WASHINGTON: Talks between the United States and India this week centering on salvaging the foreign policy wreckage in Afghanistan following the collapse of the Ashraf Ghani government backed by them have yielded no immediate substantial result aside from a cautious wait and watch approach towards the new Taliban dispensation in Kabul.
Beneath bland statements from officials on both sides that their discussions touched on bilateral ties and the situation in Afghanistan lie efforts at coordinating response to ensure they are able to rescue hundreds of their nationals and their Afghan allies still stranded in Afghanistan, while maintaining some equity with the new regime in Kabul, which is already signaling an alignment with the China-Pakistan axis.
India’s foreign secretary Harsh Vardhan Shringla met his US counterpart under secretary of state Wendy Sherman and later called on secretary of state Antony Blinken on Thursday to exchange notes on their preliminary outreach towards the Taliban 2.0 regime amid small, encouraging signs that it could be a more reasonable avatar of the original.
Sherman, who is coordinating the US response to the ground situation and the unfolding humanitarian crisis tweeted that she discussed “shared priorities including coordination on Afghanistan, strengthening Indo-Pacific cooperation via the Quad, and addressing the climate crisis and the Covid-19 pandemic,” with Shringla.
But there were no signs that either side is inclined to provide material support the so-called Panjshir resistance amid reports that its principals, including deposed vice-president Amrullah Saleh had fled to neighboring Tajkistan, where India has two bases. Lack of support to the remnants of the Northern Alliance will extinguish the resistance and enable Taliban 2.0 to establish almost complete control over Afghanistan.
While US officials have suggested Washington and its western allies still have significant stranglehold on Kabul, including more than $ 10 billion in Afghanistan’s assets it has frozen, the incoming Taliban regime on Friday boldly asserted that China would be its principal partner and it look forward to investments from Beijing.
“China is our most important partner and represents a fundamental and extraordinary opportunity for us, because it is ready to invest and rebuild our country,” the Taliban spokesperson Zabihullah Mujahid told an Italian newspaper. China has also made sympathetic noises about the need to understand Taliban and give it a chance.
On their part, Washington and New Delhi are clutching at straws, with analysts noting that the incoming Taliban regime had given a green signal for Afghanistan’s cricket engagements (only men’s so far) and had indicated it would allow women to return to work in some areas, but it would not entertain gender mixing in academia.
It was a pleasure meeting with India’s Foreign Secretary @HarshShringla, Ambassador @SandhuTaranjitS, and senior ME… https://t.co/c58eHTBYiu
— Under Secretary Uzra Zeya (@UnderSecStateJ) 1630600993000
In an effort to coordinate moves on the women’s rights and civil liberties front, Shringla also met US Under Secretary of State for Civilian Security, Democracy, and Human Rights Uzra Zeya. “It was a pleasure meeting with India’s Foreign Secretary @HarshShringla, Ambassador @SandhuTaranjitS and senior MEA officials. The US-India relationship is defined by our shared democratic values. I look forward to continuing to coordinate closely on global challenges,” Zeya tweeted after the meeting.
But mere words could hardly match the visual of the US-India Intersessional Dialogue that preceded the foreign secretaries meeting. It showed a fine gender balance in both the US and Indian delegations – six female officials, three on either side, balancing six male interlocutors.