China’s “project of the century” is undergoing some profound changes. Less than a decade ago, Chinese President Xi Jinping unveiled the Belt and Road initiative (BRI) to connect China to Eurasia through extensive maritime and overland trade routes. Despite the grand rhetoric of the BRI physically linking the global economy to Beijing, the initiative’s aims are straightforward. The BRI is a Chinese investment platform that employs Chinese capital across infrastructure projects in emerging markets for geopolitical gains. Remarkably, this investment strategy is now turning away from traditional countries like Russia and African nations to focus on Saudi Arabia and the Middle East.
Critics have argued that the BRI is a form of debt trap diplomacy by another name. The ongoing economic saga unfolding in Sri Lanka gives weight to these arguments. Yet, this narrow focus misses the larger geopolitical dimensions of the BRI’s true aims. Like many wealthy countries worldwide, China will always engage in predatory lending. That’s just how the global economy works. What’s more interesting is how the BRI has evolved into a vehicle of Chinese geopolitical influence and how this influence has shifted to focus on the Middle East.
The countries that make up the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) have been on the official list of BRI countries since its inception, but they haven’t been a primary focus of the initiative in its earlier phases. This is partly because GCC countries don’t need access to cheap Chinese credit like some African and East Asian countries. Aside from being vital nexus points for trade in emerging markets, the GCC’s role in the BRI has traditionally been focused on regional partners, construction projects, and energy.
From the Gulf’s perspective, the BRI is a vital support link for allied countries such as Pakistan and Egypt. China has played a pivotal role through the BRI in the Gwadar port and pipeline project in Pakistan as well as Egypt’s Suez Canal Area Development Project. In recent years, the Chinese have grown more aggressive in their interest in the Middle East, specifically the Gulf. When Saudi Aramco was exploring various ways to become a publicly traded company, Chinese investors (some of which were backed by the government) were ready to buy large stakes in the economy. We will come back to why this interest belied deeper goals.
BRI investment has grown in Saudi Arabia recently as China has drawn down investment in other countries like Russia. The Financial Times reported last month that BRI spending in Russia dropped to zero, with no new deals taking place in the first half of 2022. In the same period, Beijing struck $5.5 billion worth of deals in Saudi Arabia. The full extent of what these deals include is unclear as not all have been made public, but analysts believe that many are focused on energy resources.
This shift reveals how China will use the BRI in the future and the extent of Beijing’s long-term ambitions in the Middle East. The quick reallocation away from Russia and into other parts of the world demonstrates the flexibility of the BRI. This is not a monolith investment vehicle that is resistant to change. Rather, BRI capital can be easily diverted based on geopolitical considerations.
In this case, Russia is at the mercy of western sanctions stemming from the Ukraine conflict. At the same time, Saudi Arabia’s relationship with the US is anything but warm. Sensing an opportunity to solidify its position in the region, Beijing has shifted the funding focus of BRI to ride the geopolitical tides. Instead of thinking about the BRI as a way of connecting the global economy to China, perhaps we need to think of the BRI as a way of China exporting its geopolitical will on to the rest of the world.
With the end of its combat mission in Iraq and the complete withdrawal of forces from Afghanistan, the US is pulling back its interests in the Middle East. US president Joe Biden’s recent trip to Saudi Arabia and Israel revealed a tepid American interest in the region. China has long sought a significant foothold in the Middle East in its battle with the US for global hegemony.
The ultimate realization of this goal will be upending the US dollar-dominated global oil trade. That’s one reason China took an early interest in a significant stake in Saudi Aramco. While that bid was unsuccessful, China’s recent BRI investment push at the precise time that America pivots away from the region will surely bring Beijing’s goal one step closer. China’s long-term plans to replace the US as the world’s superpower aren’t a secret. Just track BRI funding for clues of what Beijing will do next.
Joseph Dana is the former senior editor of Exponential View, a weekly newsletter about technology and its impact on society. He was also the editor-in-chief of emerge85, a lab exploring change in emerging markets and its global impact. Twitter: @ibnezra
PROPAMI, AAEI, and LSP PM: Strengthening the Fundamentals of Capital Markets Through Global Enlightenment
TELEGRAF – A warm and enthusiastic atmosphere enveloped this special event in the Indonesian capital market industry. The Indonesian Capital Market Professional Association (PROPAMI), the Indonesian Securities Analyst Association (AAEI), and the Professional Certification Institute – Capital Market (LSP PM) have come together in an extraordinary collaborative step, presenting a capacity building event that aims to increase the competence and insight of the actors domestic capital market, Singapore (248/23) .
