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India, Russia and China in Race to Expand Influence Over Afghanistan; Preventing Re-Talibanization After 2014

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From India to Russia and China to Iran, there is a big question mark on the geopolitical condition of the region once the western forces from Afghanistan will depart sometime in 2014. Russia, China, India and the neighbouring states are eager to know America’s and NATO’s strategy after the withdrawal of the forces so that they can prepare themselves to deal with the coming situation.
Each nation including Pakistan, has an objective in Afghanistan to safeguard their interest and maintain peace within the region. However, Pakistan differs from other countries in implementing its objectives in Afghanistan. Pakistan supports Taliban and believes in either Taliban rule in Afghanistan or a coalition of Afghan government with Taliban. It has also made western powers to consider Taliban to be reconciled and establish a power sharing arrangement in the Afghan government. It is believed that the U.S, along with the U.K, France and Germany, is trying to reach out to the Taliban leaders directly. Before the war on terror in Afghanistan there were only three countries: Pakistan, Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates, who  recognized Taliban. Now there is a good probability that in the coming future more countries are willing to recognize it.

Concerns in India 

India sees Afghanistan as a strategically important country. According to India, Afghanistan is its bordering neighbour, however the part which borders Afghanistan is occupied by Pakistan which India doesn’t recognizes on its national maps. Safeguarding a Taliban free Afghanistan is in interest of India which is one of the favourite target of cross border terrorism. Indians have made over $2 billion of investment in Afghanistan mainly in mining, agriculture, energy, capacity building and infrastructure to make its place secured as a friendly nation. Just to make Afghanistan less dependent on Pakistan for access to the sea, India had been building a highway and rail link from Iranian ports to Afghanistan and Central Asia. India has been acting swift to prevent Pakistan from regaining Afghanistan as its backyard and making it a place to nourish extremism and drugs, taking the land locked country back to 1990s. If Pakistan can ensure its western border safe by having its puppet government in Afghanistan, it will be able to largely concentrate on its eastern border with India. India so far doesn’t have any declared interest of forming military bases in Afghanistan. Although India has deployed soldiers of  Indo Tibetan Border Police in Afghanistan to ensure safety of Indian diplomats and development work in Afghanistan a big military presence in the land locked country in the future may help India to contain its childhood rival.

Concerns in China

China’s establishment in Afghanistan has largely been propelled by its all weather friend, Pakistan. Like India, China has managed to invest nearly $3 billion in Afghanistan. China believes presence of Taliban can affect its business development dreams in Afghanistan. One of the major concern in China is also the extremism in its Xinjiang province whose roots have been identified in Pakistan and Afghanistan. China doesn’t want to take risk of cross border backed development of unrest inside its territory. Specially on this matter, Chinese policy differs than that of Pakistan and for this reason earlier this year China approached India to discuss Afghanistan. India and China may be competitor in Afghanistan for securing tenders and deals, but to sustain there, they need the support of each other and a common ground of strategy. For India, it gives the interpretation that China doesn’t exactly buy Pakistan’s approach of solving Afghanistan’s situation which doesn’t want to exclude Taliban from Afghanistan.

Concerns in Russia


Russia is anxious about the possible reach of Taliban and its ideology to Central Asia and former Soviet republics, which it considers its area of influence. Russia has shown its will to establish new bases in Afghanistan for the repairing of military hardware. Russia is also seeking a broader cooperation with NATO and continuing supporting it through their northern supply route until its withdrawal. The head of the Defense Ministry’s department of international cooperation, Sergey Koshelev, told the press, “maintenance of weapons and military hardware in Afghanistan remains a top priority, as any instability in the country would affect Russia’s own security, as well as the security of other European nations.” 
Presence of either Russia or United States in Afghanistan would be in favour of India. Although India maintains one air base in coordination with Russia in Tajikistan [Read: India Expanding Its Strategic Presence in Other Countries], India doesn’t see itself as a major military expansion power seeking oversea bases. India aided the NATO and northern alliance in Afghanistan during the war against Taliban, and India was also the only country in South Asia to recognize the Soviet backed Democratic Republic of Afghanistan. At least as of now, India has no declared interest of setting up military bases in Afghanistan. India, on the other hand  repeatedly rejected any attempts to reconcile the “good Taliban” within Afghanistan’s system. 
Afghanistan’s president Hamid Karzai had invited Pakistan’s government and ISI chiefs to take more active role in resolving Afghanistan’s issue, as it had been considered that any agreeable resolution of Afghanistan was impossible without the involvement of Pakistan in it. The assassination of former Afghan president Burhanuddin Rabbani in September 2011, which was traced to Taliban, changed everything. Afghanistan made a sudden geopolitical shift and signed strategic pact with India in October 2011 that includes training Afghanistan’s military. 
Russia and China, on the other hand are worried about west’s plan of supporting a government in Afghanistan in cooperation with Taliban. What they fear is that they believe it could become an America-Taliban deal allowing continued presence of America and breaking the future economic and geopolitics dreams of both Russia and China in Afghanistan. However, now the chances of America accepting Pakistan’s formula is low, as now it is clear that Osama bin Laden was hidden in Pakistan and there have been evidence of Pakistan’s ISI and Haqqani network involved against the Indian and American interests in Afghanistan.
India, Russia and China met first time in Moscow on 20th February, 2013 to discuss the situation in Afghanistan. India has also been engaged with the U.S., U.K and Afghanistan for future cooperation. U.S and China are engaged in their own conversation on Afghanistan, and on the other hand India, Russia and China are also involving Iran. The amount of conversation and dialogue between high level diplomats of the countries shows the importance of Afghanistan and their future. Each country is racing to expand its influence over Afghanistan, but the main motive is same, to keep Taliban at bay.
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Sanskar Shrivastava is the founder of international students' journal, The World Reporter. Passionate about dynamic occurrence in geopolitics, Sanskar has been studying and analyzing geopolitcal events from early life. At present, Sanskar is a student at the Russian Centre of Science and Culture and will be moving to Duke University.

