India plays its trusted Russia card in Afghanistan

The chances were slim that Pakistani National Security Adviser Moeed Yusuf would accept the invitation from his Indian counterpart Ajit Doval to a regional meet of security czars in New Delhi next Wednesday to discuss the situation in Taliban-ruled Afghanistan. 

Nonetheless, the dismissive manner in which Yusuf spoke publicly about it is a matter of surprise. When asked about the Indian invitation, Yusuf replied in a huff: “I will not go. A spoiler cannot play the role of peacemaker.” 

Curiously, the Pakistani Foreign Office also conveyed skepticism, but diplomatically, when its spokesman Asim Iftikhar said the Indian invite needed “to be viewed in the overall context of Pakistan-India relations, and the regional situation.” Iftikhar also doubted New Delhi’s intentions. 

He said: “With regard to the conference on Afghanistan, it seems India is trying to find some relevance in the context of Afghanistan. As you are aware, various other regional mechanisms and processes are in place, including the one initiated by Pakistan itself – involving the neighboring countries of Afghanistan, the first meeting was held in Islamabad in September and the second Ministerial Meeting was held in Tehran.” 

Factually, Iftikhar is correct. India faces acute regional isolation and conceivably its policymakers felt that a conference would help navigate a pathway out of the current impasse. Isn’t that what diplomacy is about? 

As things stand, there is a likelihood of Uzbekistan and Tajikistan attending the Delhi conference. Bala Venkatesh Varma, the Indian ambassador to Moscow, has publicly stated the Indian expectation that Russian Security Council chief Nikolai Patrushev will attend the conference.

For Moscow, Tashkent and Dushanbe, their acceptance of the invitation is a mark of their friendly ties with India. 

What isolates India is its quasi-alliance with the US, which increasingly has a vector on Afghanistan. In the region itself, there is deep distrust about Washington’s intentions, and India’s close association with the US at the foreign minister-level regarding Afghanistan is now in full public view.