While India is preoccupied with restoring normalcy after the second wave of Covid, two developments have impacted our external environment. On July 1, Chinese President Xi Jinping, speaking on the centenary of the Chinese Communist Party, while pledging goodwill and seeking to share Chinese prosperity, threatened to bash the heads of those trying to bully or browbeat China. Here is Asia’s principal bully embracing victimhood, while threatening to use force to annex Taiwan and assimilate Hong Kong.
The second development is the sudden departure of US troops from their two-decades-old base at Bagram, north of Kabul, effectively eliminating visible US military presence. Afghan army personnel complained they were not informed, discovering the exit when looters were discovered. Meanwhile, the Taliban captured large swathes of northern Afghanistan, forcing a few thousand Afghan troops to flee across the border to Tajikistan.
Japan on Taiwan
Apropos China, the Japanese defence minister surprised everyone by remarking, “We are family with Taiwan” and that the security of Taiwan was inter-related with the Japanese island of Okinawa. Miyako Strait separates Taiwan and Okinawa by a mere 700 kilometres. This forthright red line by a US ally, should force the US to clarify its position on China using force to annex Taiwan. As matters stand, the US navy has 200 ships in the Pacific, compared to 360 frontline vessels of China. But if Japanese naval assets are added to those of the US, the scales get balanced. Japan has 22 of the world’s biggest diesel electric submarines and is converting two of its flat-top helicopter carriers into aircraft carriers, by positioning F-35B fighters on them.
The Quadrilateral Security Dialogue, called the Quad, which besides Japan and the US, has Australia and India, assumes importance. China’s English mouthpiece Global Times has been warning India to not join the US to contain China. Unfortunately, China does not realise that it is in fact, its aggressive behaviour that is forcing neighbours in Asia to seek strength in unity. But India has to both defend its northern land border with China, while working with Quad partners to put maritime pressure on China. Military pressure on the land frontier is used by China to dissuade India from using its maritime advantage over China in the Indian ocean.
Power shift in Afghanistan
Developments in Afghanistan inevitably impinge on Indian security. If the Taliban capture power, the consequences could be lethal. Reports that some Indian officials met with the Taliban in Qatar may be too late to generate influence. The speed of the US withdrawal, well before the stated deadline of September 11, has shifted the power balance in favour of Taliban. India has denied shutting down missions in Afghanistan. It is possible that President Ashraf Ghani’s government can yet linger, as Kabul is well defended.
However, using warlords as defenders as the Afghan army melts before the Taliban’s advance and US air cover becomes uncertain, the Ghani regime’s security becomes brittle. The Taliban, like a leopard, will not change their spots. They may not shelter anti-US terror groups or target Shias to not offend Iran. They may even tolerate other ethnicities, so long as their Islamic Caliphate vision is accepted. But women and girls will face a regressive environment that will deny them access to education and jobs. The neighbourhood will feel the impact of their tribal atavism and Islamic extremism.
Hopefully, Pakistan may not want a replay of past drama when Taliban called the shots on their core issues, even when affecting the neighbourhood. The Indian government engaging political leaders of Jammu and Kashmir and India-Pakistan restoring ceasefire at the Line of Control raised hopes of a fresh thaw. But Pakistan charging India with the blast outside the house of terror mastermind Hafiz Saeed negates these developments. Thus, with both China and Pakistan, the situation is fraught with tension and risk.