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Thursday, 6 March 2014

From Today's Papers - 06 Mar 2014

Sindhuratna was running on borrowed batteries
Tribune News Service

New Delhi, March 5
Indian Navy’s submarine fleet is now emerging as the weak link is its armoury and its aspirations to match the growing status of the country. Within the Navy, the shortage is well known and has been flagged at various levels. A depleting fleet means as on today India has only 13 battle-ready submarines in comparison China has 55 sub-surface or undersea vessels.

The accident on board the submarine INS Sindhurtana on February 26 ighlights the shortage and lack of urgency that plague the ‘silent arm’ of the Navy. Though the Navy in statement said the cause of fire on board the vessel was not due to the faulty or old batteries, the fact is that the Navy does not even have spare set of batteries for the submarines. The ones used to do sea trials of the Sindhuratna were on loan from another Kilo-class submarine the INS Sindhukesri that is undergoing a re-fit and its batteries, not a new set, was fitted onto the Sindhuratna when the accident occurred.

At least 240 batteries, each weighing a few hundred kilos, are distributed equally in forward and rear battery pits in the kilo class submarines. “The batteries presently installed on Sindhuratna have till date completed about 113 cycles as against 200 cycles available for use. Further, the life of the batteries was valid”, the Navy said.

Sources said the batteries were working fine, but the worrisome part was that the Navy did not have new batteries to fit onto the re-fitted Sindhuratna.

A battle ready Navy aspiring for a wider role would have a couple of spare sets in store. The batteries run the submarine when underwater and diesel generator charges them then the vessel surfaces partially. Batteries are produced by leading Indian company in the business of making batteries for automobiles.

The Navy has said based on preliminary inspection of third compartment, the likely seat of fire has been indicated as the mess deck, which is located one deck above the battery bit. Certain electrical cables were observed to be burnt and damaged in this area. The cause for initiation of fire at this location would be ascertained in due course by the high level board of inquiry.

A BoI headed by a Rear Admiral has commenced the investigation to ascertain the cause leading to the incident. New Delhi’s 30-year submarine construction plan is delayed and the fleet is ageing. India’s 30 year submarine construction plan launched in 1999 envisaged having some 30 submarines of various classes. Now 15 years latter not a single vessel has been produced.

The first of the six scorpene class submarines being built in collaboration with French Company DCNS will be ready only by 2016.

Out of stock

* The batteries used during sea trials of INS Sindhuratna were on loan from another Kilo-class submarine -INS Sindhukesri

* While the batteries are working fine, the Navy does not have new batteries to fit onto the re-fitted Sindhuratna

* At least 240 batteries are distributed equally in forward and rear battery pits in the kilo class submarines
 Indian soldiers win UN run
Indian soldiers have once again proved their prowess in the international arena by bagging top honours in the CISM Day Run organised by the United Nations Interim Force in Lebanon (UNIFIL) under the aegis of the Conseil International du Sport Militaire (CISM) or International Military Sports Council, one of the largest multidisciplinary organisations in the world with 133 countries as its members.

India has been contributing an infantry battalion group with about 1,000 foot soldiers and support elements from other arms to the UNIFIL since 1998 and at present the 26th Battalion of the Punjab Regiment is deployed there. The UNIFIL comprises about 10,000 troops, observers and support elements drawn from 46 countries. Besides its peace keeping mandate, it organises sports and other events for the troops. In the past, Indian peacekeepers have won a host of professional competitions and sporting events.

OROP implementation

With the announcement of the election schedule and the consequent enforcement of the model code of conduct, the service community is abuzz with speculations and opinions about the status of the implementation of the promised “one rank, one pension” (OROP) formula.

While the announcement in Parliament by the Finance Minister that OROP has been accepted by the government and that Rs 500 crore earmarked for it in the Interim Budget was widely hailed, there is also some skepticism about the statement being a political gimmick and fear whether the government will be able to notify the decision ahead of the model code of conduct.

