India’s first trilateral on Afghanistan has, finally, got under way - in New York City on Thursday. India and Afghanistan do not lack familiarity with each other and what stands out is that the two neighbors are holding the hands of a faraway “extra-regional” power - the United States. The choice of the faraway partner by the two South Asian countries is at once symbolic as well as suffused with geopolitical meaning and it will not be lost on observers.
This is especially so, since the general opinion is that the Afghan war has been “lost” and the “loser” by implication is the United States. Now, it is rare that one consciously associates in life with the “loser”; it can only happen if the “loser” isn’t going to be the “loser” that is made out to be. That, apparently, is how Kabul and New Delhi want to think of the US’ future role in the region as the post-2014 challenges loom ahead. To be sure, it is a big geopolitical statement.
Certainly, Washington attributes great significance to this regional partnership relating to the security and stability of the Hindu Kush (and South and Central Asia) as is evident from the attendance of the US special envoy Marc Grossman. For India, this is the first such enterprise insofar as in deference to Pakistani obduracy, it has been kept at arm’s length by even friends when it came to regional groupings on Afghanistan - such as the Iran-Afghan-Pakistan forum, China-Afghan-Pakistan forum, Turkey-Afghan-Pakistan forum, Russia-Tajikistan-Afghan-Pakistan forum.
Evidently, Washington and Kabul do not at all feel shy of being seen with India on regional security issues which affect Pakistan’s interests. In fact, they have decided that there is ample scope to bring India into a regional tent even if it excludes Pakistan. On its part, Delhi appreciates that the US and Afghanistan regard India as a long-term “natural ally” without reservations in regard regard of the stabilization of Afghanistan and the regions surrounding it.
The trilateral held on Thursday at New York emphasizes harmony between the three countries with regard to stabilization of the Afghan situation. There is a striking observation to this effect in their joint statement. Equally, the three countries have agreed that their joint endeavors will have a broad sweep covering the entire South and Central Asian region rather than being limited to Afghanistan.
The geopolitical implications are at once obvious at a juncture when regional security of South and Central Asia is passing through a period of transition. Simply put, the three countries will jointly work in the transformation of the two adjacent regions to contribute to their stability, economic development and mutual integration.
The joint statement avoids mentioning the US’ New Silk Road Initiative but the resonance cannot be missed. Indeed, India will look forward to collaborative ventures with the US in the economic sphere, since the expanding presence of China concerns both. From Kabul’s viewpoint, they become “stakeholders” in the reconstruction and development of the Afghan economy, which implies the readiness on their part to contribute to the improvement of the security situation.
Pursuit of “shared values, interests and goals” — these are the set objectives of the trilateral process. For India, which has been so far studiously kept out of full membership of the Shanghai Cooperation Organization (for one reason or another), the trilateral becomes a useful platform.
For the US, partnership with India on the security of South and Central Asia is a useful asset in the post-2014 period. For Kabul,of course, the “trilateral” provides yet another vital lifeline.Lastly, the trilateral has taken shape on the eve of negotiations between Kabul and Washington regarding long-term US military presence in Afghanistan. Conceivably, Delhi would regard the long-term US military commitment as a factor of regional stability. The joint statement is here