Talking of interests
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Delhi must build on India-China talks on Afghanistan — without any illusions on China's Afghan calculus
The first official conversation between India and China on Afghanistan, in Beijing last week, had been long overdue. That Delhi and Beijing had not talked to each other until now on such an important issue points to the huge gaps in their expanding political engagement in recent years. The rivalrous nature of Sino-Indian relations has meant there has been little incentive for an honest engagement on regional security issues. Worse still, China's enduring strategic partnership with the Pakistan army has prevented Beijing from talking to Delhi on issues deemed sensitive for Rawalpindi. Afghanistan has always been on top of that list.
China's readiness to talk to India on Afghanistan, therefore, is a step forward. These bilateral consultations come as Afghanistan prepares for multiple transitions in the next two years. For one, the US is preparing to end its military occupation by 2014 and is handing over responsibilities to Afghan security forces, whose effectiveness is widely doubted. Second, next year's elections are likely to see a new leader replacing President Hamid Karzai, who has been Afghanistan's voice for more than a decade. Third, there are multiple channels in play, trying to promote a political reconciliation between the international community and the Taliban. Together, the three factors make Afghanistan's future an extremely uncertain one.