They had been demanding early notification to ensure clarity of the situation. Some veterans believe with the model code of conduct having been enforced, the government cannot now issue the notification, without which no public money can be spent, and it will now be up to the new government to deal with the matter. Others are of the opinion since the decision on OROP has been already announced, enforcement of the model code will have no bearing on it.

Beating the code of conduct

An early morning press note of the Ministry of Defence on March 5 listed out achievements of AK Antony’s eight-year tenure. The urgency, it seems, was to beat the imposition of the model code of conduct that would have kicked in the moment the Election Commission announced the schedule for the General Election.

The Election Commission’s invite for a press conference at 10.30 am on March 5 was like a tip-off for the Defence Ministry spokesperson, who beat the commission’s announcement by more than three hours and issued a huge, 11,200-word press note detailing what all Antony had done. Government spokespersons cannot send any communication highlighting the good deeds of the minister once the code is enforced.

Army’s first seminar on HR

The Army conducted the first-ever brainstorming session to carry out an appraisal of its existing human resource policies. The aim was to have effective career management to match Individual aspirations and organisational requirements. Part of it was devoted to having good relations between officers and the rank and file. There have been a few clashes between officers and jawans in the recent past that have not gone down well with the top brass and have also tarnished the image of the Army. Organised by the Military Secretary Branch at the Army Headquarters, the seminar was attended by around 400 officers from all seven commands.

Unique project on World Wars

It is well known that many Indian soldiers contributed and laid down their lives fighting for the British India during the World Wars. The United Services Institution (USI) and the Ministry of External Affairs have embarked on a unique project to build institutional memory.

This week two researchers, helicopter pilot Squadron Leader Rana Chinna (rtd) and Prof Peter Stanley made a presentation tracing the contribution of Indian soldiers in World War-I in ‘Australia & India: A century of shared military history’. It dwelt on an issue that evaded collective conscious of the people of India and Australia, that besides curry and cricket, there is something more between the two countries.
Subs to have indigenous periscopes soon: DRDO DG
Jotirmay Thapliyal
Tribune News Service

Dehradun, March 5
In a step towards enhancing country’s underwater operational capabilities, Indian Navy submarines will soon have indigenous periscopes.

The country at present was importing periscopes. Talking to The Tribune in Dehradun today, Avinash Chander, Scientific Adviser to Union Defence Minister and Director General, Defence Research Development Organisation (DRDO), disclosed that a periscope constituted an important component of submarines and the DRDO was working towards giving the Indian Navy its first indigenous periscope within the next two years.

When a submarine is submerged, a periscope can provide a view of the objects on the surface of water and in the air. Chander said the DRDO was also working to install state-of-the-art fire control system and night vision devises in Naval ships.

He disclosed that the DRDO was engaged in developing a sensor fabrication facility. The Rs 700-crore project will enable indigenisation of sensors which will enhance efficiency of country’s weaponry. Currently, these sensors were being imported from France, Israel and Russia. Chander said the country’s spending on Research and Development was minuscule, probably the lowest in the world.

“We spent around 5 per cent of our defence budget in Research and Development. It should have been at least 8 per cent”, he said. The countries like South Korea and China are spending 15 per cent and 20 per cent of their defence budgets, respectively, in the R&D. On delays in the research projects, Chander asserted that efforts were being made to make decision-making process faster.
20 years on, jawan’s court martial set aside
Vijay Mohan
Tribune News Service

Chandigarh, March 5
Twenty years after a jawan faced court martial and was sentenced to imprisonment for allegedly stealing diesel, the trial has been set aside. The Chandigarh Bench of the Armed Forces Tribunal yesterday ordered that he should be deemed to have been reinstated in service and would be entitled to all consequential service benefits.

In 1994, an officer, Lt Col Madal Lal, had alleged that he had seen the jawan, Phool Chandra, then posted at Command Hospital, Chandimandir, stealing diesel from a service vehicle parked on the main road. The officer had further alleged that on being asked, the jawan had told him that he was taking out diesel for use in his kitchen. He was tried by a summary court martial on a single charge under Section 63 of the Army Act for “improperly taking out diesel from a vehicle” and awarded six-month imprisonment, besides being dismissed from service.

