The Shanghai Cooperation Organisation has been focused on resolving the Afghan crisis. But divergent views of members and the influence of China and Pakistan have eluded a solution. This has been further impeded by the ongoing sanctions and humanitarian issues which are beyond the organisation's scope.
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BIMSTEC is of special importance to India as it is a crucial link between the Neighbourhood First and Act East policies. This almost 25 year old multilateral can contribute to the Indo-Pacific region by addressing challenges in strategic areas of regional connectivity, security cooperation, free trade, and geoeconomic ties with external partners.
While international organisations in Afghanistan have made a noticeable impact in the humanitarian field, they have been less successful in the political field, putting into question their overall effectiveness.
The upcoming Summit for Democracy hosted by U.S. President Biden, has high expectations from him. With trust in the U.S. having suffered badly, it remains to be seen how much confidence the democracies at the summit will have in American efforts at restoration of world leadership.
China has followed Sun Tzu’s strategy of focussing on alliances - building its own and weakening those of its adversaries. Beijing’s carefully nurtured formations in West and Central Asia are part of this global power projection, especially with Pakistan, Iran and now, the Taliban, through projects like the Belt and Road Initiative. India must recalibrate its China policy and push for concerted regional responses to emerge as a balancing force against it.
On September 24, the Quad leaders will attend the first in-person summit of the grouping in Washington DC. There is much to discuss for the four leaders, given recent developments: the Taliban takeover of Afghanistan, the Australia-UK-US (AUKUS) security partnership and the EU's new Indo-Pacific strategy. The Quad also needs to focus on long term goals like institutionalising itself and devising a strategy to counter the China challenge.
The Taliban’s rapid advance towards Kabul shows clear signs of learning from previous failures. The chances of a revival of the old Northern Alliance are minimal. Regional powers are left with the option of maintaining diplomatic contact with the Taliban whilst not taking any assurances on trust.
Three senior U.S. officials visited Asia in July in a well-choreographed diplomatic outreach strategy by the Biden administration. The U.S is willing to prioritise the Indo-Pacific and counter China. Asia cannot afford to be a reticent bystander.
On 27 June 2021, Ambassador Rajiv Bhatia, Distinguished Fellow, Gateway House, chaired a session on Revitalizing SAARC and BIMSTEC. This was part of the Global Conclave 2021, hosted by the Nepal Institute for International Cooperation and Engagement (NIICE), Kathmandu. Bhatia spoke about the present state, past trajectory and future challenges and opportunities for regional and sub-regional cooperation through SAARC and BIMSTEC.
The American decision to withdraw troops from Afghanistan will strengthen the Afghan Taliban and possibly ensure its return to Kabul. This has implications for India’s security and economic interests in Afghanistan. India must step up its game by showing willingness to talk to the Taliban, while simultaneously expanding training assistance to the Afghan security forces.