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Karzai calls for a South Asian 'strategic Arc'

Former Afghanistan President Hamid Karzai during the Huddle, Conversation for Change a Conclave organsied by The Hindu and YES Bank in Bengaluru on Friday.   | Photo Credit: K. Bhagya Prakash

Afghanistan’s former President Hamid Karzai on Friday called for a stronger role for India in regional peace, given the “confusing” signals from the United States, and emphasised need for a “strategic arc” in South Asia.

Speaking at The Hindu’s first “The Huddle” conclave in Bengaluru, Mr. Karzai drew out the contours of the arc for security in the region, which would run from Iran to Russia and China, calling India the “lynchpin” of South Asia.

“The United States, at the present juncture, is sending out signals of confusion, arbitrariness, even distress,” warned Mr. Karzai, in the keynote address, entitled “Strategic Arc for South Asia: Why we need it”.

“But it [the U.S.] is still the world’s single most powerful country, capable of more destruction than any other power, should it be led that way in its anxiety,” he noted.

However, answering questions from the Chairman of Kasturi and Sons Ltd., N. Ram, he hoped that there would be an opportunity for the U.S. to reverse its policy on Afghanistan under the new U.S. President Donald Trump, particularly with better U.S.-Russia ties.

Mr. Karzai called for a revision in the U.S.’s Pakistan policy. He said the U.S. must persuade Pakistan to end its “policy of safe havens to terrorist groups”. “I love the people of Pakistan, but its military supports terrorists and extremists across the border from us. The U.S. must stop this,” he said.

His words come a day after the commander of U.S. and international forces in Afghanistan, General John Nicholson, called for a “holistic review” of the U.S.'s relations with Pakistan at a Senate committee meeting, indicating a tougher strategy with Islamabad.

Mr. Karzai’s words are also significant as they signal a shift from the U.S.-centric security structure for Afghanistan, where America has led anti-terror and peacekeeping efforts in Afghanistan since it defeated the Taliban regime in 2001, and denote a move towards Russia and China, which have not been major players in Afghanistan since the 1980s.

Mr. Karzai said, “Russia and China are not in South Asia. But they are our immediate neighbours. Their actions impact us, and ours them. If we are able to incorporate them in a virtuous arc, if we throw our weight behind resolving any bilateral hurdles within this arc that distort relationships, then we may be well on our way to taking meaningful steps forward.”

In particular, Mr. Karzai said India must consider joining the China One Belt One Road (OBOR) project which, if combined with India’s Afghanistan-Iran trilateral project for the Chabahar port to link them, would be what he called a “win-win” situation for all. India has resisted calls from Beijing to connect about 10,000 km of highways across Asia and Europe so far, objecting to the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor that runs through Kashmir and Gilgit-Baltistan.

“With Pakistan blocking India’s access to Afghanistan and Central Asia, OBOR and Chabahar projects are the only alternative to India,” Mr. Karzai concluded.

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Printable version | Dec 1, 2020 3:07:08 AM | https://www.thehindu.com/news/national/Karzai-calls-for-a-South-Asian-strategic-Arc/article17282572.ece

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