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Explore the royal city of Mysore

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Call it the Heritage City or the City of Palaces, the city of Mysore still emanates a feeling of au royale even in a 21st century India. A place of heritage for royal families, sultans, and legendary names in history, every corner of Mysore is steeped in stories of victory, power, and grandeur. A tour of this majestic city is only justified when you explore the royal heritage of the City of Palaces.

Getting there

Conveniently located on the southern edge of the Karnataka State, Mysore is easily accessible from major cities. It takes about three hours to travel the 152 KM distance from Bangalore to Mysore.

History and Heritage

The city of Mysore served as the capital for the Kingdom of Mysore between the 1300s until 1956. These six centuries saw the kingdom change hands of rulers and kings, from the Wadiyar Dynasty, Hyder Ali and Tipu Sultan. But the common element of all the rulers was their penchant for art and culture. Under their patronage, they contributed to the city’s visual and cultural glory which earned Mysore the fame of Karnataka’s cultural capital.

A royal tour

If you want to experience the regal side of Mysore, you cannot but miss these structures of historical and architectural significance. You can join a heritage walking tour to explore the city on foot, or head from Bangalore to Mysore by car and stop by at monuments, palaces, and museums and learn about the legends that made Mysore. You can start your walk from the Town Hall, built in 1884, as a tribute to the first Dewan of the city.

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Mysore Palace- The official residence of the royal family of Wadiyars, the palace itself is a work of marvel. An overwhelming blend of   Indo-Saracenic, neoclassical, Indo-Islamic and Gothic architectural works, the Mysore Palace is a breathtaking sight. Built in 1912, the palace is a UNESCO World Heritage Site and boasts delicate works of mirrors, stained glass, mosaic and more. On any given day, you will find more tourists here than even at the Taj Mahal. Every Sunday, the palace comes alive with 97000 light bulbs bedazzling its façade and the premises.

Lalitha Palace– Yet another heritage building, the two-storied Lalitha Mahal sits on a ridge at the foothills of the Chamundi Hills, which makes for a great vantage point. The palace was transformed into a hotel and offers a royal stay. If you truly want a feeling of royalty, then a stay here would be an experience.

Jaganmohan Palace– One of the seven prominent palaces of Mysore city, is a stunning work of ancient Indian architecture with intricate interiors and exteriors. The palace, transformed into a royal art gallery since 1915, houses paintings of the royal family, art by Raja Ravi Varma and an array of rare and antique musical instruments.

Museums- Stop by the Rail Museum to explore the archaic steam engines, the Maharani’s saloon, and other railway souvenirs. There’s also the Jayalakshmi Vilas Mansion showcasing more than 6500 folk artifacts from all parts of Karnataka. The Folk Art Museum, one of the most visited in the city, is also known for its collection of toys, models, and figurines.

Crawford Hall- Built in 1947, this is a must visit historic structure in Mysore. The royal palace is now known as the Mysore University but still renders a rich heritage to its ambiance.

Small, medium or large-scale, every historical building and monument of Mysore has a majestic touch to it. And such architecture speaks of its glorious past, which has left traces for the modern civilization to explore.

