The new axis is Afghanistan

That China would once again stall India’s move at the United Nations to have Masood Azhar declared a terrorist was quite expected in view of its growing collaboration with Pakistan in defence and economic development. China is unperturbed by the fact that as chief of the terrorist outfit Jaish-e-Mohammed, Masood Azhar is directly responsible for a number of major terror attacks in India. But what should cause worry to India is the emerging Pakistan-China-Russia axis which seeks to woo the Afghan Taliban and use it as a counterweight against the ISIS. This is being done behind India’s back and virtually keeping it out of this exercise. India was not invited to the Moscow meet on Afghanistan. Iran is also being sought to be roped in.

Nothing could be a better development for Pakistan than this. By implication, both China and Russia have accepted the ‘good terrorist’/’bad terrorist’ theory. Obviously, to China and Russia, the Afghan Taliban are good terrorists but the ISIS is bad. The steadily worsening relationship between US and Russia – Washington has just expelled about three dozen Russian Intelligence operatives – is also pushing Moscow closer to Beijing. Whether there would be a rethink on US policy towards Russia under Donald Trump is an open question. If Trump takes back the economic sanctions on Russia imposed by the Obama administration, Moscow’s dependence on Beijing would be considerably reduced. But at this stage these are only matters of speculation.

What is definite is that a China-Russia-Pakistan axis in Afghanistan and its efforts at winning over the Afghan Taliban to its side will give Pakistan the strategic depth it has all along been trying to secure. It will be against India’s security interests. It will also be considered as a major diplomatic failure on India’s part, given the traditional good relations India has maintained all through with Russia. The question is bound to be asked why India could not leverage to its advantage the recent contract for buying $10 billion military hardware from Russia. There is another aspect also. The effort to put up the Afghan Taliban against the ISIS may not succeed. One cannot rule out the possibility that Pakistan may clandestinely help the ISIS to get a foothold in Afghanistan, if it can strike a deal with it and if it suits its long-term strategic objectives. These are trying times for India. India has to craft its diplomacy carefully so as to protect its interests while at the same time not antagonize Russia.

Tuesday, 3 January, 2017