New Delhi: India is to attend a conference on the future of Afghanistan hosted by Russia this week—that will also include China and Pakistan—amid hopes the proposed new regional grouping will help bring peace and stability to the war-torn country.
The Moscow-hosted conference is significant given that it is a rare instance of India, Pakistan and Afghanistan being part of a regional initiative together—given tensions between India and Pakistan on a range of issues including Kashmir.
The Moscow-hosted conference on Wednesday comes in the backdrop of a United Nations (UN) report submitted to the UN Security Council Sanctions Committee last month which said that the Islamic State (ISIS) terror group was recruiting fighters from the restive Afghanistan-Pakistan border region.
“India is a major development partner of Afghanistan and stands with it in meeting the challenges, most importantly terrorism. India has always believed in close and constructive cooperation for peace, stability, security and development in Afghanistan," said Indian foreign ministry spokesman Vikas Swarup. “To this end, we actively participate in several bilateral and multilateral consultations. In this context, we are happy to accept the invitation of Russia for consultations."
Originally envisaged as a Russia-China-Pakistan consultations forum on Afghanistan, India was issued an invitation during a recent visit to Russia by national security advisor Ajit Doval.
The Russia-China-Pakistan conference will now see the participation of Afghanistan and Iran, other than India. That Russia—which has been drawing closer to China and Pakistan in recent times—invited India to the conference has been noted by New Delhi.
Russia’s moving closer to India’s arch rival Pakistan and strategic rival China has been a matter of deep concern to New Delhi, which was seen as close to the former Soviet Union during the Cold War years.
“When India attends this conference, it will be one of the countries in the inner circle of consultations on the future of Afghanistan and that is a matter of satisfaction," said former foreign secretary Lalit Mansingh.
There are many trilateral and multilateral meetings on Afghanistan including one that brings together India, the US and Afghanistan.
Then, there is the Russia-China-US-Pakistan or the Quadrilateral Coordination Group—which was to start talks with the rebel Taliban militants.
But India, Pakistan and Afghanistan together are part of only the upcoming Russia-hosted initiative. The three countries are, however, together at the talks table at the much larger “Heart of Asia" multilateral process aimed at bringing economic prosperity to Afghanistan, as well as the Bonn conference 2011 which will be focussed on the economic, military and political transitions to take place in Afghanistan between 2015-24.
“Given Pakistan’s objections to India’s presence and role in Afghanistan, this is to be expected that India and Pakistan are together in any regional grouping on the future of Afghanistan," said a person familiar with the developments. “Let us see how the meeting (in Russia) goes."