India–Pakistan rivalry heating up over Afghanistan

Author: Kabir Taneja, ORF After much delay and anticipation, US President Joe Biden recently announced that all American troops will withdraw from Afghanistan by 11 September 2021 — the 20th anniversary of Washington’s longest running war. Yet the Taliban may be using the delayed withdrawal to prepare for a more drawn-out and austere ‘spring offensive’ […] The post India–Pakistan rivalry heating up over Afghanistan first appeared on East Asia Forum.

India–Pakistan rivalry heating up over Afghanistan

Author: Kabir Taneja, ORF

After much delay and anticipation, US President Joe Biden recently announced that all American troops will withdraw from Afghanistan by 11 September 2021 — the 20th anniversary of Washington’s longest running war. Yet the Taliban may be using the delayed withdrawal to prepare for a more drawn-out and austere ‘spring offensive’ — a seasonal operation that occurs during the Winter thaw around early March.

In anticipation of the US withdrawal, old regional rivalries — such as between India and Pakistan — mean that states are preparing once again to ensure their interests survive a potential civil war. While the Taliban have historically enjoyed Pakistani patronage, India has empowered alternative factions and now lends support to the fledgling Afghan democracy project.

Pakistan, a country at the forefront of mainstreaming the Taliban, continues to hold significant sway over the group and the shuras that dictate its ideology. Pakistan’s civilian government, military and spy agency, the Inter-Services Intelligence, aided the US–Taliban withdrawal agreement hashed out in 2020. New Delhi chose a different route by refusing to (officially) negotiate with the Taliban, putting its weight behind the democratically elected government of Afghan President Ashraf Ghani.

The divide over Afghanistan’s future comes down to what type of government one supports — the emirate or the republic. Yet the tussle between New Delhi and Islamabad over influence in Afghanistan also stems from their different regional strategies. Pakistan has gained the upper hand through its foundational ties with the Taliban, while India’s arguably sloppy response to the Afghan crisis, alongside its reluctance to engage with the Taliban during a period of global outreach, has left it on the sidelines.

India’s strategy now resembles its engagement with Afghanistan during the period of Taliban rule from 1996 to 2001. India — along with other countries like Iran — formerly supported the Northern Alliance, a multi-ethnic coalition then led by Ahmad Shah Massoud, a Tajik politician and military leader. Indian engagement with former figures from the Northern Alliance and anti-Taliban figures is now cropping up again.

Vice President Abdul Rashid Dostum, the former Uzbek warlord who lent support to the 2001 US invasion of Afghanistan; former Mujahideen Commander General Atta Mohammed Noor; and the Chief of the High Council for Afghan Reconciliation, Dr Abdullah Abdullah, all recently visited New Delhi. These consultations were followed up by Indian National Security Adviser Ajit Doval’s trip to Kabul and the more recent meeting between the Afghan ambassador and the Indian army chief in New Delhi.

The space between now and September is precarious for the United States and NATO forces, especially as India, Pakistan and Iran manoeuvre their policies to safeguard their long-term interests. While India and Pakistan have so far been able to secure their individual interests under the umbrella of US and NATO military operations, a more tactically aggressive approach will be demanded from New Delhi if it intends to preserve its place in Afghanistan’s future come September.

Yet the running theory that a full US withdrawal is a default victory for Pakistan is also misleading. This hypothesis assumes that Pakistan will have full control over the Taliban and how they operate in a post-US Afghanistan. Local ethnic warlords who oppose the Taliban have already started to prepare for a civil war similar to that faced by the country after the Soviet invasion in 1979 until the beginning of Taliban rule in 1996.

With the Taliban’s intention to establish fundamentalist Islamic rule combined with strong global outreach to sell a palatable ‘peace’ to the West, it is unlikely to become a satellite state of the Pakistani establishment. The Taliban may find that one of the key takeaways of the 2001 invasion is to avoid putting all of its eggs in Pakistan’s basket.

The Taliban’s diplomatic outreach reflects the increased role of other powers such as China and Russia as the United States withdraws. This comes at a time when New Delhi, pushed by Chinese aggression along its Himalayan borders, is moving closer to Washington. While this geopolitical shift benefits New Delhi elsewhere, India may find itself relatively alone in defending its Afghan interests.

While Moscow and New Delhi have discussed Afghanistan, the increased depth of Pakistan–China cooperation could become the premier challenge for New Delhi as Islamabad’s Afghan interests are supported by Beijing’s financial prowess. As Pakistan looks likely to continue to seek ‘strategic depth’ in its Afghanistan policy, India will have to adopt an innovative approach in the coming months if it is to protect its interests and cushion the democratic process in Kabul.

