South Asia – A West Asia In The Making?

Russia, which is trying hard to increase its dominance in West Asia, has decided to play the role of a more consequential global security actor in South Asia (too).
With diminishing American influence in the region, Russia has started considering South Asia as its next battleground where it can take on the US with the help of China and Pakistan.
In recent times, Moscow has revamped its “South Asia policy” and tried to strengthen ties with Pakistan. In the past, Afghanistan was its stomping ground in the region and India was its “friend”. However, the changing regional geopolitical landscape has prompted Kremlin to come closer to Pakistan (India’s arch rival) with the help of its newfound strategic partner, China. President Vladimir Putin’s game plan is clear. He wants to checkmate America’s regional pre-eminence by maintaining cordial ties with China and Pakistan. As Russia shares friendly ties with India, Moscow believes that New Delhi will not create “trouble” for it.
Perhaps, President Putin has made a mistake by ignoring India’s stance on different regional issues. The manoeuvring has not only brought Russia in opposition to India, but also prompted New Delhi to reassess its traditionally robust ties with Moscow. The Narendra Modi government in India is well aware of the fact that any new power equation in South Asia will certainly have long-term implications. Although India and Russia still recognise the need for each other and have signed major defence deals worth billions of dollars, Moscow’s growing closeness to Islamabad (and Beijing) has irked New Delhi.
According to sources close to the Indian External Affairs Ministry, India has decided not to allow President Putin to view South Asia through the prism of his geopolitical competition with America and the West. India is against Russia’s decision to boost ties with Pakistan because New Delhi wants to isolate the neighbouring country globally (for allowing Islamist terrorists to use its soil against India). However, Russia’s move ensures that Pakistan does not get isolated. Russia also refused to back New Delhi’s demand to name two Pakistan-based terror groups as perpetrators of terrorism against India at the 2016 BRICS Summit in Goa. Later, India strongly criticised its “old friend” for shielding Pakistan from censure.
India is also worried about the recent shift in Russia’s stance on Afghanistan. Nearly four decades after the 1979 Soviet invasion of the war-ravaged South Asian country, Russia has started showing interest in Afghanistan (once again). Moscow hosted a six-nation conference on Afghanistan’s future in February. Senior officials from Afghanistan, India, Iran, Pakistan, China and other development partners (of Afghanistan), who attended the event, realised that Moscow wanted to re-establish itself as the leading power broker in the conflict-ridden country especially after the withdrawal of NATO forces from Afghanistan in 2014.
In fact, Moscow’s move left Kabul surprised, while the Taliban was ecstatic. “It is joyous to see that the regional countries have also understood that the Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan (Afghan Taliban) is a political and military force,” said the extremist outfit in a statement. “The proposal forwarded in the Moscow tripartite of delisting members of the Islamic Emirate is a positive step forward in bringing peace and security to Afghanistan,” it added.
At the conference, Afghanistan slammed Pakistan for encouraging Taliban militants to create trouble in the country. Afghan officials strongly pushed back against the “good Taliban, bad Taliban” discourse being championed by Russia, China and Pakistan. Senior Afghan official M Ashraf Haidari told the conference: “The key challenge to the peace process remains a policy selectivity by some to distinguish between good and bad terrorists, even though terrorism is a common threat that confronts the whole region, where if one of us doesn’t stand firm against it, others’ counterterrorism efforts will not bear the results we all seek.”
As expected, India welcomed Afghanistan’s stand on the issue, saying that only Afghan-led and Afghan-owned reconciliation efforts should be facilitated by “friends and well-wishers of Afghanistan”. New Delhi also targeted Islamabad, stressing that “denying safe havens or sanctuaries to any terrorist group or individual in countries of our region remains central for the long-term stability of Afghanistan”.
India and Afghanistan’s stand at the Moscow conference made clear that it would not be easy for Russia to increase its influence in South Asia. However, foreign policy experts have predicted that Russia will try to challenge America’s strategic priorities on multiple fronts and South Asia will have to face the brunt of this geopolitical competition.

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