By Sushil Kutty
US Secretary of State Antony Blinken doesn’t know much about the people of the region he visited. South Asia abounds with the weirdo. The day before Blinken arrived, five Pakistani men gang-raped a goat and murdered it before they fled. Last heard the police were hunting for them. At the time Blinken was meeting ‘Civil Society’ in New Delhi. And Al Jazeera was saying that India’s civil society is angrier than Indra at India’s brazen trampling of human rights.
Antony Blinken doesn’t watch Al Jazeera. But by late evening, news came that the United States would give India $25 million to Covid-vaccinate Indians. Friendly gesture even if the amount was peanuts. China spends more per minute on plans to get the Afghan Taliban on its side. And Blinken surely must know of China’s outreach to the Afghan Taliban.
Blinken’s India visit was partly to strengthen India’s hand in Afghanistan. China has chosen to ally with the Afghan Taliban. India, therefore, has to throw in with the Ashraf Ghani government, which is losing Afghanistan to the Afghan Taliban, district by district. Very soon there’ll be a Han Chinese invasion of Kandahar, and then only the Chinese will know of “what next?”
They say President Joe Biden has a soft spot for China. But it’s not lost on anyone that the US considers Afghanistan and China its greatest geopolitical challenges. But, says Blinken, the United States’ ties with India is the “most consequential”, whatever that means. Indians in general do not hold President Joe Biden in high esteem because of his perceived China slant.
So, are India and the United States “in lock-step” on Afghanistan? Antony Blinken thinks so. He says both India and the United States share a common goal, a “peaceful solution” to the Afghan crisis, maybe unaware that Afghanistan is often called the “graveyard of empires”, where heads of state get hung from lampposts with a medley of crows and pigeons in attendance.
Antony Blinken the other day made contact with China’s pet hates: Tibetans headquartered in India with the Dalai Lama, India’s “guest” for decades and therefore China’s bête noire. China calls the Dalai Lama all sorts of names, and is waiting for him to cash in his chips. Beijing can then name his successor. Blinken’s civil society guests in New Delhi included a Tibetan of high order.
That must have bothered Beijing considerably. The retaliation will come, maybe in Kandahar, maybe in Kabul. The Chinese are working to plan, and if the United States has a clue, Antony Blinken didn’t give a clue on how the United States plans to counter China’s influence and transgressions in South Asia. India is banking on the US to keep China in check.
The Chinese are maddeningly inscrutable, and even if Antony Blinken and S Jaishankar did not name their ‘common rival”, there was no denying that China loomed large. Both expanded their commitment to the Quad even as they spoke of the coronavirus, vaccination and climate change.
We keep hearing that India’s at the centre of the White House’s Asia policy. Blinken visited and before him, Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin. Both armed with orders to set India’s allegedly pathetic human rights record in order. If that was to draw India closer to the United States, it probably worked. Prime Minister Narendra Modi is very sensitive to what the United States thinks of India, even if people would call it “hypocrisy”.
Defense secretary Lloyd Austin had warned China that the Biden Administration would “not flinch” if China threatened US interests in the region. And just so that sinks in, India happens to be one of the key “interests” of the United States in the region. India’s differences with Beijing has placed it right next to the United States and there’s “huge cooperation” between the two democracies, the oldest and the largest.
What will the US do if there’s a total takeover of Afghanistan by the Afghan Taliban with support from China and Pakistan? What if attacks are launched on India’s “interests” in Afghanistan, how will the United States react? Neither country can sit back, resigned that nothing could be done. India’s S. Jaishankar says the “outcome cannot be determined by force on the battleground”, little realizing that “battleground” per se means use of force!
India has never been comfortable with the thought of Afghan Taliban running Afghanistan. If there’s talk these days that India is ready to talk with the Taliban and work out an amicable solution, that’s one for the birds. From all indications, India will tag along with the Ashraf Ghani government and hope everything sorts itself out to the advantage of India.
Apparently, Blinken has given an assurance that the United States will “remain engaged” in Afghanistan. As for “human rights” and civil society’s disquiet, Blinken’s visit was about India and China, about the Quad, and about India and Afghanistan. India would not have allowed the United States to interfere in its internal affairs, and considers it’s human rights exemplary. (IPA Service)