As international diplomatic efforts fragment between Doha, Istanbul and Moscow, both India and Pakistan’s approach to Afghanistan is likely to become more assertive and results-oriented as many in the country prepare for another civil war.

Kabir Taneja is a Fellow with the Strategic Studies Programme and Head of the West Asia Initiative at the Observer Research Foundation.

The post India–Pakistan rivalry heating up over Afghanistan first appeared on East Asia Forum.
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US Congratulates Tibetan Exile Political Leader Penpa Tsering on his Election Win

Taiwan also congratulates Tsering on his win in a message welcoming stronger ties between the Tibetan exile community and the self-governing island claimed by China.

US Congratulates Tibetan Exile Political Leader Penpa Tsering on his Election Win

The United States has congratulated Tibetan exile political leader Penpa Tsering on his election as Sikyong, or head of Tibet’s India-based government-in-exile, the Central Tibetan Administration, following the official announcement of Tsering’s win on May 14.

“The United States congratulates Penpa Tsering on his election as the Central Tibetan Administration’s (CTA) next Sikyong,” State Department spokesperson Ned Price said on Twitter on May 14, after Tsering’s win was announced.

“We look forward to working with him and the CTA to support the global Tibetan diaspora,” Price said.

Formerly an independent nation, Tibet was invaded and incorporated into China by force 70 years ago, following which Tibetan spiritual leader the Dalai Lama and thousands of his followers fled into exile in India and other countries around the world.

The Tibetan diaspora is now estimated to include about 150,000 people living in 40 countries, mainly Indian, Nepal, North America, and in Europe.

In an unprecedented move, the Minister of Foreign Affairs of Taiwan—a self-governing island claimed by China as a renegade province—also congratulated Tsering on his electoral win in a message sent to the CTA’s representative in Taiwan and a letter sent to the new exile leader.

Speaking to RFA’s Mandarin Service on May 17, Kelsang Gyaltsen Bawa—representative of the Tibet Religious Foundation of His Holiness the Dalai Lama, the de facto embassy of Tibet’s exile government in Tapei—welcomed the CTA’s growing ties with Washington and Taipei.

“In 2020, the United States passed the U.S. Support for Tibet Act, which acknowledges the legality of the [exile] Tibetan administration,” Bawa said. “Our democratically elected chief executive can also be officially invited to visit the U.S. State Department and the White House as a result of the new U.S. policy on Tibet,” he said.

“Now the most important test for Penpa Tsering will be whether peace talks [with Beijing] can be opened through the Middle Way. He is well-known for his faithful adherence to the Middle Way policy of the Dalai Lama,” Bawa said.

“Will the Chinese government respond positively? This will need to be observed and tested [over time],” he said.

Divisions persist in the Tibetan exile community over how best to advance the rights and freedoms of Tibetans living in China, with some calling for a restoration of the independence lost when Chinese troops marched into Tibet in 1950.

The CTA and the Dalai Lama have instead adopted a policy approach called the Middle Way, which accepts Tibet’s status as a part of China but urges greater cultural and religious freedom, including strengthened language rights, for Tibetans living under Beijing’s rule.

Universal values

Also speaking to RFA, Taiwan’s Mainland Affairs Council—which manages the democratic island’s relations with China—congratulated Tibet’s exile community on the success of their election for a new leader.

“Democracy, freedom, and human rights are universal values,” the Council said. “We express our respect for the Tibetans around the world who braved the [COVID-19] pandemic and showed the true power of public opinion.”

In a May 16 article, China’s official Global Times newspaper predicted that Penpa Tsering as head of the CTA will now continue what the Times called a policy marked by repeated failures.

“The so-called ‘middle way approach’ is to realize a Tibetan ‘high degree of autonomy’ and then independence,” Zhu Weiqun—former head of the Ethnic and Religious Affairs Committee of the National Committee of the Chinese People’s Consultative Conference—told the Times in an interview.

“This is impossible, and the essence of the approach has been seen through,” Zhu said.

Call to boycott Olympics

In a statement this week, a coalition of rights groups representing Tibetans, Hong Kong people, and ethnic Southern Mongolians and Muslim Uyghurs called on world governments to boycott the Beijing 2022 Winter Olympic Games, pointing to China’s “campaign of repression in East Turkestan, Tibet and Southern Mongolia, as well as an all-out assault on democracy in Hong Kong.”

“Participating in the Beijing Olympic Games at this time would be tantamount to endorsing China’s genocide against the Uyghur people,” the rights group said, referring to China’s suppression of Uyghur culture and internment of more than a million Uyghurs in a vast network of political reeducation camps in northwest China’s region of Xinjiang.

“It is now up to the international community to take action,” the rights groups said.

Reported and translated by RFA’s Mandarin Service and Tibetan Service. Written in English by Richard Finney.

Source : Radio Free Asia More   

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