This activity was in the spotlight when this series of events was planned to take place in Singapore and Malaysia, on 24-26 August 2023. Participants who attended included competency assessors at LSP PM, competency certificate holders, experts, academics, professionals, and association representative. They will gather at the Singapore Stock Exchange to explore more deeply the latest dynamics driving one of the global capital markets.
In an era of rapid development and transformation in the capital market industry, professionals are required to continuously update their skills and knowledge. This is the background that underlies PROPAMI, AAEI, and LSP PM to firmly understand the importance of preparing capital market players to be able to face increasingly complex challenges.
David Sutyanto, Chairman of AAEI, emphasized, “In the midst of rapid changes in the financial world, in-depth understanding and increased qualifications are the keys to success in the world of capital markets. Our commitment is to provide the best platform for capital market players to increase understanding and build networks. sturdy.”
This series of capacity building events will include various discussion and training sessions that explore various crucial aspects of the capital market. From regulation to financial technology innovation, participants will be provided with a deeper view of the dynamics affecting the financial world globally.
NS Aji Martono, Chairman of PROPAMI, added, “Our efforts are not only focused on increasing the qualifications of capital market players, but also on generating cooperation and exchanging ideas that encourage growth and innovation in this industry.”
This event has a dimension beyond just an opportunity to dive into the world of capital markets; it is also a platform for strengthening cross-border networks. The presence of participants from Indonesia, Singapore and Malaysia creates opportunities for closer cooperation, which will accelerate the development of capital markets on a regional scale.
Haryajid, Chairman of LSP PM, stressed, “As an institution that places professional capability improvement in the capital market as a priority, we are proud to be involved in organizing this event. It is our hope that the participants will return with invaluable knowledge that can push industry standards to greater heights.” high in the future.”
In facing global challenges and ongoing changes, capacity building events like this are an important foundation for building a solid foundation for capital market growth. By involving leading experts and practitioners, it is hoped that this event will have a sustainable positive impact on the Indonesian economy and industry.
Undeniably, the strong collaboration between PROPAMI, AAEI, and LSP PM is a true testament to their determination to drive sustainable growth in the Indonesian capital market. This capacity building event is an important milestone in the preparation of capital market players to face challenges and opportunities in an increasingly complex future.
The Rise of the Young Generation, the Rise of Indonesia
Teleraf – Indonesia, Tangguh LNG, the main business of BP in Indonesia located in Teluk Bintuni Regency, West Papua Province, which started its integrated LNG operations in mid-2009, has delivered over 1,500 LNG cargoes to customers in Indonesia and Asia.
In line with this, Tangguh LNG is also committed to providing long-term benefits to stakeholders, including partners and the surrounding community. Tangguh’s social programs cover areas such as health, education, governance, community development in Papua and West Papua, as well as entrepreneurship development programs for the local community. To date, Tangguh LNG has invested over 40 million US dollars in these social programs.
Tangguh LNG has also established a Business Development Service Center in Bintuni, providing support and training to local businesses. Currently, there are 14 local companies that have contracts with Tangguh LNG, with a contract value of approximately US$49 million.
Tangguh LNG strives to build self-reliance and sustainable economic development for the local community by providing entrepreneurship training to local business owners. The training includes areas such as AC maintenance, garment production, and fisheries, involving members of the indigenous communities in the Teluk Bintuni region.
Abdul Wahab Iha, also known as Awi, the Director of PT Papua Kreasi Sejahtera-Raja Laut, who collaborates with Tangguh LNG for the entrepreneurship program, said, “Starting with the spirit of empowering the youth in Fakfak, West Papua, I eventually met BP and tried to develop a business by utilizing the natural resources of Papua. The canned fish industry we run together with BP utilizes fish sourced from local fishermen and farmers as ingredients for processed spices.”
“We believe that one way to advance the community is by having economic sustainability directly carried out by the community members themselves. If it’s not the Papuan youth who are willing to strive for the progress of Papua, then who else!” added Awi.
Through Papua Kreasi Sejahtera-Raja Laut, Awi is one of the suppliers of marine and agricultural products for Tangguh catering, with a total absorption of hundreds of tons per year.