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India’s Victory at the International Court of Justice is the World’s Challenge to the Status Quo

Manak Suri

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flickr/romanboed

For the past week, both the Indian and British media have rigorously covered the story of the re-election of India’s justice Dalveer Bhandari to the bench of judges in the International Court of Justice on Tuesday, November 21. That the Indian judge retained his position on the bench was not the sole reason for the story’s extensive coverage; his reappointment combined with the fact that it happened at the expense of the United Kingdom’s spot on the bench is why the story is making so many rounds… and no, that many Indians may see it as some sort of a comeback against Britain’s 200 years of colonial rule over the country is not the reason why it matters. It matters because this is the first time since 1946 that the UK has no judge on the ICJ bench, and that signals possible changes in the way international bodies govern and are governed. So what does this mean for India, for the UK and for the world at large?

The International Court of Justice

The International Court of Justice or the ICJ was established in 1945 by the United Nations as its principal judicial branch and is located in The Hague, Netherlands. Its job is to settle legal disputes between states that are submitted to it and give advisory opinions on legal questions referred to it. The court comprises of a total of 15 judges that are elected to 9 year terms by way of voting from both the United Nations General Assembly (UNGA) and the United Nations Security Council (UNSC) separately. One third of the court is re-elected every three years, and no two judges of the same nationality may assume positions on the bench simultaneously. However, the rule that led to the deadlock between the candidates from India and UK is that a candidate must obtain an absolute majority in both the UNGA and the UNSC in order to be elected to the bench.

UN General Assembly vs UN Security Council: The Race in Numbers

On November 9 and November 13, in seven rounds of voting justice Bhandari secured between 110 and 121 votes from a total of 193 in the UNGA against figures between 68 and 79 secured by his British counterpart Sir Christopher Greenwood. However, among the UNSC, justice Bhandari lost out by 5 votes to 9 in favour of Sir Greenwood. In the face of uncertainty, the UK then pushed for a ‘joint conference’ under the rules of the court between the UNSC and the UNGA. Under the ‘joint conference’ three countries from each side then determine the name for the court. However, the rules do not mention the procedure to select these countries and understandably so, since the option was last invoked in 1921. Fearing not enough support from the council, criticism for invoking the charter, and harming its friendly as well as economic relations with India, the UK eventually chose to not follow through with the process and withdrew its candidature for the post. In the end, India secured the seat with a total of 183 votes out of 193 at the UNGA and all 15 at the UNSC.

There is More to the Victory than Meets the Eye

The result means different things for the parties involved and also for the balance of power and influence between countries. For the UK, there are hardly any positives to take away from this result amid already turbulent times. Many in the British media have viewed this loss as ‘a blow to British international prestige’ and the country’s acceptance of a diminishing role in global affairs. This was the UK’s second major defeat at the ICJ after it lost a vote by a margin of 94 to 15 countries in June when the UNGA voted in favour of referring the question of decolonisation and self-determination of the Chagos Islands in the Indian Ocean to the ICJ, which is currently under its control. Many within and outside the country have also been quick to blame Brexit for the situation in which they find themselves today, arguing that the other states, especially the ones within the European Union would have been less willing to snub the UK had the UK chosen not to leave the alliance. In the face of defeat, British diplomats have continued to maintain that they are happy that their close friend India has won, but have also not been shy of hiding their natural disappointment at their own loss.

For India, their victory in having a judge win the contest in getting elected to the ICJ bench against a permanent member of the UNSC is more symbolic than anything else. It reinforces India’s image at the highest stage as a major emerging global player and its ability to bring in greater reforms that push for more involvement from developing countries and emerging economies. Also, having a judge on the ICJ bench gives India an edge over Pakistan in the case involving former Indian Navy Officer Kulbhushan Jadhav who has been sentenced to death by a Pakistan military court on the charges of espionage. True, a judge on the ICJ does not represent his/her country or their interests. However, as suggested by repeated criticism the court receives for being biased in favour of the states who appoint the judges, having a judge on the panel is certainly an asset for any country, no matter what the rules dictate on paper.

The most important takeaway from the whole episode far exceeds the ambitions of just the two countries and a race for a seat at the ICJ. India’s victory at the court reinforces the belief that power does not necessarily reside or has to reside with the ‘few global elite’, a sentiment which was expressed clearly when most member states of the UNGA backed India’s justice Bhandari to be re-elected against the choice of the permanent members or P5 of the UNSC. There seems to be an acknowledgment among the member states of the UN of the beginning of a change which sees an increasing shift in the balance of power away from the traditional powers of the world or the P5 – Britain, China, United States, Russia, and France. Of these countries, China was the only member to not have a judge on the ICJ between 1967 and 1985 till the final decision last week, when they were joined by the UK in the list. Last year, Russia was voted off the United Nations Human Rights Council. In the 2016 elections, France lost out on securing a position in the International Law Commission. While diplomats at the UN continue to maintain that there are no winners and losers here, that it is all part of a bigger picture, these developments undoubtedly mark diplomatic victories for the Group of 77 or the G77, a coalition of developing nations at the UN that have constantly pushed for an enhanced negotiating capacity. What remains to be seen is just to what extent they bring about a change in the status quo.

