Countries hell bent to burn their FEETS: Russia joins China and Pak to lift sanctions against Taliban,Afghanistan angry! India worried
Russia has for the first time joined Pakistan and China to collectively ask the UN Security Council to lift sanctions against select Taliban leaders, signalling their growing convergence over Afghanistan in a major setback for India.
India has long viewed the Taliban as a Pakistan-backed militancy and has insisted that any distinction between "good" and "bad" sections of the group is fraught with risks for the stability of the region.
Russia, historically India's all-weather friend, has traditionally backed this position on the Taliban which emerged from the mujahideen that bloodied the Soviet Union in the 1980s. India and Russia had also worked together through the 1990s to prop up the Northern Alliance in the north of Afghanistan as a counter to the Taliban.
But the foreign secretaries of Russia, China and Pakistan in a trilateral meeting in Moscow yesterday decided to seek "flexible approaches", including the lifting of UN sanctions against select Taliban leaders to broker peace with the group in Afghanistan.
The decision, which caps recent attempts by Russia to engage directly with the Taliban amid growing worries about the rise of the Islamic State in Afghanistan, has left an unsettled New Delhi scampering for a strategic response, senior officials have told this newspaper.
"Russia and China, as permanent members of the UN Security Council, reaffirmed their readiness for flexible approaches to the prospect of excluding certain individuals from the list of sanctioned persons as part of efforts to promote a peaceful dialogue between Kabul and the Taliban movement," said a joint statement on the meeting issued today by the Russian foreign ministry.
For India, officials and experts said, the Russian position is particularly worrying because it suggests Moscow's acceptance of Pakistan as central to any lasting peace solution in Afghanistan.
The trilateral meeting and its outcome also confirms the growing divergence in priorities in Afghanistan between India on the one hand, and Russia, Iran and key Central Asian republics like Tajikistan and Kyrgyzstan - whose leaders visited India recently - on the other.
India continues to view the Pakistan-backed Taliban as the central threat to stability in Afghanistan. But Russia, Iran and Central Asian nations view the growing footprint in that country of the expansionist IS - unlike the Taliban, which has stayed limited to Afghanistan - as a greater threat, and are willing to engage the Taliban to combat this newer force.
"This is a setback for India and should concern India," Pranay Kotasthane, head of the geo-strategy programme at the Bangalore-based think tank, the Takshashila Institution, told The Telegraph. "The Russian perspective is that they will be willing to do whatever it takes to contain the IS. And they believe that Pakistan is critical for that."
Russia, which views Central Asian nations bordering Afghanistan as part of its strategic backyard, is uncomfortable allowing the IS or its affiliates to spill into these countries.
India, on the other hand, is relatively less concerned by the threat of the IS in Afghanistan because of the presence of Pakistan between them, acting ironically almost as insulation against the direct penetration of the group.
New Delhi fears that the increasing dalliance between Russia, China and Pakistan could once again restore Islamabad's legitimacy as an anti-terror warrior at a time India has tried to isolate the country globally accusing it of duplicity on terrorism.
The new trilateral partnership between Russia, China and Pakistan over Afghanistan may force New Delhi to review its own approach to Kabul, experts said - a reality two officials involved closely in ties with the region conceded to this newspaper.
"It is not appropriate for us to comment on relations between two other countries (Pakistan and Russia)," foreign ministry spokesperson Vikas Swarup had said last week.
"But as far as the Taliban are concerned, we believe they should follow all internationally accepted red lines, and give up all violence and terrorism."
India has over the past few years limited its role in the Afghan reconciliation process to backing an Afghan government-led peace process shepherded by the US that has made little headway.
But this year, India and the US revived trilateral talks with Afghanistan, and New Delhi repeatedly hosted America's top commander in Kabul, John Nicholson - reflecting a deepening partnership that may have upset Russia, experts said.
"The India-US bonhomie on Afghanistan has ruffled Russian feathers," Kotasthane said.
The future of the India-US collaboration on Afghanistan, and America's own continuing involvement in that country now hinge on the priorities of President-elect Donald Trump, who in the past has suggested he wants to pull back from military excursions undertaken by his predecessors.
A continuation by Trump of forceful US support for a reconciliation process in Afghanistan led by the country's current national unity government led by President Ashraf Ghani would allow India to continue to depend on Washington and Kabul to find a resolution with the Taliban.
But if Trump chooses not to commit long-term support to the Afghan government-led rapprochement initiative with the Taliban, India may have little choice but to change tack, officials and experts said.
"India may then need to also directly engage with the Taliban," Kotasthane said. "There may not be another option."
Meanwhile,Kabul is literally angry over the developements, as none of its officials are allowed/present in the meet & has vehimently clarified that such meetings will not bear any fruit unless Afghanistan is involved in it.