In the field of education and skills development, Tangguh LNG has played a role in developing local workforce through training programs and scholarships. Since 2008, Tangguh has provided scholarships to 1,350 local students at the high school and university levels.
Furthermore, more than 200 Papuans have received training as technicians, welders, scaffolders, and rigger operators from 2015 to 2017. The intensive technician apprenticeship program of Tangguh LNG, with a duration of three years in Ciloto, West Java, has also produced over 110 certified international technicians who now work at Tangguh LNG.
This training program has been a life-changing opportunity for participants from West Papua, where they begin their personal and professional development journey. The program aims to hone local talents and fulfill Tangguh LNG’s commitment to employing 85% of the workforce from Papua and West Papua by 2029.
The participants in this program come from the regions of Teluk Bintuni, Fakfak, Manokwari, and Sorong. During this period, they undergo comprehensive technical training as well as improvement in English language, mathematics, and science.
The training center, equipped with modern facilities such as computer simulation laboratories, small-scale LNG plants, accommodation areas, workshops, classrooms, and health clinics, has become a place for them to acquire the necessary knowledge and skills.
Binduki Sanera, one of the participants from the second batch, said, “This apprenticeship program is an incredible opportunity for me. I feel called to develop myself and build a career in the oil and gas industry.
Through this program, I have gained comprehensive technical knowledge and intensive training. I am very excited to fulfill my dreams and prove that Papuans can also achieve success.”
Axl Feilino Himan Bau, an alumni of the apprenticeship program, shared his experience, “Initially, I intended to continue my studies, but when I heard about the Tangguh LNG apprenticeship program, I became interested. Going through this program was not easy, the biggest challenge was adapting to the program and the new environment.
However, with strong determination, we managed to overcome the first year full of introductions to the oil and gas industry. Three years have passed, and now we have the opportunity to work at Tangguh LNG together with the BP Indonesia family.”
Jein Wayuri, an alumni of the apprenticeship program, also shared his story, “I had to go through various tests and finally made it along with 39 other friends. After that, we were sent to Ciloto and underwent a three-year apprenticeship program there.
I learned a lot about the oil and gas industry and how to face challenges in future work. As a local son, I believe that if I can succeed, then others have the same potential.”
These three Papuan individuals are part of the over 110 graduates of the intensive technician apprenticeship program who now operate Tangguh LNG, where currently 72% of its workforce is from Papua.
In commemoration of National Awakening Day, they hope that their stories will inspire everyone that hard work, discipline, and high dedication will bring positive results for themselves, their families, and the surrounding community.
Tangguh LNG’s commitment to developing local talent will continue. Other programs, such as scholarships at various education levels and technical training, are also underway to maximize assistance in developing the potential of the local workforce.
Ramadan And The Story Of Ibrahim Samarkandi, The First Wali Songo
Telegraf – It was 4 pm and religious songs are echoed from the audio device at the meeting hall in the basement of Masjid Raya Pondok Indah on Sunday, April 16 2023. Around 200 worshipers from various society level, had gathered in the center of the hall.
The invited guests arrived one by one. Husnan Bey Fananie came enthusiasticly to the floor and greeted the audiences who are mostly women at their 50th, some wearing their uniform, some just mix-match their Abaya and Veil.
Ahmad Furqon, is the man behind the screen. This 42 years old man, graduated from the faculty of Shariah Islamiyah Al Azhar University in Cairo said to agree when I came with the ideas for conductimg Iftar together with an Ambassador.
He was more than happier when we will conduct Ramadan festival at the Mosque and especially to make the local residents around the Mosque feeling happy and can observe Islamic knowledge during Ramadan.
K.H. Husnan Bey Fananie was the Indonesian Ambassador to Azerbaijan from 2016 to 2020. A low profile man from a religious family background. His late grandfather was the founder of Modern Islamic Boarding School Gontor in East Java. Ambassador Husnan never gets tired to accomodate several gatherings if it is important for the development of diplomatic relations between Indonesia and Azerbaijan and especially for Ukuwah Islamiyah.
The bilateral relations between the Indonesia and Azerbaijan developing very fast and dynamically and the high-level political relations are based on the principles of brotherhood and mutual support. Both countries recognize and support their territorial and sovereignty over internationally recognized state borders. Indonesia is one of the countries that strongly condemned Armenia’s acts of terror and military aggression against Azerbaijan.
