India and the Emerging Eurasian Strategic Landscape
The United Nations Security Council (UNSC) which approves International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) mission in Afghanistan year on year extended the same till September 2013 and could be expected to give another extension till end 2014. The United States has already declared intent to maintain a permanent presence in Afghanistan and is working on an agreement with Kabul to that effect. The North Atlantic Treaty Organisation (NATO) Defence Ministers meet in Brussels on 10 October apart from other issues held talks for the first stage of planning for NATO-led training, advisory and assistance mission in Afghanistan, which is to replace the current combat one in 2015. For NATO a mission in the Eurasian region is important given that the primary area of influence, Europe has a cooperative security structure in place and may not require the conventional force profile that member states are maintaining today.
Almost simultaneously Russia stated that UNSC authorisation for the proposed NATO training mission in Afghanistan will be necessary. Thus while in general Russia is supportive of peace and stability in Afghanistan, whether Moscow will be amenable to a permanent presence of sorts of NATO in the region which is seen as the primary arc of Russian influence for centuries is unclear. Russia has also reached out to Pakistan for the first time in many decades underlining expansion of leverages.
China is another important stake holder in Eurasia. China has been an early mover initiating the Shanghai Cooperation Organisation (SCO) which has now all the important regional actors including Russia, the Central Asian Republics and India, Iran and Pakistan amongst others as an observer. China is also increasing the economic foot print in Afghanistan mainly in the field of mining and oil and gas exploration.
India is also emerging as a major player in Eurasia. India’s Joint Secretary Eurasia, Ministry of External Affairs, Mr Ajay Bisaria outlined Indian goals in Central Asia during a press conference in New Delhi on 31 August 2012. Bisaria said, “India has articulated this year a very proactive phase in our engagement with Central Asia. We call it the Connect Central Asia Policy. This policy is based on proactive engagement in a number of spheres – economic, defence, strategic, cultural and so on – and a few flagships projects including what we call the Central Asia E-Network”.
India is seen to have bandwagoned with the United States in Afghanistan as indicated by a number of joint meets including a recent trilateral between the US, India and Afghanistan in the wake of the UN General Assembly on 26 September 2012. In another trilateral between India, Japan and the United States in New Delhi on 29 October 2012, Afghanistan was one of the key issues discussed. Meanwhile India is also in touch with Iran for coordination of policy with investment in an alternate axis through the Chahbahar port to Afghanistan and Central Asia on the agenda. On the other hand India’s Eurasia policy is likely to be challenged by main regional adversaries, China and Pakistan.
This panorama sets the stage for emerging contests between key global players in Eurasia in 2014 which may be heralded by formal pull out of ISAF from Afghanistan.