From the press release issued by the Chinese Foreign Ministry in Beijing on Tuesday, there is no evidence that the situation in Afghanistan figured in the meeting between the National Security Advisor Ajit Doval and State Councilor Yang Jiechi on the sidelines of the recent BRICS meeting in Moscow. Regional security as such, surprisingly, didn’t find reference.
At any rate, the respective Indian and Chinese views are poles apart as regards the latest tidings from Kabul – the signing of an accord between Afghanistan’s National Security Directorate [NSD] and Pakistan’s Inter-Services Intelligence [ISI] as well as the collaborative effort by the Chinese and Pakistani intelligence to facilitate a meeting between the representatives of the Afghan government and the Taliban in Xinjiang last week.
If a commentary in the Xinhua news agency on Tuesday giving fulsome praise to the NSD-ISI accord can be considered as authoritative opinion (which it is), Beijing is strongly backing the cooperation between the Afghan and Pakistani intelligence and is pinning hopes that it can significantly contribute to Afghan-Pakistan cooperation and regional security.
Alas, Delhi seems to be the only regional capital which views the NSD-ISI accord as “India-centric”, as alleged by Doval in media comments. (Interestingly, the Xinhua commentary in robust defence of the raison d’etre of the NSD-ISI accord appeared three days after Doval’s reported criticism of the NSD-ISI accord.)
Indeed, the most recent two Indian moves on Afghanistan last week are simply illogical. First, Doval could have kept mum since no purpose is served by airing publicly (even if indirectly) India’s grievances vis-à-vis the incumbent Afghan government or to advertise from roof tops that our security agencies lost the “great game” in the Hindu Kush to the ISI.
Second, there was absolutely no need for Prime Minister Narendra Modi to have received former Afghan President Hamid Karzai in Delhi last week amidst the growing signs of the latter aspiring to become a rallying point of the Afghan opposition to President Ashraf Ghani. (An Afghan journalist phoned me to ask sarcastically whether it could be that India seriously thinks that Karzai can be returned to power in Kabul, after all that happened between him and Washington.)
Modi’s advisors did a wrong thing to have misled him into wading into the whirlpool of Afghan domestic politics. What was the tearing hurry for a meeting between Modi and Karzai just at this sensitive juncture, when the latter was traveling to China? Such injudicious acts trample upon Afghan sensitivities.
The Afghans carefully take note of implied slights and boorish behavior by foreigners, even if they are a weak and hapless nation today and can’t assert their innate pride and self-respect. There is much merit in continuing with the traditional Indian policy giving privacy to the government in power in Kabul as our interlocutor. And, that interlocutor for Modi is indeed President Ghani.
India’s AfPak diplomacy was, clearly, out of depth last week. First, there was this hugely controversial (and incredibly idiotic) statement by Defence Minister Manohar Parikkar to the effect that as a matter of state policy, India is not averse to deploying terrorist groups vis-à-vis foreign countries in the pursuit of its national security strategy.
Doval then swiftly followed up by flagging India’s territorial claim on the Northern Areas of Pakistan; he thereafter rounded off the pantomime with a totally unwarranted criticism of the NSD-ISI accord.
Such bravado and muscle flexing may impress the clutch of hardline Hindu nationalists within India on the eve of the first anniversary of the Modi government, but they only serve to create misperceptions in the international community – and more importantly, among India’s small neighbors.
Was Pakistan impressed by Parikkar’s remarks? Most certainly, not. Did Ghani get panicky after Doval’s criticism, by any chance? That also doesn’t appear to be the case (here, hereand here). Was Beijing persuaded by India’s criticism of the NSD-ISI accord, which China all but regards as a useful underpinning for the security of the Belt and Road projects in Pakistan?
On the other hand, a top diplomat from Beijing further expressed China’s solidarity with its “Iron Brother”. So, what is the balance sheet? Our security czars ended up merely exposing themselves as greenhorns in the world of diplomacy.