Azerbaijan is nicknamed the Land of Fire because this country, which is directly adjacent to Iran and Armenia, has rich natural resources such as oil and gas and is the second largest supplier of crude oil to Indonesia after Saudi Arabia in 2011.
In the context of Islam, there is something special between Indonesia and Azerbaijan where Introductions over six centuries has been found and was revealed explaining that what has been known as Ibrahim Samarkandi, whose full name is Maulana Malik Ibrahim, a Wali or Saint from the lineage of the First Wali Songo, is said to have come from Azerbaijan.
Maulana Malik Ibrahim lived in the 15th century. From his place on the Caspian peninsula, Azerbaijan, Ibrahim traveled to Samarkand in Uzbekistan where he studied Islamic religion. After feeling sufficiently qualified, Ibrahim continued his spiritual journey to Indonesia with his sibling named Maulana Ishak and spread Islam in Java. The affinity of relations between Azerbaijan and Indonesia seems to have started a long time ago, even since six centuries ago, to be precise, in this 15th century AD.
Of course this historical news is very interesting and important for Muslims, especially for the people of Azerbaijan and Indonesia, where the majority of the population are Muslims.
Together with Husnan Bey Fananie, the Indonesian Ambassador to Azerbaijan, Professor Zaur Aliyev, who is a member of the Azerbaijan Academy of Sciences, gave a statement that the facts about Maulana Malik Ibrahim, who is a scholar of religion from Azerbaijan, have a very dominant position in the history of Islam in Indonesia.
Maulana Malik Ibrahim in Indonesia is known as Grandfather Pillow or Sunan Gresik. He is considered the forerunner of the first Wali Songo. The name Maulana Malik Ibrahim was recorded in Indonesian history, immortalized as the name of the mosque and the name of a street in East Java.
The manuscripts of the Koran written by this great scholar are still well preserved in Indonesia. According to several historical sources, from his marriage to Princess Raja Champa (read: Cambodia), Maulana Malik Ibrahim has descendants, namely Raden Rahmat, known as Sunan Ampel and Sayid Ali Murtadho or Raden Santri.
In 1419, Maulana Malik Ibrahim died and the tomb of the great scholar which is located in Gapura Village, Gresik, East Java, is often visited by pilgrims from all over the country and neighboring countries.
Fananie shared his experiences while he was still serving as Ambassador and he is the man with great sense of humour, audiences seem happy to get his words. Amongst the honor guests were attending, Yusuf Djemat and spouse, Chandra Motik, Suriati Uwes and Rita from Corps Mubaligh Mubalighoh of Indonesia, and Ita Junita Puspitadewi from Fishery Academy and Business.
The sound of Azan Maghrib was heard and the gathering with the congregation was closed by Ahmad Furqon by breaking the fast together followed by Maghrib prayer. It was really a peaceful gathering.
*) Nia S. Amira (Indonesian author-international journalist-linguist)
174 Dead After Crowd Crush Indonesian Football Match in Kanjuruhan Stadium
At least 174 people died and hundreds were injured in violence and a crowd crush after an Indonesian league football match, the deputy east Java governor has said.
Supporters of the Javanese clubs and longtime rivals Arema and Persebaya Surabaya clashed after Arema were defeated 3-2 at the match in Malang Regency, East Java.
Supporters from the losing side invaded the pitch and authorities fired teargas, leading to a crush and cases of suffocation, said East Java’s police chief, Nico Afinta.
Thirty-four people died in the Kanjuruhan stadium and the rest while in hospital, and hundreds were injured, he said. Two police officers were among the dead.
Many people were crushed and suffocated when they ran to one exit, Afinta said.
“They went out to one point at the exit, then there was a buildup – in the process of accumulation there was shortness of breath, lack of oxygen.”
A police spokesperson later put the death toll at 129 in one of the world’s deadliest sporting stadium disasters. A hospital director told local TV that one victim was aged five.
Indonesia’s chief security minister, Mahfud MD, said the number of spectators exceeded the capacity of the Kanjuruhan stadium.
He said in an Instagram post on Sunday that 42,000 tickets had been issued for a stadium that had a capacity to hold 38,000 people.
The head of the Malang Regency health office, Wiyanto Wijoyo, said earlier that officials were still collating the numbers of injured.
Victims “died of chaos, overcrowding, trampling and suffocation”, Wiyanto said, adding that the injured were referred to different local hospitals.
Fighting reportedly started when the thousands of Arema fans rushed on to the field. Persebaya players immediately left it but several Arema players still on the field were also attacked.
