India, Russia and China resolve to push for a greater joint say in the peace settlement in the region.

The Bangalore meeting of the Foreign Ministers of India, Russia and China has firmly placed Afghanistan on top of their regional cooperation agenda. The three countries agreed to press the United States to adopt a new strategy in Afghanistan and resolved to push for a greater joint say in the peace settlement in the region.

This outcome of the ninth Russia-India-China ministerial meeting signals the coming of age of the RIC triangle.

“Our three countries are able and willing to work out a collective strategy [on Afghanistan] jointly with other countries,” Mr. Lavrov told reporters onboard his plane from Bangalore to Moscow. “We expect the Obama Administration to use the potential of Afghanistan’s neighbours and other regional players in order to encourage all groups in Afghanistan to reach common understandings as to how they will shape their destiny together.” According to Mr. Lavrov, the new strategy should include greater focus on political aspects of the Afghan settlement, and promote consolidation of different political forces and guaranteed representation of all ethnic groups in government structures.

The Bangalore interaction justified Moscow’s hopes expressed ahead of the meeting that India, Russia and China would achieve “coordination of efforts to counter the threat of terrorism” emanating from Afghanistan.

In a joint communiqué the RIC Foreign Ministers “expressed concern at the continuing deterioration of the security situation” in Afghanistan and pledged “concerted trilateral action against international terrorism, trans-national crime and drug-trafficking.” The situation in Afghanistan-Pakistan dominated External Affairs Minister S.M. Krishna’s talks in Moscow during his visit to Russia last week. According to informed sources, Russian President Dmitry Medvedev devoted considerable time of his 40-minute meeting with Mr. S.M. Krishna to discussing the situation in Afghanistan and the disastrous U.S. strategy of co-opting the “moderate” Taliban. He vented his indignation at the way the West arm-twisted President Hamid Karzai into agreeing to a runoff in the presidential elections in Afghanistan. From Moscow’s point of view, it was irresponsible for the U.S. to undermine Mr. Karzai in the name of upholding “democratic election standards” in Afghanistan, especially at a time when there is no viable alternative to the present leader and the situation on the ground is deteriorating. Russia by contrast has been painstakingly working to shore up Mr. Karzai, inviting him to the summits of the Shanghai Cooperation Organisation and praising his efforts in rebuilding Afghanistan.

Moscow is also unhappy with the modalities of its cooperation with the West on Afghanistan. While the U.S. and NATO have been pressing Russia for more help to the coalition forces in Afghanistan, they have not been willing to accommodate Moscow’s concerns. Foreign Minister Lavrov recently publicly rebuked NATO for its failure to invite Russia to the alliance meetings on Afghanistan and refusal to interact with the Collective Security Treaty Organisation (CSTO), a Russia-led defence bloc of former Soviet states, in curbing drug trafficking in Afghanistan. Russia has agreed to provide logistics support, including the transit of NATO troops and military supplies across its territory, but is also demanding a bigger say in the Afghan settlement together with other neighbours of Afghanistan.

Moscow is increasingly alarmed that violence in Afghanistan would spill over into former Soviet Central Asia. The CSTO staged massive war games in Kazakhstan earlier this month. More than 7,000 troops belonging to the CSTO’s newly created rapid reaction force practised repulsing an incursion of militants into the region.

“The evolution of the situation in our region, above all in Afghanistan, requires the stepping up of coordinated action by our foreign policy and security agencies,” Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin said addressing a meeting of the Shanghai Cooperation Organisation (SCO) in Beijing on October 14.

Trilateral cooperation on Afghanistan in the RIC format will get a further boost from India’s promise in Bangalore to expand its involvement in the SCO as an observer member, to the group’s Regional Counter Terrorism Structure and the Contact Group on Afghanistan.

India, Russia and China are yet to bridge their differences on the role of Pakistan and the Taliban. While for India and Russia a Taliban comeback would be unacceptable as creating grave security threats in Kashmir and Central Asia, China has been ambivalent on the issue given its stakes in Pakistan vis-À-vis India. However, this year’s large-scale violence in Tibet and Xingjian highlighted China’s own vulnerability to outside extremist influences. The Bangalore meeting indicated a shift in Beijing’s position. In their joint communiqué India, Russia and China stressed that “all concerned” must implement U.N. Security Council anti-terrorist resolutions, including Resolution 1267 related to the Jamaat-ud-Dawa, even as Pakistan was not mentioned.

The resolve of India, Russia and China to pursue a concerted strategy on Afghanistan could also help improve bilateral ties in the India-Russia-China triangle. The special value of the RIC, the Russian Foreign Minister noted, is that it has created “an effective mechanism for strengthening trusted partnership” among Asia’s three biggest nations.

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