New Delhi, Oct 4, 2021.
Western powers and India have joined hands to contain China in the Indo-Pacific region even as Beijing continues with its aggressive behavior in Eastern Ladakh and Taiwanese airspace. What has lent an edge to anti-China stance is the UK joining the grouping called AUKUS consisting of Australia, Britain and the US.
The in-person meetings of the Quad leaders along with those of AUKUS in Washington DC last week signaled in no uncertain terms that the focus was China even though it found no specific mention by name. Some analysts described Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s first in-person interaction with US President Joe Biden as fruitful in the current geopolitical landscape. According to them, Modi largely succeeded in bringing forth issues that concern the country. They included Afghanistan, China, Pakistan and, of course, the Indo-Pacific which was the principal agenda of the Quad summit.
China may not have been named specifically, but no one missed the point that it remained the thrust of the discussions among Biden, Modi, Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison and his Japanese counterpart Yoshihide Suga. By pledging to ensure a “free and open Indo -Pacific”, they sent a strong signal to China that it can no longer take things for granted in the region. AUKUS, the new security grouping of the US, UK and Australia to keep peace in the Indo-Pacific puts further pressure on Beijing on its expansionist agenda.
Both the Quad and the AUKUS are of immense importance to India which is facing a belligerent China. Border tension in Ladakh is a continuing affair for over a year now. Indo-Pacific waters may prove to be another friction point between the two neighbors, given Beijing’s hawkish eye on sea routes and its controlling interests in the region. India could not have asked for more in Washington DC.
Afghanistan figured no less prominently in the discussions. All the leaders reiterated their commitment for a peaceful and inclusive Afghanistan obliquely telling the Taliban that it must mend its ways. It is another matter that the Taliban is showing no signs of changing. That Pakistan came under watch of the US administration as regards developments in Afghanistan became very clear in the course of discussions with the US leaders, including Vice President Kamala Harris and Secretary of State Antony Blinken. Biden’s comments on Pakistan were interpreted as unapproving so far as Afghanistan is concerned. The Foreign Relations Committee of the Capitol Hill has already made adverse comments about Pakistan’s hobnobbing with Afghanistan post the US withdrawal.
Overall, India has no reason to be dissatisfied with the outcome of Modi’s US visit. Modi’s address at the UN general assembly was statesmanlike with no slanging match with Pakistan even though Imran Khan sought to provoke India in his speech. By leaving a junior diplomat to respond to Imran Khan, Modi showed the Pakistan PM his place in India’s scheme of things.
It remains to be seen, however, how India navigates Afghanistan. Much will depend upon the role the international community (read the western powers) is able to play in the changed circumstances. Will US reign in Pakistan to stay away from the Taliban? Only time will tell. China’s relations with the Taliban is yet another issue of concern to India. Its designs are not hidden. India’s immense goodwill among Afghans is the only weapon at the moment. This will, of course, stand India in good stead in the long run. New Delhi must continue with its humanitarian aids to the people of Afghanistan.