Local reports said up to 3,000 spectators had taken to the field, out of a crowd of 40,000. Police said 13 vehicles were damaged, including 10 police cars.
Images captured from inside the stadium showed huge amounts of teargas and people clambering over fences. People were carrying injured spectators through the chaos.
Video footage circulating on social media showed people shouting obscenities at police, who were holding riot shields.
Torched vehicles, including a police truck, littered the streets outside the stadium on Sunday morning.
The Indonesian government apologised for the disaster and promised to investigate its circumstances.
“We’re sorry for this incident … this is a regrettable incident that ‘injures’ our football at a time when supporters can watch football matches from the stadium,” the Indonesian sports and youth minister, Zainudin Amali, told broadcaster Kompas.
“We will thoroughly evaluate the organisation of the match and the attendance of supporters. Will we return to banning supporters from attending the matches? That is what we will discuss.”
Fan violence is an enduring problem in Indonesia, where deep rivalries have previously turned into deadly confrontations.
Amid the longstanding rivalry beetween Persebaya Surabaya and Arema FC, Persebaya Surabaya fans were not allowed to buy tickets for the game due to fears of violence.
Mahfud MD said organisers ignored the recommendation of authorities to hold the match in the afternoon instead of the evening.
“This sport … often provokes supporters to express emotions suddenly,” he said on Instagram.
The Indonesian league has been suspended for a week as a result of the riot.
“We are concerned and deeply regret this incident,” said Akhmad Hadian Lukita, the president director of PT Liga Indonesia Baru. “We share our condolences and hopefully this will be a valuable lesson for all of us.”
The Indonesian football association (PSSI) said it would investigate what happened.
“We announced the decision [to suspend the league] after we received a direction from the chairman of PSSI,” Akhmad Hadian said. “We are doing this to respect everything and while waiting for the investigation process from PSSI.”
Other stadium disasters include a 1989 crush in the stands at the UK’s Hillsborough Stadium, which led to the deaths of 97 Liverpool fans, and the 2012 Port Said stadium tragedy in Egypt where 74 people died in clashes.
In 1964, 320 people were killed and more than 1,000 injured during a crowd crush at a Peru-Argentina Olympic qualifier at Lima’s national stadium.
Reuters & Agence France-Presse__________________
Will the Samarkand Spirit Revive the Word ‘Mutual’ in World Affairs?
In mid-September 2022, the nine-member Shanghai Cooperation Organization (SCO) met in Samarkand, Uzbekistan, for its 22nd Meeting of the Council of Heads of State. Because China, India, and Pakistan are members of the SCO, the organization represents about 40 percent of the world’s population; with the addition of Russia, the SCO countries make up 60 percent of the Eurasian territory (the other member states of the organization are Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan, Uzbekistan, and now Iran). In its Samarkand Declaration, the final declaration of this meeting, the SCO represented itself as a “regional” organization, although the sheer scale of the SCO would allow it to claim to be a global organization with as much legitimacy as the G-7 (whose seven countries comprise only 10 percent of the world’s population, although the group accounts for 50 percent of the global net wealth).
The keyword in the Samarkand Declaration seemed to be “mutual”: mutual respect, mutual trust, mutual consultation, and mutual benefit. There is an echo in these words of the final communiqué of the Asian-African Conference held in Bandung, Indonesia, in 1955, which led to the formation of the Non-Aligned Movement in 1961. The Samarkand Spirit mirrors, for a different period, the Bandung Spirit with an emphasis on sovereignty and equality. Words like “mutual” are appealing only if they provide tangible benefits for the people who live in these countries.
As if on cue, eyes rolled in the Western press, which either did not give much weight to the meeting in their media coverage or emphasized the divisions between the countries that attended the meeting. Remarks by China’s President Xi Jinping and India’s Prime Minister Narendra Modi about their views on the Russian war in Ukraine shaped the headlines of the Western media. Certainly, the countries that attended the Samarkand meeting do not see eye to eye on each of the issues discussed, but they have built trust with each other and are interested in increasing their diplomatic and economic ties, particularly related to trade.
The SCO states contribute 24 percent to the world’s gross domestic product and accounted for 17.5 percent of world trade in 2020, a volume of activity that is enticing for poorer states in Eurasia. The locomotive of this economic activity continues to be China, which is the largest trading partner of Iran, Kyrgyzstan, Pakistan, Russia, India, and Uzbekistan. The advantages of trade among the countries—including energy purchases from Russia—anchor the SCO, which has become one of the key institutions for the integration of Eurasia.
