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Tuesday, September 22, 2020
Indian Press on Afghan Taliban and Abraham Accord: New Age Islam's Selection, 22 September 2020
By New Age Islam Edit Bureau
22 September 2020
•Afghan Taliban On China’s ‘Side’: Should India Be Worried?
By Haidar Abbas
•India And the Abraham Accords
By Mahesh Sachdev
Afghan Taliban On China’s ‘Side’: Should India Be Worried?
By Haidar Abbas
21 Sep 2020
Behind the facade of the US as a superpower is also a dark underbelly – one that is not so visible in the mainstream media or primetime debates: a startling fact that, around 5,00,000 US military men – who have at some point in time served in Iraq or Afghanistan – have been diagnosed with Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD).
This has emerged after the US remained locked in battle with its 40 allies, against the Afghan Taliban, over the last twenty years, and in its wake lost more than 3000 of its soldiers, wounded 20,660, and incurred damages worth USD 975 billion.
Now that the US is leaving Afghanistan – after signing a deal with the same Afghan Taliban it had fought for two decades – it has totally shifted its focus towards getting Israel to scuttle the Arab states into normalising their diplomatic ties with it.
No wonder US President Donald Trump has ‘gotten himself nominated’ for the Nobel Peace Prize for the same.
Strange are political bedfellows. The Afghan Taliban fought against the Soviet Union with the help of the US, and today, the erstwhile Soviet Union and now Russia is totally supportive of the same Afghan Taliban and against the US. Vietnam fought against US with Chinese support, and today Vietnam is against China with US support.
There is a new churning of the world order as China, Pakistan, Iran, Malaysia, Turkey and Russia are forming a new bloc, while the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia (KSA), UAE, Israel, US, India, Japan are forming another bloc.
The long-standing friendship of Pakistan and KSA has soured, and Pakistan has started to align with Turkey. At the same time, Pakistan has also been instrumental in making the Afghan Taliban come to an understanding with China, the scourge for US and India alike, as India always wanted the Afghan Taliban to be kept at bay due to concerns over Kashmir. India and China are also embroiled in a conflict in the Himalayas over their border areas.
The US had imagined that when it would leave Afghanistan it would be far more wrecked than twenty years ago, as infighting is the hallmark of the Afghans and the ‘kept’ US government of Ashraf Ghani would give a bloody-nose to the Afghan Taliban, who are now almost at the doorstep of Kabul.
While the US is packing its bags, a news report in the Financial Times on 8 September 2020, says that China now is intending to go ahead with a promise to invest in Afghanistan, which would proverbially mean rushing into a zone where even angels fear to tread – that is, the decision to develop infrastructure in Afghanistan in exchange for peace, as ‘Beijing hopes infrastructure investment can prevent instability in Afghanistan after US troops withdraw’. The report also says that China has ‘offered to build a road network for the Taliban’, if they can ensure peace in Afghanistan after the US military withdrawal, ‘according to two senior tribal leaders in Pakistan with close ties to the militants’.
The same report informs us that, according to tribal leaders from Balochistan, diplomats from Beijing offered “sizeable investments in energy and infrastructure projects” in the country during talks that have been taking place over the past three months in Beijing.
“Chinese officials have told the Taliban to bring peace [to Afghanistan] and China will invest in roads to begin with,” said one leader, as per the report. “In future, China also wants to look at energy projects like generating electricity and then transporting oil and gas from Central Asia [through Afghanistan].”
The Chinese are thinking ahead on Afghanistan and laying the ground for the future, said security expert James Dorsey, as per the FT report. A second tribal leader in Balochistan, who returned from Afghanistan in late August after spending a month there, told FT that ‘China had pledged to build motorways that would link Afghanistan’s main cities.
The US now, even more aggressively than before, wants China’s most ambitious project – the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC) – ‘killed’.
Why? Because China and US’s ‘bête noire’ Iran have entered a USD 400 billion ‘military and trade’ deal recently. And unsurprisingly, Iran, Turkey, Pakistan and China are becoming closer.
CPEC’s end line is the Gwadar port in Balochistan province in Pakistan, from where its goods will reach the world – and acting on the possibility of India and US choking Chinese ships in the Malacca Strait, China has started to build a railway line – from its Kashgar province into Balochistan.
China wants to connect Gwadar port with the Chabahar port in Iran, from where, ironically, India was asked to move out, and the recent visit of India’s Defence Minister Rajnath Singh to Tehran also turned out to be a damp squib. The Gwadar port is what Israel wants to keep an eye on, as Israel-UAE have decided to make an intelligence base on Socotra island in Yemen, which overlooks the Gwadar. This, after Israel and UAE decided to enter diplomatic relations on 14 August 2020.
Growing Trust Between China & Afghan Taliban
China is now laying the groundwork for the future, particularly in nations which are close to its borders and which conform to Chinese interests. Pakistan will always be in the middle of Chinese policies as it is Pakistan which helped the US ‘hash up’ the peace deal with the Afghan Taliban, and now with the job done, the US is on its way to abandoning Pakistan, as India is ‘replacing’ it.
Now, as suggested by some reports, China and the Afghan Taliban may have joint meetings, followed by delegations from Afghanistan and Turkey visiting each other; this suggests a growing trust between the two.
