Wednesday, Jan 24, 2018 | Last Update : 07:09 AM IST
Afghanistan is an optimal space for strategic convergence between the US, India and China.
Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi’s December visit to New Delhi marked the first by a high level Chinese official to India following the still unresolved Doklam standoff which complicated bilateral relations this past summer. While the contentious bilateral relationship did feature prominently in the agenda, India now has even more opportunity for a serious conversation with the Chinese delegation on the persistent issue of cross border terrorism. This is a strategic issue that has the potential to also harm long term Chinese interests, and both countries would do well to have a meaningful conversation on the topic. In doubling efforts to combat terrorism, India would signal its leadership role in addressing a key issue that threatens innocent civilians around the world, as well as its own people.
Afghanistan is an optimal space for strategic convergence between the US, India and China. These interests mainly centre around domestic stabilization and the prevention of the spread of radical extremism, which continues to flow across the border from Pakistan.
As the ninth anniversary of the November 26 terrorist attacks on Mumbai has come and gone, virtually nothing has changed in Pakistan’s treatment of domestic terrorist organizations. The knee-jerk nationalism that has shaped official responses to external critiques on the topic, from a haplessly ill-equipped and increasingly non-existent political authority, remains the platitude that Pakistan does not harbor nor sponsor any terror organizations. Chinese rhetoric on the critical issue of Pakistan have betrayed a growing dissonance among that country’s strategic elite. In September, Wang Yi said at a security conference for BRICS nations “When it comes to the issue of counterterrorism, Pakistan has done its best with a clear conscience. Some countries need to give Pakistan the full credit that it deserves.”
However, Islamabad’s ‘incompetence’ in curbing the proliferation of terrorists that reside in Pakistan, notably the leaders of the East Turkistan Islamic Movement is a serious strategic threat to China given the terror that ETIM has created in Xinjiang province. Growing Chinese concerns about Pakistan’s tumultuous security environment are further demonstrated in the warning it issued to its nationals in Pakistan this past Friday, based on intercepted plans for a series of attacks on Chinese targets in that country.
“These concerns found their groundings in national policy in September of 2017, when China for the first time publicly denounced Pakistan-based terror groups, Lashkar-e-Taiba (LeT) and Jaish-e-Mohammad, which had earlier been censured by the United Nations Security Council.” The increasingly paternalistic attitude that China has adopted toward Pakistan considering the latter’s violent instability is a growing threat that Pakistan sponsored terrorism poses to itself, the broader region and the whole world.
This critical period in the strategic relations of China and India is evidenced in the context of U.S Defense Secretary Mattis’ official trip to Islamabad in December as part of his Middle East and Central Asia tour. The Secretary’s discussions with top Pakistani officials were pivotal toward the implementation of President Trump’s South Asia strategy; a doctrine that revolves around fostering peace in South Asia via the stabilization of Afghanistan. However, this strategy lacks clarity in terms of its components as well as details on its implementation.
While India, with its vibrantly diverse religious population and complex history is no stranger to religiously motivated extremism, it has proven it can absorb the laundry list of religiously motivated attacks to its social fabric with unparalleled resilience. China, which too has issues with terrorist groups that claim to act in the name of Islam, has responded with a state crackdown on its predominantly Muslim Uighur population following the attacks of September 11, 2001 demonstrating its concern that Afghanistan’s instability could spill into the tinderbox that is Xinjiang through the shared Wakhjir Pass.
In this regard, there is incentive for greater cooperation between China and India in stabilising the homegrown extremism that continues to bring terror to Afghanistan. Joint Sino Indian cooperation is needed to place greater pressure on the Pakistani government to curtail its mass export of global jihad, as well as making its society less safe for terrorist organisations by acknowledging its collaboration in Afghanistan.
China and India should start by insisting that Pakistan tackle the Haqqani Network and the Taliban which have bases in Pakistan. This would set the stage for a more secure, stable and prosperous South Asia- and a global example for visionary and ennobled partnership.
This article was co-authored by Aditya Ramachandran of the Atlantic Council