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'India's greatest threat in Afghanistan is China'

By ARCHANA MASIH
Last updated on: September 09, 2021 14:18 IST
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'Imagine China pursuing its aims in Jammu and Kashmir by using Pakistani and now Afghan proxies.'

IMAGE: Talibs patrol a runway at Kabul airport a day after US troops withdrew from Afghanistan August 31, 2021. Photograph: Reuters
 

"China will be the biggest problem for India as far as the changes in Afghanistan are concerned," warns former ambassador Dr Jitendra Nath Misra.

"I link it with Ladakh because there could be a two front war and terrorists from Pakistan, Pakistan occupied Kashmir and Afghanistan could be the foot soldiers of that two-front war," he tells Rediff.com's Archana Masih .

Dr Misra served the Indian Foreign Service for 34 years and is a distinguished fellow at the Jindal School for International Affairs in Sonepat.

How can a resurgent Taliban embolden terror activity and infiltration in Kashmir?

The Lashkar-e-Tayiba and Jaish-e-Mohammad will be emboldened. There will be a certain degree of psychological ascendancy in their minds.

Mehbooba Mufti, who is regarded as a mainstream politician, made an unfortunate statement the other day when she said India should draw its lessons from the Taliban takeover in Afghanistan in dealing with the Kashmir issue. This outraged many people in India.

When a mainstream politician can be emboldened, won't the terrorists be emboldened? Of course, they will.

But the India of the 1990s and the India of today are different States. India is the world's third largest economy in purchasing power parity.

India is a powerful country and we need not panic about the Taliban. We have to deal with it.

There could be increased terror activity from Pakistan and Pakistan occupied Kashmir in Jammu and Kashmir. We have the capability to deal with it. We have better defensive infrastructure and surveillance capabilities.

The Taliban needs us as we need them because we need to have half a foot in Afghanistan. The Pakistanis are now triumphalist. Pakistan is a winner anyway, but the real winner is the new winner, which is China.

For India, the greatest threat -- perhaps even more than the Taliban -- is the Chinese presence in Afghanistan because China is not a friend.

Can you elaborate on the Chinese threat emanating from Afghanistan?

China is the real gainer. It had very little gain in the 1990s if at all, but now it has a substantial gain.

A former PLA officer Colonel Zhu Bo has written in The New York Times that 'China is ready to step into the void'. They have already hosted (Taliban leader Mullah) Abdul Ghani Baradar's delegation and the Chinese foreign minister has met them.

China wants Afghanistan without interference. Perhaps the Americans are turning a blind eye to this because they don't have a choice. Moreover, America is not in a direct conflict with China in Afghanistan.

It's not like the South China Sea or the Indo-Pacific. It's a land theatre. Therefore, the present and real threat to India comes more from China. This is China's gain and certainly at cost to India.

Indian policymakers are very much aware of this reality.

IMAGE: A container is loaded on to the Cosco Wellington, the first container ship to depart after the inauguration of the China Pakistan Economic Corridor port in Gwadar, Pakistan. Photograph: Caren Firouz/Reuters

How is this linked with the Chinese ambitious projects in that region? What risks do they pose for India?

This is directly linked with the Belt and Road Project to the west of Pakistan. China's ambition is to reach the sea and Europe through Central Asia. They can do that through Afghanistan because they have mining rights now.

We reject the China Pakistan Economic Corridor which goes through sovereign Indian territory. We have all kinds of concerns about the Belt and Road which we have not joined. But China finding a way for Belt and Road via Afghanistan makes India's opposition to the China Pakistan Economic Corridor less consequential.

Therefore, China's victory or China's increased influence in Afghanistan is very worrisome for India in terms of security.

What prevents China from being complicit with Pakistan and using Pakistan and even arm-twisting the Taliban to send terrorists into Jammu and Kashmir?

It is in China's interest to do so.

It was after all the Chinese who took Jammu and Kashmir to the United Nations Security Council in 2019. It was not the Pakistanis.

The Chinese were extremely upset after the redrawing of the internal map, not the external boundaries of Jammu and Kashmir.

Our external affairs minister reasoned with the Chinese foreign minister that India has not made territorial claims against China as our external boundaries are exactly the same. But the Chinese do not accept that because our re-drawn internal boundaries also include territory under Chinese occupation, Aksai Chin.

Our claims have been reinforced in the new map and the Chinese construed that as a change in the status quo.

That, among other reasons explains the shallow intrusions into Ladakh in 2020 by China.

It was the Chinese response to the August 5 decision.

This is how Pakistan occupied Kashmir and Ladakh are linked. Add to this China's gains in Afghanistan and this is a time of danger for India. Imagine China pursuing its aims in Jammu and Kashmir by using Pakistani and now Afghan proxies.

Can Afghanistan become a theatre for the coming together of India's adversaries -- China-Pakistan -- to carry out acts inimical towards India?

Pakistan will respond to the internal re-organisation in Jammu and Kashmir in 2019 by targeting Indian interests in Afghanistan. Now the field is more open after the Taliban victory.

China could act in Afghanistan in concert with Pakistan. These two powers are already acting in concert in Jammu and Kashmir.

China has to protect the China Pakistan Economic Corridor which goes through Pakistan occupied Kashmir.

Our minister of external affairs has said that Pakistan occupied Kashmir will one day come under India's physical jurisdiction. It is very much on the table as far as India is concerned.

India has become just a little bit more assertive with regard to its historic claim to Jammu and Kashmir, including Pakistan occupied Kashmir, but China has direct interest in preventing India from realising that claim because it is concerned about the China Pakistan Economic Corridor. This is something recent.

China has assets, Chinese engineers, perhaps Chinese soldiers leading into Gwadar through Pakistan. This wasn't the case in the 1990s.

Therefore, it is in China's interest to nullify India's claims or India's moves to regain control over Pakistan occupied Kashmir -- and the best way to do this is in an invisible way is through terrorist accomplices aided by the Pakistani agencies and even the Taliban.

I am not saying the Taliban will play the game, but it could at least turn a blind eye to this.

The world is extremely sceptical whether the Taliban has actually changed. It is the geopolitics that has changed.

China will be the biggest problem for India as far as the changes in Afghanistan are concerned. I link it with Ladakh because there could be a two front war and terrorists from Pakistan, Pakistan occupied Kashmir and Afghanistan could be the foot soldiers of that two-front war.

We have to base our policies on these kinds of scenarios that could unfold. I'm not saying they will unfold, but they could.

Feature Presentation: Ashish Narsale/Rediff.com

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