Chinese analysts acknowledge that the routine counterterrorism consultations between India and China — held for almost a decade now — have achieved little in the way of results, with the talks increasingly seen by some as more a formality rather than a dialogue aiming for concrete outcomes.
The sixth such dialogue held here on Thursday has, however, assumed particular importance, analysts say, in the wake of increasing concerns in both countries over the security situation in Afghanistan following the NATO withdrawal in 2014.
“In the past, I don’t think this mechanism played a very important role,” said Zhao Gancheng, a South Asia scholar at the Shanghai Institute for International Studies.
“However, now the two sides are increasingly aware of the common threat of international terrorist forces in South Asia and other regions as well. And, the two sides are facing the prospect of the U.S. and allies withdrawing from Afghanistan”.
Those common concerns are expected to have figured in talks on Thursday between Additional Secretary in charge of counterterrorism in the Ministry of External Affairs Navtej Sarna, and Qiu Guohong, Director General of the Department of External Security Affairs, in the Chinese Foreign Ministry.
Mr. Sarna on Friday also met with Chinese Vice-Foreign Minister Cheng Guoping. India and China are, in coming days, also expected to have a separate —and first of its kind — consultation on Afghanistan, focusing on the post-2014 scenario.
Indian officials declined to comment on what issues figured. Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesperson Hong Lei said Mr. Sarna and Mr. Qiu had “in-depth exchange of views and opinions on international and regional counterterrorism issues, and bilateral cooperation in this field”.
In the past, India’s concerns on terror emanating from Pakistan has been a sensitive issue in the talks considering China’s “all-weather” relationship with Pakistan and reluctance to work with India on the issue. China has, however, expressed growing concern over the safety of its personnel and investments in Pakistan and Afghanistan, and has also claimed that groups in its far-western Xinjiang region had links to terror groups in Pakistan.
With Afghanistan in flux and rising instability in Pakistan, it was becoming more important for India and China to have a cooperative mechanism, Professor Zhao said.
“China and India, and also perhaps Russia, should closely watch the situation because the development of Afghanistan will exert enormous impact on all three parties,” he said. “Pakistan is also a crucial player post-2014. In Pakistan, the terrorism situation is very serious and a lot of extremist forces are very active. Putting all of this together, it is important for China, India and other countries to think about what we are going to do and what kind of cooperative mechanisms will be built up”.
India, China and Russia recently had consultations in Moscow, which were followed by trilateral talks between China, Russia and Pakistan in Beijing, reflecting the delicate regional dynamics in the lead up to 2014.
Commenting on the two sets of talks, Mr. Hong of the Foreign Ministry said, “The countries believe the situation in Afghanistan is closely connected to regional peace and security. The relevant parties’ dialogue on the Afghan issue”, he added, “can help them to enhance mutual understanding, deepen trust and step-up coordination”.