In the shadow of the Covid, the challenges of China and Afghanistan

After nearly two years of disruption caused by Covid-19, the world is looking at life beyond the pandemic. A look at six harsh realities India faced on the diplomatic front in 2021, and six challenges and opportunities ahead in 2022.

Rise of the Taliban

The chaotic exit of the United States after 19 years and the reconquest of Afghanistan by the Taliban have meant difficult times for India.

New Delhi, which had started the re-engagement process, was finally forced to let go of its hesitation and made publicly declared contact. While clarifying its red lines on extremism and the rights of minorities and women, India has declared itself ready to expand humanitarian aid. Last year it made an $ 80 million pledge, in addition to its $ 3 billion pledge over the past two decades. This means New Delhi views the Taliban as a political actor, burying the ghost of the IC-814 hijacking, despite the Taliban being influenced and even controlled by the military establishment in Pakistan – which has welcomed the takeover.

China muscle flexion

A year and a half after the start of the border standoff in eastern Ladakh, disengagement remains in two areas, while broader de-escalation is not on the horizon.

In a world occupied by the pandemic, China has flexed its muscles in the Indo-Pacific region. On the Indian border, it has deployed strategic long-range bombers, and there are reports of the construction of new runways and the deployment of helicopters and bombers in eastern Ladakh. In the recent past, Chinese naval forces or militias have slammed into Vietnamese fishing boats, “buzzed” Philippine Navy ships and harassed Malaysian drilling operations. China has raised new territorial claims with Bhutan and built villages in the border areas of Arunachal Pradesh.

“What is clear is that Beijing’s decisions must have been taken at the highest level for political and strategic reasons, not just tactics,” former Indian national security adviser Shivshankar Menon wrote in Foreign Affairs earlier this month.

The United States under Biden

After four years of unpredictable Donald Trump, US President Joe Biden has taken the lead. He brought the United States back to the world table by returning to the Paris climate agreement and the UN and its agencies.

From India’s point of view, he continued the Trump administration‘s policies on China and made the fight against Beijing the “Job 1” in foreign policy. The United States imposed trade tariffs on China, announced a boycott of the Winter Olympics, hosted the first-ever Quadruple Leaders’ Summit – attended by Prime Minister Narendra Modi – and signed the famous AUKUS deal with the Kingdom United and Australia, to counter Beijing’s assertiveness.

But the hasty exit from Afghanistan and the signing of the AUKUS deal, which angered US ally France, have raised questions about Washington’s reliability. Tended in ignorance of US negotiations with the Taliban, India now finds itself faced with the diplomatic and strategic fallout from the Taliban takeover.

Troubles in the neighborhood

Myanmar was rocked by massive protests after the February 1 military coup. Aung San Suu Kyi was among the key people detained by the military after the coup. India, which had not condemned Myanmar’s military regime, has now started a dialogue with the Tatmadaw with the visit of the Minister of Foreign Affairs. This awareness came after incidents in the northeast where Indian army personnel were targeted by insurgent groups.

With Pakistan, 2021 began with a reaffirmation of respect for the ceasefire along the line of control, but the peace was shattered by drone attacks on Jammu airbase in June, attempts to infiltration and killings of heavily armed militants in September, and targeted attacks on civilians. in October-November.

Aid policy change

With the second wave of overwhelming Covid-19 medical infrastructure, New Delhi began accepting donations and aid from other countries, marking a change in policy since December 2004, when the UPA government decided not to accept such help. India had “no conceptual problems” in procuring oxygen-related equipment and life-saving medicines from China, and state governments were also free to source them from foreign agencies.

Relations with Russia

The standoff with China has shown the importance of Russia in India’s strategic calculation. Russia remained a key supplier of defense equipment for seven decades, despite diversifying into the United States, France, Israel and others. But, the purchase of S-400 will test India’s ties to the United States and increase the potential threat of US sanctions once this missile system is deployed.