The Tribunal observed that the trial had been convened solely on the basis of an allegation and there was no written complaint and any other corroborative witnesses or statements.

Further, neither was the identity of the jawan officially established at the purported site of the incident and nor was any pipe, can or bottle in which the diesel was being taken out, recovered. The records of the court martial had also been destroyed by the Army during the pendency of the litigation.
China pips India in defence spending
Ajay Banerjee
Tribune News Service

New Delhi, March 5
China today widened the gap between itself and India and also Japan in terms of defence spending. The stated goals in today announcement made in Beijing would be deciphered over the next few days but look like red-herring as the dragon assumes a greater role.

China, the biggest economy of Asia, today announced its defence budget for the year 2014 allocating $ 131.57 billion, 12.2 per cent more than the $117 billion allocation for 2013.

This is collectively more than the defence budgets of Japan and India, Asia’s second and third largest economies, respectively.

The two countries collectively have a budget of $ 81.86 billion, US $ 50 billion less than China and both face threats.

Japan has announced its budget for 2104 at $ 45.86 billion and India’s budget hike, eroded by the rising rupee-dollar exchange rates, now stands at $ 36.3 billion for the fiscal commencing April 1, 2014 and ending March 31, 2015.

Both India and Japan have territorial disputes with China. India has an alignment of 3,488-km-long line of actual control (LAC) with China, while Japan has a dispute over control of Senkaku islands in the East China Sea.

China’s widening strategic arch includes a running dispute with six countries in the hydro-carbon rich South China Sea (SCS). Beijing claims 90 per cent of this sea, while The Philippines, Indonesia, Vietnam, Malaysia, Brunei and Taiwan have overlapping claims.

China, like Japan, follows the calendar year as the financial year. India follows an April to March fiscal.

For India, the red herring should be Beijing’s stated goals. Chinese Premier Li Keqiang, while addressing the Communist Party-controlled National People's Congress (NPC) today, said: “We will resolutely safeguard China's sovereignty, security and development interests… place war preparations on a regular footing and build China into a maritime power”.

He added that China would “strengthen research on new and high technology weapons and equipment… enhance border, coastal and air defences”.

The People’s Liberation Army is 2.3 million strong and the stress on high-technology weapons will be watched. It already has 11,000 km-range Inter-Continental Ballistic Missile (ICBM) the Dongfeng-31 and its road mobile version the DF-31-A.

The Submarine launched ICMB version named Julang 2 could be ready anytime now. China is testing the landing of fighter aircraft on the 65,000 tonne aircraft carrier - the ‘Liaoning’ - and has conducted a test to destroy satellites by firing a missile from earth.

Up by 12.2 per cent

* China on Wednesday announced its defence budget for 2014 allocating $ 131.57 billion, 12.2 per cent more than 2013 allocation

* This is more than the collective defence budgets of Japan and India

* China's military spending is now second only to that of the US, which has a $ 633 billion defence budget
 Armed forces and governance
Indian military knows and honours its place in a democracy
Kuldip Nayar

ANOTHER Lok Sabha, 15th in the series, has concluded its five-year tenure. Whatever business that was transacted in the House was, indeed, exasperating and raucous. Unfortunately, the House representing the democratic system has fallen by the wayside practically in all Asian countries.
In the coming days the Indian voters will once again queue up before the polling booths to elect their representatives. Their quality has been found wanting. But I am confident that the next House will be better in content because the emergence of the Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) has changed the political scenario in the country to make it cleaner and transparent.

Yet I do not like the increasing influence of the armed forces. Defence Minister A.K. Antony was correct in saying that there can never be an Army coup in the country. India's first Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru too echoed the same thoughts when he opted for the parliamentary way of governance after Independence in August 1947. His argument was that the country was too large and too caste and religion ridden.