Iran became a full-fledged member of the SCO at the Samarkand meeting. Over the course of the past decade, U.S. sanctions on Iran and Russia as well as the U.S.-driven trade war against China have drawn these three countries closer together. In April 2021, China and Iran signed a 25-year agreement on trade, which Iran’s ambassador to China Mohammad Keshavarz-Zadeh said “is not against any third country,” meaning the United States. Similar sentiments, but with a stronger anti-Western tone, could be heard at the seventh Eastern Economic Forum held in Vladivostok, Russia, in September 2022, where Russia’s President Vladimir Putin said, “the West is failing, the future is in Asia.”
The SCO is not merely the consolidation of Asian countries heavily sanctioned by the United States and the European Union. India, an SCO member, is a non-sanctioned state, and Türkiye, another non-sanctioned country, is seeking to join the SCO, belying such an easy dismissal about the reason for the existence of the organization. India is a full-fledged member of the SCO and has taken over the presidency of the organization till it hosts the next meeting in 2023. India’s Modi played an active role at the Samarkand meeting, and, according to an op-ed written by India’s former Foreign Secretary Kanwal Sibal, he suggested that India’s membership to the SCO is part of “our commitment to a multipolar world.”
Türkiye, a member of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO), is a dialogue partner of the SCO and is now seeking to upgrade its status to become a member of the organization. In 1987, Türkiye applied to join the European Union and “was declared eligible to join the EU” in 1999. Told that the process is necessarily slow, Türkiye’s senior officials watched with dismay as Ukraine applied to join the European Union in February 2022 and then was accepted as an EU candidate in June, jumping far ahead of Türkiye, whose candidacy has not moved forward and the accession negotiations have “effectively frozen.” The Samarkand meeting was the first SCO meeting that was attended by Türkiye’s President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, who spoke about the SCO region being the “ancestral homeland” of the Turkish people and a natural fit for his country. India’s leadership in the SCO and the possibility of Türkiye’s entry into the organization show that the SCO is increasingly becoming an instrument for Eurasian integration.
“The situation in the world is dangerously degrading,” noted the Samarkand Declaration. “[E]xisting local conflicts and crises are intensifying, and new ones are emerging.” As the SCO met, Azerbaijan attacked Armenia—replaying the conflict of 2020—opening further tension between Russia (which is in the Collective Security Treaty Organization with Armenia) and Türkiye (which is a close ally of Azerbaijan). Adding to the confusion, clashes broke out at the border between Tajikistan and Kyrgyzstan, with Putin hastily calling the presidents of both countries to settle their differences. Modi and Xi met at the Samarkand meeting for the first time since the May 2020 clash between Chinese and Indian troops in the high mountain region of Ladakh. No real progress has been made on the decades-long border dispute between these two large Asian powers. Such existing local conflicts not only threaten the security of the people who live in those countries but also pose a challenge to the SCO becoming more than a regional organization.
Vijay Prashad is an Indian historian, editor and journalist. He is a writing fellow and chief correspondent at Globetrotter. He is an editor of LeftWord Books and the director of Tricontinental: Institute for Social Research. He is a senior non-resident fellow at Chongyang Institute for Financial Studies, Renmin University of China. He has written more than 20 books, including The Darker Nations and The Poorer Nations. His latest books are Struggle Makes Us Human: Learning from Movements for Socialism and (with Noam Chomsky) The Withdrawal: Iraq, Libya, Afghanistan, and the Fragility of U.S. Power.
Real Politics Drives Engagement Between India and the Taliban
When the death of Ayman Al Zawahiri was announced last week, the government of India, a country singled out as a target by the Al Qaeda leader, remained quiet. Many analysts read the fact that he was able to base himself in the Afghan capital as the Taliban’s failure to keep its promise that the group had cut ties with extremist groups threatening other countries. Theories swirled that Pakistan had given up his location to the Americans in a great betrayal. Either way, Al Zawahiri’s death on a Kabul balcony from a US drone strike was an awkward moment for India because it highlighted what was once considered unthinkable – New Delhi’s attempts to build ties with the Taliban.