A meeting in Islamabad might also happen (Russia and China included) where regional stability in the wake of the new, emerging scenario would be the object of discussion, as Pakistan has walked out of its relationship over KSA, which forced the latter to seek the return of USD 1 billion from Pakistan, and snap the oil supply on deferred loans to Pakistan. China helped Pakistan return the KSA money. KSA is now an advantage to India and has also threatened to deport Pakistani workers – a space India is ready to fill.
What merits attention is, while China has been slammed for ‘persecuting’ its Muslim Uighurs, all the majority-Muslim nations – Turkey, Iran, Pakistan and even Malaysia – have cozied up to China. This has annoyed the US which has raised a hue and cry over the Uighur cause, while the US itself has, ironically, been ‘responsible’ for the deaths of millions of Muslims in Iraq, Pakistan, Afghanistan, Syria etc.
How the situation unfolds is for the future to see. But China, with the Afghan Taliban on its side, has been assured the safety of its CPEC from the Balochistan Liberation Army (BLA).
Haidar Abbas Rizvi, is a former State Information Commissioner in India. He writes on international politics.
(This is an opinion piece, and the views expressed above are the author’s own. New Age Islam neither endorses nor is responsible for them.)
Israeli foray into the Gulf could disrupt the politico-economic architecture India has built with the GCC
The White House ceremony on September 15 marking the formal normalisation of Israel’s ties with the United Arab Emirates (UAE) and the Kingdom of Bahrain has created a significant inflection point in regional history and geopolitics. Indeed, it helped ring in the Jewish new year (Rosh Hashanah 5781) last weekend with some extra cheers!
Two New Friendships
The two Gulf states have, thus, joined Egypt and Jordan which had their peace treaties with Israel in 1979 and 1994, respectively. Still, several nuances make the September 15 reconciliation different. For one, the UAE and Bahrain do not have any territorial dispute with Israel, nor have they ever been at war with it. Although formally committed to an Arab consensus over a two-state resolution of the Palestine cause, these two countries have steadily, albeit furtively, moved towards having substantive links with Israel in recent years. Hence, the ‘Abraham Accords’ entered with the UAE and Bahrain are ‘peace-for-peace’ deals without any physical quid pro quo by Israel. Multiple drivers are likely to spur the two new friendships to grow faster and deeper than the ‘cold peace’ Israel has had with its two Arab neighbours. Externally, Israel, the UAE and Bahrain share the common threat perception of Iran against the backdrop of the ongoing diminution of Pax Americana in the region. Internally, while all three have their respective hotheads opposing this reconciliation, these seem manageable. They are relatively more modern societies which share the overarching and immediate priority of post-pandemic economic resuscitation. They have lost no time to set up logistics such as Internet connectivity and direct flights to pave the way for more active economic engagement. If these sinews evolve, other moderate Arab countries are likely to join the Israel fan club.img
Israel’s detente with Egypt and Jordan did not have any major impact on India as our ties with them were relatively insignificant. However, now India has stronger, multifaceted and growing socioeconomic engagements with Israel and the Gulf countries. With over eight million Indian diaspora in the Gulf remitting annually nearly $50 billion, annual merchandise trade of over $150 billion, sourcing of nearly two-thirds of India’s hydrocarbon imports, major investments, etc., it is natural to ask how the new regional dynamic would affect India.
Implications for India
Geopolitically, India has welcomed the establishment of diplomatic relations between the UAE and Israel, calling both its strategic partners. In general, the Israel-Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) breakthrough widens the moderate constituency for peaceful resolution of the Palestine dispute, easing India’s diplomatic balancing act. However, nothing in West Asia is monochromatic: The Israel-GCC ties may provoke new polarisations between the Jihadi fringe and the mainstream. The possibility of the southern Gulf becoming the new arena of the proxy war between Iran and Israel cannot be ruled out, particularly in Shia pockets. India would have to be on its guard to monitor and even pre-empt any threat to its interests in the Gulf.
Even more important for India is to manage the economic fallout of the Israel-GCC synergy. With defence and security cooperation as a strong impetus, both sides are ready to realise the full potential of their economic complementarity. The UAE and Bahrain can become the entrepôts to Israeli exports of goods and services to diverse geographies. Israel has niche strengths in defence, security and surveillance equipment, arid farming, solar power, horticultural products, high-tech, gem and jewellery, and pharmaceuticals. Tourism, real estate and financial service sectors on both sides have suffered due to the pandemic and hope for a positive spin-off from the peer-to-peer interactions. Further, Israel has the potential to supply skilled and semi-skilled manpower to the GCC states, particularly from the Sephardim and Mizrahim ethnicities, many of whom speak Arabic. Even the Israeli Arabs may find career opportunities to bridge the cultural divide. Israel is known as the start-up nation and its stakeholders could easily fit in the various duty-free incubators in the UAE.
Israeli foray into the Gulf has the potential to disrupt the existing politico-economic architecture India has carefully built with the GCC states. India has acquired a large and rewarding regional footprint, particularly as the preferred source of manpower, food products, pharmaceuticals, gem and jewellery, light engineering items, etc. Indians are also the biggest stakeholders in Dubai’s real estate, tourism and Free Economic Zones. In the evolving scenario, there may be scope for a profitable trilateral synergy, but India cannot take its preponderance as a given. It needs to keep its powder as dry as the shifting sands of the Empty Quarter.
Mahesh Sachdev, a former Indian Ambassador, is President, Eco-Diplomacy and Strategies, New Delhi