SCO | Karzai nudges regional powers on Afghan peace process

Karzai nudges regional powers on Afghan peace process

M.K. Bhadrakumar June 14, 2015 8:46 PM (UTC+8)
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The Russian state-funded television network RT has carried a sensational interview with the former Afghan President Hamid Karzai on the secret agenda of the United States in Afghanistan.

In his trademark style Karzai danced around the subject, while making it clear that in his assessment the Islamic State (IS), which is reportedly making its appearance in Afghanistan, is an American proxy that serves as Washington’s geopolitical tool to destabilize Central Asia as part of the containment strategy against Russia and China.

Karzai was very critical of the U.S.’ war in Afghanistan and he accused Washington of pursuing a diabolical “policy of duality” – neither siding with the Kabul government nor with the Taliban.

Karzai supported the idea of peace talks with the Taliban as such but lamented that the Pakistani military and intelligence of had held back the insurgents from reconciliation.

Significantly, RT interviewed Karzai in the context of his forthcoming visit to Moscow where he is expected to have “a series of meetings, including with President Vladimir Putin.”

Afghan President Hamid Karzai
Afghan President Hamid Karzai

Given the Russian media culture and the backdrop of the tensions in the Russian-American relations as well as the approaching summit meeting of the Shanghai Cooperation Organization (SCO) on July 9-10, the RT’s interview of Karzai carries the imprimatur of the Russian foreign-policy establishment. It needs to be noted in particular that Putin plans to receive Karzai.

The Russian commentators have been warning about the IS’ ascendancy in Afghanistan and strongly hinting at a U.S. agenda here to foment instability in Central Asia. Karzai confirms the Russian suspicions.

Indeed, instability in Central Asia will mortally hit China’s so-called “Belt and Road” initiatives, pose challenges for Russia’s Eurasian Economic Union integration process, complicate the situation in China’s Xinjiang and Russia’s North Caucasus region, and foil the plans of laying Silk Routes connecting China with the Persian Gulf and the world market via Iran.

Equally, Moscow and Beijing would suspect that regional instability becomes the perfect alibi for the U.S. and the North Atlantic Treaty Organization to establish a permanent military presence in Afghanistan and bring into the region the U.S.’ ABM system that would curb their missile capabilities.

Karzai paid a visit to New Delhi last month and was received by Prime Minister Narendra Modi (May 23). Karzai was en route to China to participate in the First Annual Conference CICA Non-Governmental Forum held in Beijing on May 25.

In a candid interview with the Chinese state television, Karzai had made remarks on the same lines as he did with RT, which were very critical of the U.S.’ war in Afghanistan and outlining that the U.S. used the al-Qaeda threat to justify its military presence.

Significantly, Karzai floated the idea of Russia, China and India acting as “balancers” vis-à-vis the Western presence so as to strengthen Afghan sovereignty. He strongly pleaded for a regional peace initiative by Russia, China and India, stressing that Afghan security is best guaranteed by the regional powers, not the West. He demanded that the western powers should cooperate with a regional initiative.

Karzai’s mission to New Delhi, Beijing and Moscow appear to be focused on the objective of promoting a regional initiative for peace in Afghanistan that would balance the U.S.’ domineering role and prevent Washington from using the terrorist threat as a pretext for pursuing geopolitical objectives.

However, a regional initiative between Russia, China and India may seem a far-fetched idea. Consider the following:

  • Russia and China have tensions in their relations with the U.S., but that is not the case with India.
  • Russia and China are fast developing an entente over regional security issues in the Eurasian and Asia-Pacific, but India’s “Act East” policy and the U.S.’ “pivot” strategy in the Asia-Pacific are harmonizing.
  • China has close ties with Pakistan, which is a central player in Afghanistan, whereas, the Sino-Pak partnership worries India.
  • China collaborates with Pakistan over the Afghan problem, while India remains steadfast in the view that Pakistan’s power projection into Afghanistan is the single biggest impediment to peace in Afghanistan.
  • India-Pakistan relations remain frosty amidst a flurry of mutual recriminations lately.
  • The U.S. voices support for India and China’s active role in Afghanistan, while doing its utmost to keep Russia and Moscow-led Collective Security Treaty Organization out of the Afghan turf.
  • Russia endorses China’s Silk Road projects in Central Asia and Afghanistan, but India harbors misgivings and is reserving opinions, lost in thoughts.

Prime facie, these contradictions seem formidable. Having said that, the fact remains that there is a convergence of interests today between India, Russia and China as regards the security and stability of Afghanistan.

The point is, Karzai chose New Delhi as his first stop and it is possible he felt encouraged after talking with Modi. New Delhi subsequently hosted a tripartite meet between the security officials of India, Russia and China regarding the Afghan problem. The three countries agreed to promote closer coordination and give “full play” to the SCO.

Of course, Karzai would have an easy job of persuading the Kremlin to veer round to the view that any continued, open-ended American and NATO military presence in Afghanistan would pose a fundamental threat to the security of Russia and its Central Asian allies.

As the host country of the SCO summit in July, Russia is in a good position to evolve a common regional platform on Afghanistan. India and Pakistan are going to be inducted into the SCO as full members at the forthcoming summit. For the first time, India and Pakistan will be sharing views and discussing a consensus stance with regard to Afghanistan. For sure, a defining moment could be coming up in Ufa and Karzai to Moscow just before the SCO summit would presage it.

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M.K. Bhadrakumar
MK Bhadrakumar served as a career diplomat in the Indian Foreign Service for over 29 years, with postings including India’s ambassador to Uzbekistan (1995-1998) and to Turkey (1998-2001). He writes the “Indian Punchline” blog and has written regularly for the Asia Times since 2001.