In June, India announced the re-opening of its embassy in Kabul after shutting it down when the Taliban swept to power a year ago. Historically, India and the Taliban have been enemies. The Indian national security establishment viewed the group as a Pakistani proxy; the Taliban in its previous incarnation as a government between 1996 and 2001, ensured Afghanistan gave Pakistan and anti-India terror groups strategic depth. From the Taliban’s perspective, India supported Afghanistan’s previous republican government, as well as anti-Taliban forces in the 1990s. Given this, it is surprising that both sides now seem to want to engage with each other. Yet, it seems as if realpolitik has brought both sides to this moment.
The Taliban is desperate for developmental and humanitarian assistance. Afghanistan’s economy has collapsed, a situation worsened by one of the worst droughts to hit the country in living memory. In June, a devastating earthquake killed 1,000 people. India sent 30,000 metric tons of wheat and 500,000 doses of COVID-19 vaccines to Afghanistan in February. Pakistan, long viewed as the Taliban’s benefactor, will in the long term be unable to match Indian assistance given that its economy is a shambles and the level of political instability.
Moreover, Pakistan-Taliban relations have become increasingly tense in recent months. Just like previous Afghan governments, the Taliban refuses to recognize the Afghanistan-Pakistan border, viewing it as a colonial imposition. Taliban border guards have repeatedly blocked Pakistani attempts at fencing the border. Islamabad is also unhappy with the Taliban’s unwillingness or inability to rein in the anti-Pakistan Tehreek-e-Taliban (TTP) militant group, which maintains bases in Afghanistan. In April, Pakistan launched air raids against what it believed were TTP bases in eastern Afghanistan, which killed dozens of Afghan civilians. A Taliban spokesman said the airstrikes would pave the “way for enmity between Afghanistan and Pakistan.” A souring Taliban-Pakistan relationship may have created an opportunity for New Delhi.
Cooperation could begin with India providing developmental and humanitarian assistance in return for the Taliban’s assurances that it will not allow Afghanistan to be used by anti-India terror groups. New Delhi has still not officially commented on the Al Zawahiri killing. He had threatened India as recently as May, yet despite this, and perhaps to avoid embarrassing the Taliban further, New Delhi has chosen to stay silent. Instead, TV channels seen as friendly to the government have speculated feverishly on Pakistan stabbing the Taliban in the back by disclosing to the US Al Zawahiri’s location in a villa linked to the Haqqani faction of the Taliban, long considered close to Pakistan.
Both New Delhi and the Taliban, despite their history, have given signs over the last few months that they need not view each other as enemies. Even in 2019, when India enraged Pakistan by stripping Kashmir of its autonomy, the Taliban refused to comment on the issue, saying it was India’s internal affairs. New Delhi for its part has avoided antagonizing the Taliban. In November last year when India hosted the Afghanistan Conference with regional states, it made it clear that its aim in Afghanistan was not to support an anti-Taliban military alliance, but to prevent Afghan territory from being used by transnational terror groups. In May, India’s national security advisor went a step further by calling for enhancing Afghanistan’s counter-terrorism capabilities. What was left unsaid was how this could be done when the Taliban has not been recognized by any government thus far.
Clues as to the direction of the current limited detente may be gleaned from the red-carpet welcome given by the Taliban to 25 India-trained Afghan soldiers affiliated with the previous regime who returned to Kabul this month. After assurances from the Afghan interior ministry that no harm would come to them, it was further announced they would be used for the country’s national defense. The Taliban’s defense minister, Mullah Yaqoob, has also called for Taliban soldiers to receive training in India. This has to be seen in the context of the Taliban’s inability to defeat the ISIS in Khorasan Province militant group. This may be a bridge too far for New Delhi for now, but it is significant given that Afghanistan’s interior minister Sirajuddin Haqqani belongs to the Haqqani faction, which was blamed for the 2008 Indian embassy bombing in Kabul.
Due to its strategic location and considerable mineral deposits, a Taliban-controlled Afghanistan will become the site of great power competition yet again. Soon after coming to power, the Taliban asked a state-backed Chinese company to return to a mining project to extract copper. Neither the US nor India would like to see a Taliban-ruled Afghanistan fall under Beijing’s sway. As odious as the Taliban regime is, particularly in its treatment of women and minorities, it seems realpolitik will increasingly determine not just India’s but the world’s engagement with the new regime in Kabul.
Dnyanesh Kamat is a political analyst who focuses on the Middle East and South Asia. He also consults on socio-economic development for government and private-sector entities. Twitter: @sybaritico
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