As the clock winds down to the planned withdrawal of US-led NATO troops from Afghanistan in 2014,the uncertainty about the countrys fate is causing great concern among its neighbours. The agreement on beginning an official-level dialogue on Afghanistan between New Delhi and Beijing is welcome. At this critical juncture,it is only appropriate that the fear of an imploding,violence-torn Afghanistan turning into a net exporter of instability is putting strategic heads together in Delhi,Beijing and Moscow. Last months trilateral dialogue in Moscow between India,China and Russia,attended by National Security Advisor Shivshankar Menon was their first,engendered by growing worries about the Talibans return to a position of power in Afghanistan.
So far,India has had an institutionalised dialogue on Afghanistan only with the United States. But as the inevitable deadline approaches,it is Delhis imperative to engage with Beijing to work out a system of watching,balancing and aiding to protect its economic,welfare and strategic interests in Afghanistan. While India fears a re-empowered Taliban controlled by the Pakistani military and intelligence machinery,Beijing has its own high investment and mining stakes in the country and would be keen to safeguard those. Although Beijings traditional approach to Afghanistan has been via Pakistans helping hands,it is invested in the countrys stability in a way the Pakistan army is not. Therefore,China,unlike Pakistan,understands Indias stabilising role in Afghanistan and has shown eagerness to expand its engagement with Delhi on this count.
Even as common security concerns add a new twist to the regional dynamic,India should approach the dialogue with no illusions about Pakistans importance for China. A close ally of Beijing,Pakistan lends geography to the Chinese presence in Afghanistan. In fact,its role will only grow in post-withdrawal Afghanistan. But as China prepares for the potential fallout on its restive Xinjiang province of a re-Talibanised Afghanistan acting as a safe haven for Islamists,and Russia fears the impact on the Central Asian states,India has an opportunity to work with them to minimise instability.