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Iran’s Chabahar Port: How India, Afghanistan, and Iran Gain From it

Manak Suri

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November 11, 2017 was a significant day diplomatically and geopolitically for Iran, India, and Afghanistan. A trilateral cooperation between the three countries saw Afghanistan receive its first shipment of wheat from India which was set in motion by India’s minister of external affairs Sushma Swaraj on October 29 along with her Afghan counterpart Salahuddin Rabbani. The shipment was the first among a series as part of India’s commitment to supply 1.1 million tons of wheat to the people of the country suffering from decades of war and instability. At the center of this achievement lies Iran’s Chabahar port and the trilateral International Transport and Transit Corridor Agreement between the three countries.

The Iranian port in Chabahar: why it is so important

The Iranian port is located in the country’s southernmost city of Chabahar, and has periodically found itself making headlines especially as the Asian powerhouses in India and China compete for influence in the seas to establish trade relationships across Asia, Europe, and Africa. As China pumps more and more investment into its mammoth Belt and Road Initiative (BRI), a modern take on the Silk Route to connect 60 countries across the three continents through land and sea routes, the port of Chabahar has over a period of time found its suitors in prime opponents of the BRI such as India and Japan with the former already investing around USD 500 million in the port. While the idea for the port’s development was first proposed in 1979, it is expected to be fully operational by the end of 2018.

It would be rather unrealistic to assume that the Chabahar port will challenge China’s BRI as a whole to a direct geopolitical contest. However, once fully operational, the port is expected to connect the Persian Gulf and the Indian Ocean with St. Petersburg in Russia and further ahead with Europe through the International North South Transport Corridor or the INSTC. India, Afghanistan, and Iran stand to gain in different ways both collectively and individually through this development in trade routes.

A win-win-win situation

The development of the Chabahar port presents the key for India to reforge an oil based relationship with Iran and to forge trade relations beyond Afghanistan with countries in Central Asia. Once the port is fully developed, it is expected to also carry a larger variety of cargo, including heavy engineering goods and electronics. With a much shorter route to Europe, the time taken to transport goods from ports in India to countries in Europe is expected to be reduced by more than half from the 45 days it currently takes for the cargo to reach its destination. It is also estimated the cost of the deliveries will be reduced by about 30-40%. Moreover, it seems extremely unlikely that India will be a part of the Chinese proposed BRI, given that an integral component of the initiative is the China Pakistan Economic Corrdior (CPEC) that runs through the Kashmir region whose ownership is hotly contested by both India and Pakistan. In that regard, the Chabahar port offers India the opportunity to challenge China at least in some capacity in their ever expanding contest for trade and influence across the globe, by connecting it to rail networks of different countries in Central Asia.

For a landlocked Afghanistan which has no direct access to the seas, the development of the Chabahar port and its agreement with India and Iran coming to fruition holds great significance. The port opens up the country to the world, and provides it with better access to trade, vastly reducing its dependency on its neighbour Pakistan and enabling it to forge even closer ties with India. Pakistan has in the past disallowed India to access the land route to Afghanistan for the provision of aid to the country. Now an alternate route through Chabahar allows for the same to reach the country first from the port to Zaranj, which is adjacent to Afghanistan’s border with Iran, and then further 218 km ahead into the country via the Zarang-Delaram highway.

For Iran, a fully functional seaport in Chabahar appears to be strategically important since it is located away from the historically contested waters of the Arabian Gulf. Recovering now from easing sanctions, Iran looks to climb the geopolitical ladder and reestablish itself in the coming decades. Amid worsening ties with the United States, it has caught the attention of China, Russia, and other countries in Europe and also looks to gain from its relation with India. The Chabahar port may just be the key to put an end to its economic isolation. Even with the United States and India recognising each other as allies, Iran has not yet found any opposition from the US against India’s cooperation with Iran on the port, and that is because the US recognises the benefit that Afghanistan is able to attain from India’s efforts through the Chabahar port.

India, Iran, and Afghanistan share historical civilisational ties and similarities and the same was referenced by Indian minister of external affairs Sushma Swaraj. “This shows the convergence between the ancient civilisations of India, Afghanistan and Iran to spur unhindered flow of commerce and trade throughout the region,” said Swaraj as she flagged off the first shipment of wheat to Afghanistan on October 29.

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