Russia’s involvement in Afghanistan after the US leaves also poses challenges for India. Moscow has emerged as a major stakeholder in the region, and its ties to Beijing influence some of its decisions.

Face the Taliban …

India’s efforts to engage with regional and global actors on Afghanistan are an effort to get their foot in the door, as Pakistan controls the levers in Kabul through the sorted Taliban leaders and groups. on the shutter by the ISI. India’s steps in this direction include integrating Central Asian countries, Russia and Iran into the dialogue at the NSA level, and inviting five Central Asian leaders to ‘attend the Republic Day celebrations – if that comes to fruition amid the spread of Omicron.

Islamabad is not in the mood to cede this strategic space and has had talks with the United States, China, Russia and the Gulf countries to help the Taliban regime by authorizing humanitarian aid.

India must also be concerned about the events in Afghanistan which embolden radical groups in Kashmir and elsewhere.

… and with China

India’s strategic response to the standoff with China was guided by the idea of ​​standing up to the bully, but it came at a cost as soldiers braved the harsh winter in the east. of Ladakh for two years. Beyond the border, New Delhi will need the continued support of partners such as the United States, Japan, Australia, France, Germany and the United Kingdom to counter the threat from China. A second Quad Leaders’ Summit in Japan is expected to take place in 2022. One potential window of opportunity to break the deadlock is the BRICS summit, scheduled for China. The border deadlock at Doklam had been resolved a few days before the September 2017 summit in Xian (China).

Former Foreign Minister Vijay Gokhale writes in The Long Game: “As China grows more powerful, both economically and militarily, and seeks to establish its hegemony over the Indo-Pacific, the interests of India and China will start to rub shoulders with each other, highlighting more and more issues that may need to be resolved through negotiations.

Pakistan: civil-military ties

A major change will take place if the tenure of the chief of the Pakistani army, General Qamar Javed Bajwa, ends in November. The maneuvers for the post have started and civil-military ties will be put to the test. The competition could lead to bold decisions that could complicate the situation in the neighborhood. Additionally, hosting the SAARC summit is an ambition Imran Khan may want under his belt ahead of the 2023 elections.

India and neighbors

India’s challenges will worsen with China’s growing footprint in the region. In addition to wooing the regime led by the Rajapaksa brothers of Sri Lanka as well as the Tamils, China has also been politically active in Nepal.

In a study by think tank Carnegie India published in October 2021, academic Deep Pal said: “Due to India’s historical, political and social ties to these countries, there appear to be limits to how deep it is. ‘rooting of China. However, he said, the balance is gradually shifting to China, for the role it can play as a development partner as well as a balancing agent against the regional power, India.

Other challenges include the fact that 2022 is the year before elections in the Maldives and Bangladesh: Anti-Indian rhetoric generally catches up before elections in the neighborhood.

Opening on the world

India has invited leaders from Central Asian countries – three of which share a border with Afghanistan – for the Republic Day parade (which may depend on the pandemic situation). By the end of the year, it may be time to prepare for the G-20 summit in 2023.

South Block will closely follow the presidential elections in France in April-May and the midterm elections in the United States in November.

Entering its second and final year on the UN Security Council as a non-permanent member, India would like to leave a lasting impact, just as it did with the Security Council resolution on Afghanistan under his presidency.

Domestic and foreign

Elections in high-stakes states, including the UP and Punjab, could mean raising rhetoric against neighbors.

India’s domestic politics, including the recent Dharam Sansad, have led to some loss of reputation for its secular credentials, and neighbors have voiced concerns.

On the other hand, countries in the region will see India as a leader in vaccine distribution and economic assistance as in the case of Sri Lanka and the Maldives, and New Delhi will need to step up its game to compete with Beijing. in such endeavors. India could move to vaccine capacity building with the Quad Vaccine initiative for the Indo-Pacific region and beyond.

Tomorrow: technology

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