My worry, however, is over the say which the armed forces are beginning to have in the affairs of governance. Take the stationing of troops at the Siachen glacier. Was it necessary when several retired top brass said that it had no strategic importance? Even otherwise, when an agreement had been initialled by the foreign secretaries of India and Pakistan, our armed forces should have followed the decision but they had it stalled. Instead of being a no-man territory the soldiers of both countries at the glacier are suffering due to the inclement weather and losing men at regular intervals.

Take another example of the Armed Forces (Special Powers) Act (AFSPA) which empowers the Army to detain or even kill a person on suspicion without any legal action. The Northeast has been under it for years. A government-appointed committee found it “unnecessary” and recommended its withdrawal. But the armed forces have had their way and the AFSPA continues to be in operation.

Jammu and Kashmir Chief Minister Omar Abdullah has officially asked New Delhi to free the state from the law's application. He has made the appeal even publicly. But the Central government has not relented because the armed forces want the AFSPA to continue. Even a marginal concession of releasing the political prisoners as requested by the Jammu and Kashmir Chief Minister has been denied.

More recent is the inquiry into the “encounter” at Pathribal in Jammu and Kashmir. The Army is alleged to have killed five “terrorists”, while the local villagers have said that the deceased were innocent. The Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) inquired into the matter and has submitted its report before the Supreme Court. According to the report, it was a cold-blooded fake encounter.

In fact, breaking his silence after 23 years the then Kupwara Deputy Commissioner, S.M. Yasin, said recently that he had been threatened and offered promotions to change his report on the alleged mass rapes in Konam Poshpora in February 1991. It is strange that the Army has claimed that there was no such incident. The self-acquittal by the top brass has only aggravated the sense of alienation and resentment among the people in Jammu and Kashmir. The Government of India should still set up a judicial inquiry headed by a Supreme Court judge to investigate what are perceived as fake encounters.

Hardly has the dust settled down on the Pathribal encounter when the story of a possible coup in January 2012 has become public. Two Army units-one of which was an armoured battalion moved to Delhi from Agra. Any movement of troops in the periphery of the Capital has to be with the prior permission. Still both units moved and were withdrawn only when the Defence Secretary summoned the Director General of Military Operations, Lt. Gen. A.K. Choudhary, at midnight and conveyed him that the top in the government was very unhappy and concerned.

When a daily newspaper broke the story at that time, Defence Minister A.K. Antony rubbished it. So did some key army and civilian officials. Now Lt. Gen. A.K. Choudhary, after his retirement, has confirmed the story. More shocking is the confirmation by Air Chief N.A.K. Browne, then heading the Air Force. He has said: “The paratroopers were being moved to check out the possibility of their marrying with the C130 at Hindon air base, near Delhi”.

Still the Defence Minister has said that it was “a routine training exercise.” When after telling the Director General of Military Operations, the government sends a chopper to check if the troops were on their way back, there is more than what meets the eye. Since the date synchronised with the appeal to the Supreme Court by the then Army Chief V.K. Singh's on his birth date, the movement of the military units was given importance beyond proportions.

The entire matter has to be examined further by a team of top retired civil and military officials to reach the bottom of the “routine exercise.” It cannot be left at the mere denial stage despite Defence Minister Antony’s vehement denial. Even a limited say of the armed forces in civilian matters is ominous.

That the armed forces are apolitical is a tribute to their training and conviction when both Pakistan and Bangladesh have swerved from the right path. The other two countries in the subcontinent have had a similar training. Still they threw out the elected governments. Even today when the troops have gone back to the barracks, one cannot underestimate the importance of the military.

