Afghanistan, China: Harsh Shringla pins down India’s big security challenges
New Delhi: The situation in Afghanistan and the border standoff with China are among the security challenges confronting India, which is concerned about the recent changes in Kabul and their implications for the region, foreign secretary Harsh Shringla said on Monday.
While India’s immediate focus has been evacuating its nationals from Afghanistan, the country has backed efforts to ensure that Afghan soil isn’t used for sheltering terrorists or planning terror attacks, Shringla said while addressing JP Morgan’s India Investor Summit.
Speaking on the theme “India’s foreign policy and its strategic imperative: The way forward”, he said, New Delhi has told Beijing that peace in the border areas is essential for developing bilateral ties in the wake of Chinese attempts to unilaterally alter the status quo on the Line of Actual Control (LAC) over the past year.
Harsh Shringla said India is “naturally concerned about the recent changes within Afghanistan and their implications for us and the region”. He noted the recent UN Security Council resolution 2593 that Afghan territory should not be used for “sheltering, training, planning or financing terrorist acts”, and specifically refers to terrorists proscribed by the UN, including those from Lashkar-e-Taiba (LeT) and Jaish-e-Mohammed (JeM).
Most Indians were able to leave Kabul in August, and a number of Afghans, including minorities, who wanted to travel to India, have also been able to do so. “However, this process could not be completed due to the security situation at the airport. Resumption of flights from Kabul airport is, therefore, a priority,” he added.
India is also monitoring developments related to the humanitarian needs of Afghanistan.
“In UNDP’s assessment, there is an imminent threat of poverty levels rising in Afghanistan. There is also a threat of an imminent drought and a food security crisis. It is important for the humanitarian assistance providers to be given unrestricted and direct access to Afghanistan,” Harsh Shringla said.
The distribution of humanitarian assistance has to be done in a non-discriminatory manner to all sections of Afghan society, and India’s approach to Afghanistan is guided by the civilisational relationship with the Afghan people, he said.
He recalled India’s development aid worth $3 billion and more than 500 projects spread across all 34 provinces of Afghanistan and said these initiatives had earned the country tremendous goodwill.
Shringla listed the standoff with China and the situation in Afghanistan among the geopolitical challenges in India’s immediate neighbourhood. These situations were a reminder that traditional security challenges remain even while new realities are making themselves felt.
“Chinese attempts over the last year to unilaterally alter the status quo in Ladakh have seriously disturbed peace and tranquillity in the border areas. These acts are in violation of our bilateral agreements and have inevitably impacted other aspects of the bilateral relationship,” he said.
“We have made it clear to the Chinese side that peace and tranquillity in border areas are essential for the development of our relationship. Development of India-China relationship can only be based on ‘three mutuals’ – mutual respect, mutual sensitivity and mutual interests,” he added.
Harsh Shringla reiterated India’s stated position that the largely positive trajectory of India-China ties in the past 40 years was largely due to the agreement between the two sides to ensure peace and tranquillity in the border areas.
India has insisted that the overall normalisation of relations with China is linked to disengagement and de-escalation at friction points on the LAC. On the other hand, Beijing has said New Delhi should take forward relations in other areas while dealing with the border standoff separately.
Shringla listed several “megatrends” the country is contending with, including a rebalancing in which global activity is moving towards Asia, the rise of China, the pressure on international systems, the vulnerability of global supply and value chains, emerging technologies, and “a battle between schools of thought”.
“The pandemic and its fallout pose the most serious challenge to policymakers in a generation and more. Governance structures, national and international, have been and are being subjected to unprecedented stresses,” he said.
India is seeking strategic autonomy, but this does not mean “seeking self-centred arrangements or turning the country inwards”, and the country will work for a less skewed distribution of economic activity by “making Indian businesses and the Indian economy more globalised”, he pointed out.
Harsh Shringla said India is set to participate in the first in-person Quad Summit in the US next week and the four members of the grouping are engaged on issues of connectivity, infrastructure, emerging technologies, climate action, education and Covid-19 responses, including vaccine collaboration and resilient supply chains.