US Vice President Joe Biden’s four-day visit to India got underway on Monday, July 22nd. The items being discussed include issues related to trade, environment, and security. The timing of the trip is intriguing and carries strategic symbolism. Biden’s visit to India is taking place soon after John Kerry visited the country in June.
At the time, it was reported the US secretary of state could not visit Pakistan because of the Middle East situation.
The recent high level American visits to India are taking place in the background of similar leadership contacts between China and Pakistan. The new Prime Minister of Pakistan, Nawaz Sharif completed a five-day official visit to China in early July. During the trip, deals worth billions of dollars were signed between the two nations, including the development of much-reported Pak-China Economic Corridor and the associated Kashgar-Gwadar project. The project includes developing of rail and road links between Gwadar port and Kashgar. Earlier, Pakistan had handed over the management of the strategic Gwadar port to China.
With Karzai still upset with the way the opening of the Taliban Doha political office was handled, India can help the American rapprochement with Karzai and in convincing him why reconciliation with Afghan Taliban may the best course of action. The challenge being, India cannot see Afghanistan without its connection to Pakistan, a neighbor with which it has had troubled ties since gaining independence in 1947.
The dilemma for India still remains; in absence of improved ties with Pakistan, it can allow it to be the beneficiary of what transpires in Afghanistan, and after having spent about $2 billion dollars in economic assistance.
Moreover, included in the Indian consideration is the impact of Afghan reconciliation on the rest of the jihadist panorama in Pakistan. After dilly-dallying for a while, the emerging American policy appears to have delinked the two for the time being. How India digests this American de-hyphenation would decide if Indian political help towards Afghanistan would be forthcoming. India may link its assistance in Afghanistan with the role US wants it to play in the Pacific.
During Kerry’s visit to India in June, he promoted Indian military involvement in Afghanistan. Surprisingly, there was no vehement response to this from Pakistan. This suggests Karzai’s paranoia may not be that off the mark. US is pushing both India and Pakistan to improve ties as that would help stabilize Afghanistan. However, normalized ties between India and Pakistan do not bode well for Karzai under the current circumstances.