The Indian military knows and honours its place in a democratic polity. Still the examples I have given should serve as a grim warning. True, the democratic temperament has got implanted on Indian soil. But this cannot be taken for granted. Even a small example of Bonapartism should be probed thoroughly. The armed forces are for the country's defence and the decision to use them rests with the elected government. This is something basic and no comprise can be made in a democratic structure.
 Genesis of Army coup syndrome
Lieut-Gen (retd) Baljit Singh

AS a military leader, Major-Gen KS Thimayya, DSO, had emerged shoulders above his contemporaries, post the 1947-48 Indo-Pak war in the J&K theatre. This measure of Timmy was further bolstered when the international community unequivocally applauded his deft handling of the acrimonious POW repatriation on the Korean peninsula. Prime Minister Nehru was so impressed by the calibre of the General that in personal interaction the PM addressed him as Timmy, always.
So the day he was elevated to the post of Chief of the Army Staff, Mr Nehru broke with convention and unannounced walked into the COAS office to congratulate his friend. So taken aback was the Army Chief that he remained transfixed to his chair even as the Prime Minister walked right up to him. Without ado, Mr Nehru shook hands and taking the visitor's chair launched into a convivial conversation with the utterance "won't you offer me a cigarette, Timmy?"

We learnt of this episode some twenty years later at a mutual friend's home from Ammie, including a few indiscreet words uttered in innocent banter by Timmy. Now Ammie was the lively, petite and charming younger sister of the Chief. She had been married to a bureaucrat from the Indian Civil Service and was widowed during a cloudburst when holidaying with their two children, up in the Kullu valley in the 1950s. Mr Nehru was quick to redress the tragedy and asked Timmy whether Ammie would accept the role of a personal assistant in the PM’s household. In the event, she was assigned responsibility of the PM's wardrobe, provided suitable quarters on the premises and would become a permanent fixture on the PM's staff during foreign visits, also. Ammie was in a sense “adopted” by the Nehru-Gandhis, ultimately becoming a mentor and companion of Priyanka and Rahul during their days of cloistered childhood. Mrs Indira Gandhi would often seek out Ammie for a relaxed drink in the evening and even decades later, a car would pick her on most Sundays to lunch with the children.

However, Ammie was sad to recall that “Panditji” (as she referred to Mr Nehru, always) had taken to heart Timmy’s indiscreet banter during Mr Nehru’s unprecedented “call” on the Chief's office. She elaborated that by the side of Timmy’s office table was a steel chest of draws and Mr Nehru in the mood of bonhomie inquired, “Is that a treasure chest, Timmy?” The Chief stated that in the upper drawer were operational plans pertaining to the Western and Northern boarders. To the PM’s next interjection, “And the second drawer”, the Chief stated that it contained dossiers of a few Generals which the PM would need, to pick his successor. Persisting with child-like curiosity, Mr Nehru shot back: “And the last drawer?”

Not one to be put down in a repartee and with a mischievous smile, the Chief said: “Well sir, all it contains is the only copy of the plan for a military coup, which I keep strictly under my personal care”.

As may be imagined, the seeds of suspicion were sown unwittingly and its ghost would visit the PM’s and Timmy's successors forever, even though Mr Nehru had chuckled and kept up tete-a-tete, to finish his cigarette.
Can India, China cooperate on Afghanistan?
Afghanistan matters not because it is an arena for inter-state competition or competing national interests. It is important because a weak state can make it vulnerable again to radical forces and ideologies eager to fill any vacuum.
Zorawar Daulet Singh
Indian, Chinese and Afghan delegations, comprising former practitioners and scholars, engaged in a trilateral workshop organised by an international think tank in the last week of February. The rationale for the workshop was to examine and identify the prospects for India-China cooperation over conflict management in Afghanistan.

As one Chinese scholar remarked if such a theme for trilateral cooperation had been suggested a few years ago, it would have been dismissed as simply fantastic. In fact, at the track-1 level, Indian and Chinese diplomats engaged in their first structured conversation on Afghanistan in April, 2013.

The recent workshop revealed interesting insights into how these two regional powers perceive their interests in Afghanistan, and how the Afghan elite perceive their own state-building challenges ahead.

