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Kabul moves a few steps closer to New Delhi

The threat to withdraw from CPEC shows Ashraf Ghani is becoming increasingly distrustful of Pakistan. This can work to India’s benefit.

editorials Updated: Oct 26, 2017 11:09 IST
Afghanistan,Ashraf Ghani,India
Prime Minister Narendra Modi with Afghanistan President Mohammad Ashraf Ghani in New Delhi, October 24. (Mohd Zakir/HT PHOTO)

When Ashraf Ghani first came to power in Afghanistan three years ago his first step, to the alarm of New Delhi, was to seek the blessings of the Pakistani military and make a pilgrimage to Rawalpindi. This week Ghani spoke about his southern neighbour on Indian soil, naming and blaming them for providing safe havens to the Taliban and worse, in language that could only cause alarm in Rawalpindi. And the icing on the cake from India’s perspective was a threat to withdraw Afghanistan from the enormous China Pakistan Economic Corridor project if Pakistan did not provide land transit between India and Afghanistan. Ghani’s about turn should not come as a surprise. This is exactly how players in Afghanistan’s forever war shift their stances as the larger geopolitical wheels around them turn and spin. What Ghani’s statements indicate is that those wheels are presently moving in directions favourable to India.

India’s overriding interest through the various chapters of the Afghan conflict has been to limit if not defeat the Pakistan backed Taliban but do so by assisting other like-minded players, Afghan or foreign. The United States, easily the most influential cog in the Afghan wheel, and India were not aligned during the Barack Obama administration. However, President Donald Trump’s reluctant decision to recommit the US military to Afghanistan and ensure Kabul is in a position to deal with the Taliban, whether on the battlefield or the negotiating table, from a position of strength has been music to New Delhi’s ears.

It has also emboldened Ghani to lean further away from Islamabad. He has, in any case, been increasingly distrustful of Pakistan. Like his predecessor Hamid Karzai, the Afghan president has found that overtures to Islamabad are reciprocated with demands for Kabul to make itself a de facto colony of Pakistan. But his comments on the CPEC add a new ingredient to this geopolitical soup: the use of various players to find leverage against China and, in turn, hope this will put pressure on Pakistan. In all of this, what India is not being asked is to become militarily involved in Afghanistan. This means New Delhi can use its preferred instruments of aid and diplomacy to advance its cause in its far northwestern neighbour.

First Published: Oct 26, 2017 11:09 IST