US, India prepare to play spoiler in Afghanistan

As expected, the situation in Afghanistan was the focal point of the discussions at the 20th summit of the Shanghai Cooperation Organization (SCO) in Dushanbe on Friday. Yet the SCO’s Dushanbe Declaration is scanty on the topic. 

The 8,300-word document devoted hardly 170 words to the Afghan situation. It made just three inane points, namely, that the SCO member countries: 

  • Support the emergence of Afghanistan as an “independent, neutral, united, democratic and peaceful State, free of terrorism, war and drugs”; 
  • Believe it is “critical to have an inclusive Government” in Afghanistan; and 
  • Consider it important that the international community makes “active efforts” to facilitate Afghan refugees return to their country. 

The SCO’s stance is based on consensus decisions, and given such big divergences in the viewpoints of member countries, a consensus was hard to reach. 

This is a setback for the SCO insofar as it has so little to say and even less to contribute to the resolution of the single biggest crisis in regional stability and security the grouping has had to face in its entire history. 

How did this happen? The short answer is that India chose to be a lone ranger tilting at the SCO windmills. Prime Minister Narendra Modi made two hard-hitting speeches on September 16 and 17 – the first one at the SCO summit on the “future of the SCO” followed by a second speech at the SCO-CSTO Outreach Summit that was exclusively devoted to Afghan developments.

Modi came down emphatically on the “transition of power” in Afghanistan, which he said “happened without negotiation” and, therefore, “raises questions about the acceptability of the new system.” He virtually questioned the legitimacy of the Taliban government. 

Modi recommended: “And therefore, it is necessary that the decision on recognition of such a new system is taken by the global community collectively and after due thought. India supports the central role of the United Nations on this issue.” 

The contrast between Modi’s speech and those of Russian President Vladimir Putin and Chinese President Xi Jinping couldn’t have been sharper. Both Putin and Xi urged the world to unfreeze Afghanistan’s assets and boost assistance. They urged the Taliban government to remain peaceful toward its neighbors and combat terrorism and drug trafficking.