As the US withdraws and Beijing steps in, Delhi must be bolder in its Afghan strategy
The visit of a top Chinese Communist Party (CCP) leader to Kabul over the weekend as well as the triangular talks among senior Indian, Afghan and American officials in the United States this week underline the rapidly evolving dynamic in the northwestern subcontinent.
Both the events are unprecedented. The unannounced appearance of Zhou Yongkang, a member of the CCP's politburo standing committee, in Kabul on Saturday is the first by a senior Chinese leader in half a century. Liu Shaoqi, China's president, had showed up in Kabul in 1966. The triangular talks in New York this week among India, Afghanistan and the US is the first such exercise ever. The proposal for the triangular dialogue was announced last June, when External Affairs Minister S.M. Krishna met US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton in Washington for the third round of the annual strategic dialogue.
China's rising profile in Kabul and the prospects for Indo-US cooperation in Afghanistan are rooted in two important structural changes in our neighbourhood. One is the declining American military footprint in Afghanistan and the end to the US's combat role there by 2014. The other is the growing international disappointment with Pakistan's negative role in Afghanistan.
This month, the "military surge" that was announced by President Barack Obama nearly two years ago came to an end. The 33,000 additional troops that Obama deployed then have returned home. Obama plans to steadily reduce the remaining 70,000 troops in the coming months, if he is re-elected as president this November. He has announced plans to leave a small residual force of an unspecified number after 2014, which will help the Afghan National Army fight the insurgency.
Obama's Republican rival, Mitt Romney, has not really contested his Afghan strategy. In fact, Romney did not even mention the decade-long American war in Afghanistan in his acceptance speech at the Republican convention. While America is committed to stabilising Afghanistan and is bound to maintain a significant presence there for quite some time to come, the domestic support in the US for the longest foreign war has begun to evaporate quickly.
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