip service to Afghanistan

India provided around $3 billion in aid to fallen U.S.-backed Afghan government.  It trained the Afghan army and police. But now it is not willing to pay or pledge a penny to the Taliban government. Look at the following Times of India report:

“India did not pledge any money to the Taliban ruled Afghanistan probably for the first time in 20 years. That it has not done so as Jaishanker declared … (At UN, India offers support to Afghanistan but does not pledge money. The Times of India September 14, 2021).The Hindu, September 11, 2021

India’s tirade against Afghanistan

Indian policymakers and experts say they see no guarantees that Afghanistan won’t become a haven for militants. “Afghanistan may be poised to become a bottomless hole for all shades of radical, extremist and jihadi outfits somewhat similar to Iraq and Syria, only closer to India,” said Gautam Mukhopadhaya, who was India’s ambassador in Kabul between 2010 to 2013.  He added that the Taliban victory could have an “inspirational effect” not only for Kashmir’s rebels but wherever religiously-driven groups operate in the broader region… Lt. Gen Deependra Singh Hooda, former military commander for northern India between 2014-2016, said militant groups based across the border in Pakistan would “certainly try and push men” into Kashmir, following the Taliban victory in Afghanistan  (With Taliban’s rise, India sees renewed threat in Kashmir, Star Tribune September 14, 2021). “Meanwhile, Rajnath Singh conveyed to Australian Defence Minister Peter Dutton that the rise of the Taliban raises serious security concerns for India and the region. U.N. Secretary-General Antonio Guterres has appealed for an injection of cash into Afghanistan to avoid an economic meltdown that would spark a “catastrophic” situation for the Afghan people and be a “gift for terrorist groups.”). Afghan economic meltdown would be ‘gift for terrorists,’ says U.N. chief” (The Hindu, September 11, 2021)

 India’s former envoy to Kabul, Ambassador Gautam Mukhopadhyay is skeptical of the conciliatory statements by the taliban government. He advises: “We should welcome recent statements by Stanekzai and Anas Haqqani that suggest some independence from the ISI. But we should also ask some hard questions and judge them by their actions and words, and not let down our guard, both with regard to our multiple security concerns such as whether they can protect us from the Ias and ISI, sever ties with other terror groups, especially those supported by the ISI against India, deny Pakistan strategic depth, and preserve and build on our historic P2P and trade ties; and a genuinely inclusive govt in Afghanistan that accommodates the majority of Afghans who want the rights and freedoms enshrined in the 2004 Afghan Constitution or at least acceptable to the Afghan people.” (Taliban move to form govt, Naya Afghanistan brings new challenge for India, September 2, 2021).

Concluding remarks

India wants a “central role’ to be given to the UN in Afghanistan. India’s mumbo jumbo implies that Afghanistan should be made a UN protectorate. Indian media is never tired of calling the Afghan government a bunch of terrorists. They have even launched video games about it.

India needs to rethink how it can mend fences with Afghanistan that it regards a hothouse of terrorists.

Continue Reading

South Asia

Afghanistan: Hazaras in danger of extinction

Published

on

As reported on August 30, 2021, Taliban shot dead 14 people belonging to the Hazara community in Khadir District of Afghanistan’s Daykundi Province. Among those killed are 12 soldiers, who reportedly surrendered, and two civilians.

Earlier in between July 4-5, Taliban tortured and killed nine men of the Hazara community and looted their homes in Mundarakht village of Malistan District in Ghazni province. Reportedly, six Hazara men were shot while three of them were tortured to death. The entire episode was part of a ‘door-to-door’ killing operation as orchestrated by Taliban.

On May 8, 2021, explosions outside Syed Al-Shahda school for girls in Dasht-e-Barchi neighbourhood of Kabul, killed at least 68 people and wounded over 165. The majority of victims are girls attending school. The attack targeted Afghanistan’s ethnic Hazaras who live in the Dasht-e-Barchi neighborhood.

The Taliban are yet to spell out finer details of how they will impose the Sharia law in Afghanistan. Interestingly, on August 17, Taliban ‘spokesman’ Zabihullah Mujahid said that Afghanistan’s new government would be “inclusive.” On the same day, Taliban officials visited a Hazara neighborhood and attended a Shiite mourning ceremony for the death of Hussein ibn Ali, the third imam of Shiites and the Prophet Muhammad’s grandson. But, on August 18, 2021, sadly, after ‘coming to power’, the Taliban forces destroyed the statue of prominent Hazara leader Abdul Ali Mazari in Bamiyan. Mazari was tortured and killed by the previous Taliban regime in 1995.

Comprising roughly 10-20 percent of Afghanistan’s 38 million population, Hazaras speak a dialect of Dari (Farsi dialect) called Hazaragi and the vast majority follow the Shia sect (Twelver Imami) of Islam. A significant number are also followers of the Ismaili sect. Hazaras have long been persecuted for their largely Shia faith in a country racked by deep ethnic divisions. Their distinct features make them easy prey for Sunni hardliners, both Taliban and the Islamic State, (IS) that consider them “infidels”. The Hazaras are also accused of being too closely allied to Shia Iran, and tens of thousands have moved over the years as economic migrants to work mostly menial jobs.