Persistent bilateralism

A common pattern of Indian and Chinese remarks is the persistence of the norm of bilateralism in Delhi and Beijing’s foreign policies. For both India and China, this can be traced to a cultural preference in their foreign relations for bilateral engagement and partnerships emanating from their post-colonial identities that constrain both states from sharing sovereignty in a multilateral or cooperative security framework.

China for shared approach

For China, bilateralism also has a particular virtue in this case as it enables Beijing to avoid disturbing its other regional priorities — primarily the China-Pakistan relationship. A Chinese participant made clear that Beijing is not interested in a solution that seeks to “AfPak” the process to pressurise Pakistan. China is not interested in involving itself in regional disputes (i.e. India-Pakistan, Afghanistan-Pakistan). In China’s world, the participant argued, Afghanistan and Pakistan are viewed as separate issues with a clear priority: Afghanistan’s security is a regional and global problem but Pakistan’s security is China’s problem.

The only regional institution in place – the Shanghai Cooperation Organisation or SCO — is not prepared at this stage to expand its original mandate and area of interest from Central Asia to Afghanistan. A Chinese participant argued that the SCO is useful for counter-narcotics cooperation but counter-terrorism cooperation was difficult under this format. The ship of the Chinese state moves slowly and cautiously, and, this was reflected by Chinese participants who seemed reluctant to offer decisive assessments on the possible flux in Chinese interests after the pull out of Western troops.

Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi’s visit to Kabul on February 22 is significant. Wang outlined Chinese interests in a press conference with his Afghan counterpart, Zarar Ahmad Osmani: “The peace and stability of this country has an impact on the security of western China, and more importantly, it affects the tranquility and development of the entire region.” Earlier, on February 7, Xi Jinping met Hamid Karzai at the Sochi Winter Olympics. According to official Chinese reports, Xi stressed that “China will continue to firmly support Afghanistan for the efforts for safeguarding state independence, sovereignty and territorial integrity, and support an “Afghan-led and Afghan-owned” national reconciliation process.” Diplomatically, China has already adjusted its Afghan policy.

One Chinese scholar stated that India-China cooperation on Afghanistan is welcome but the primary initiative for such trilateral initiatives should come from Kabul. It was also stated that China will not lead a regional process but will be an equal member of a shared approach.

India and multilateral networks

Despite possessing a relatively softer version of state sovereignty, India too finds it difficult to craft effective trilateral or multilateral networks on issues of high politics. On Afghanistan, this is a disadvantage because without direct geopolitical access to a landlocked Afghanistan, crafting simultaneous partnerships with Afghanistan’s immediate neighbours becomes obvious for India. Yet, in the post-9/11 phase, India’s prior Afghan-centric cooperation with Iran, Russia and Central Asia simply dried up. In the last year or so, these regional conversations have restarted.

In fact, the Iranian Foreign Minister, Mohammad Javad Zarif, in his February visit to Delhi remarked: “Chabahar and a corridor, both rail and road from Chabahar to Afghanistan and Central Asia, is a project we are working together with India. I hope that in this trip we can take practical steps (to implement the project)”. The Chabahar port is connected to the city of Zaranj in southwestern Afghanistan from where India has already constructed a 200-km road to Delaram (reducing the journey time from 14 hours to 2 hours), which further connects to an existing road network onto Kabul and other important provincial towns.

An Afghan participant remarked that an operationalised Chabahar port will open a new lifeline for Afghanistan and reduce the dependence on Karachi as Afghanistan’s only line of communication to the Indian Ocean.

Overall, bilateralism remains an obstacle to structured regional cooperation, and, in the near-term, it is perhaps more realistic to anticipate Afghanistan’s immediate and extended neighbours pursuing independent policies with limited coordination. But this does not imply that there are serious intra-regional conflicts of interest over Afghanistan. Leaving aside the case of Pakistan, which is pursuing its traditional role as a spoiler, none of the other regional states are actually working at cross-purposes. India, China, Iran and Russia are all legitimising the Afghan state and providing varying degrees of material assistance. In sum, self-help policies have not translated into zero-sum outcomes so far.

Assistance for Afghanistan

The Afghan side consistently emphasised the sovereignty of the present Kabul regime and argued for an “Afghan government-led” reconciliation process rather than an “Afghan-led” process of inclusive peace building among the different ethnic groups. According to participants, the latter nomenclature is prone to misuse by external actors attempting to pursue their own conflict-resolution strategies on the reconciliation issue, which more often than not undermines the credibility of the Afghan government, and, the efficacy of the reconciliation process itself.

The general impression was the Afghan elite appears resilient enough to preserve the gains of the past decade and there is agency inside Afghanistan to absorb capacity-building assistance from wherever they can find it. One former practitioner remarked that a demographically young Afghanistan cohering around an Afghan national identity will not voluntarily submit to radical or separatist ideologies if even a modicum of an international lifeline in terms of capacity and financial assistance remains open for the remainder of this decade.

On China, the Afghan side urged participants to stop viewing Afghanistan through Pakistan’s prism and view it as an entity itself. On India, the Afghan side sought greater support – if not an “alliance” then an effective “partnership”. Afghan requirements include training their officer corps, military equipment particularly helicopters and medical evacuation capabilities, training a generation of technocrats to man the embryonic state apparatus, educational assistance via scholarships to Indian and Chinese institutions.

Scenario post-2014

Historically, Afghanistan’s role in the region has evolved in four broad stages. The pre-modern phase was really about Afghanistan as a route to militarily access India. As one Afghan participant wryly remarked this phase left only ruins to reminisce about. The second stage of Afghanistan’s development was the “Great Game” era, and, Afghanistan’s territorial definition was shaped by imperial expansion and an ultimate accommodation between British India and Russia. In the backdrop of such a balance of power, Afghanistan discovered some autonomy as a buffer between these two empires. The 1907 Anglo-Russian convention gave formal expression to a semi-neutral Afghanistan.

The third stage was opened with the 1979 Russian invasion, which overturned what had remained a peripheral locale for the great powers. The reaction to this intervention led to the ultimate destruction of the Afghan state, and, the ascendance of the externally sponsored Taliban in 1990s.

Post-2001 opened the contemporary phase. Today, Afghanistan matters not because it is an arena for inter-state competition or competing national interests but because a weak state can make Afghanistan vulnerable again to radical forces and ideologies eager to fill any vacuum.

The one unstated question that seemed to form the backdrop of the workshop was whether regional powers could live with an Afghan power vacuum that strengthens extremist havens and its potential spillover onto their territorial frontiers. For India, the historical lessons are clear: even a modicum of a progressive pluralistic state in Afghanistan is an antidote to radicalism in South Asia. For China, the spectre of radicalism infecting its western regions suggests Afghanistan can no longer be dealt via a posture of benign neglect. But the policy mix for both India and China in terms of level of assistance and involvement is in flux.

As the realist adage goes, there is no virtue like necessity. The coming months and years might find two unlikely regional powers — India and China — coordinating on at least some questions on Afghanistan’s destiny.

— The author is a doctoral candidate at King’s College London, and co-author of India China Relations: The Border Issue and Beyond

The year of transition

* Afghanistan is scheduled to undergo a political transition, courtesy the presidential elections due in April, and a security transition, with the full withdrawal of international combat troops by the end of this year.

* The Bilateral Security Agreement with the US would help to maintain a small US troop presence in Afghanistan following the general drawdown in 2014. Afghan President Hamid Karzai has not signed it.

* Given their strategic interests, India and Iran could offer Afghanistan a critical lifeline during a period of uncertainty.

* Both Moscow and Beijing are concerned about the future of Afghanistan and possible instability in the country after US withdrawal.

* Afghanistan and China share a border. The northeastern end of the Wakhan Corridor in Afghanistan connects the two countries. The terrain is widely inhospitable, making border control challenging. Beijing is concerned that Xinjiang-bound insurgents could take advantage of Afghanistan’s porous border with Tajikistan and make their way towards Xinjiang.

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