The United Nations Assistance Mission in Afghanistan: UNAMA’s “Protection of Civilians in Armed Conflict Midyear Update: 1 January to 30 June 2021”, suggests that in total, 20 incidents targeting Shia/Hazara, resulted in 500 civilian casualties (143 killed and 357 injured). The report also states:

…a resurgence of deliberate sectarian motivated attacks against the Shi’a Muslim religious minority, most of whom also belong to the Hazara ethnic minority, nearly all claimed by ISIL-KP. These included a string of non-suicide IED attacks and shootings, including at least eight IEDs in May-June alone that targeted buses or similar vehicles carrying members of the Hazara community…

Reportedly, a large number of Hazaras live in Hazarajat (or Hazarestan),’ land of the Hazara’, which is situated in the rugged central mountainous core of Afghanistan, in the Bamiyan province and in cities such as Kabul and Mazar-e-Sharif. With others living in the Badakhshan province. Many Hazaras settled in western Turkestan, in Jowzjan and Badghis provinces. Ismaili Hazaras, a smaller religiously differentiated group of Hazaras, live in the Hindu Kush Mountain region.

Hazaras in Afghanistan have faced decades of abuse and state-sponsored discrimination, most recently under the Taliban regime between 1996-2001. Hazaras have been singled out for killings, beheadings, suicide bomb attacks, and kidnappings. They have been targeted at weddings, schools, mosques, sports clubs, and even at births.

As reported on September 1, the killing of Hazaras, are a tiny fraction of the total death toll inflicted by the Taliban to date, as the group had cut mobile phone service in many of the recently captured areas, efficiently controlling which photographs and videos are then shared from these regions. Habiba Sarabi, a Hazara political leader, told she had proof of more atrocities but could not share the details, as it might endanger surviving eyewitnesses. Sarabi was the first female Governor of Afghanistan (in Bamiyan Province) and one of four women representing Afghanistan in the negotiations with the Taliban in Doha, Qatar. Unfortunately, soon after the interview, Sarabi sent a link to a short, grainy video, which showed two Taliban militants. Speaking into the camera, one of them said they are waiting for permission from their leaders to “eliminate” all Hazaras living in Afghanistan.

More worryingly, over a period of time, out of the dire necessity of self defence and mistrust over government and administration, many Hazaras have either formed or joined armed militias to counter radical forces operating within Afghanistan. One of the examples is that of Zulfiqar Omid, a former lawmaker turned resistance leader. He has reportedly established an armed Hazara resistance in Central Afghanistan, comprising some 800 regular fighters and 5,000 volunteers. Abdul Khani Alipur, is another such militia leader from Maidan Wardak province. As reported on July 13, 2021, his militia boasted of patrolling roads and launching brazen raids on Taliban areas to abduct the relatives of militants, later used as bargaining chips to release Hazara hostages. Such developments would only bring more bloodshed in Afghanistan.

Further, the Hazaras have also taken refuge in Pakistan since many decades, due to violence meted against them. As reported on September 1, 2021, up to 6,000 refugees, among them many Hazaras, have already made their way to Quetta, Balochistan in Pakistan, a city with a sizeable Hazara community. But unfortunately, Pakistan also has a history of frequent attacks on the minority Hazara community, due to the exact same reasons of their different religious and ethnic identities, as in the case of Afghanistan. According to the 2019 report of Pakistan’s National Commission for Human Rights, about 509 Hazaras were killed since the year 2013. Moreover, according to partial data collated by South Asia Terrorism Portal, since 2001, 386 Hazaras have been killed, 480 injured in 80 incidents in Pakistan. Therefore, the danger of death and persecution doesn’t end when these people take refuge in Pakistan.

The Hazaras are victim of a double-edged sword of religious and ethnic differences, causing their death in Afghanistan. The Taliban ‘takeover’ of the political structure of the country can only ensure one thing vis-à-vis the Hazara population- their absolute annihilation. They will either die or flee the country in whatsoever means. The practice of ‘othering’, as preached by the militant Islamist groups, be it a religious minority, or a woman, or non-Pashtun person, would cause harm to the Hazara community. Along with the Taliban, other terror groups of IS, Al Qaeda and their various affiliates are definitely going to have their own game plan for Afghanistan, of which ‘persecution of Hazaras’ be an important constituent.

Continue Reading

Publications

Latest

Economy49 mins ago

Russia, China and EU are pushing towards de-dollarization: Will India follow?

Authors: Divyanshu Jindal and Mahek Bhanu Marwaha* The USD (United States Dollar) has been the world’s dominant currency since the...

Economy3 hours ago

Today’s World Demands Sustainability

In the Brundtland Report, the United Nations defined sustainable development as development that satisfies current demands without jeopardising future generations’...

Defense5 hours ago

Developments on Korean Peninsula risk accelerating regional arms race

A week full of missile tests; this is the current environment on the Korean Peninsula. On Wednesday, North Korea fired...

South Asia10 hours ago

Panjshir – the last stronghold of democracy in Afghanistan

The Taliban’s rapid advance in Afghanistan has briefly stalled only in the face of strong resistance mounted by the people...

Americas16 hours ago

Biden’s worrisome construct of security and self-defense in the first year of his term

US President Joe Biden’s foreign policy is failing so far. He can’t get the Iran nuclear diplomacy on track. The Afghanistan withdrawal...

Finance18 hours ago

Picking the perfect social media channel

No product or service can be purchased if nobody knows that it exists. This is the function of marketing, which...

Finance19 hours ago

Your brand needs to be on Twitter, here is why

Most of us are familiar with doing business physically through stores, but with the introduction of the internet, there are...

Trending