The new grouping, focused on Afghanistan’s stability excludes India.
Written by Uriel Araujo, researcher with a focus on international and ethnic conflicts.
A lot has been written on the Quadrilateral Security Dialogue, better known as simply the Quad (henceforth referred to as the “Pacific” Quad or the Old Quad). It is a strategic dialogue between the US, Japan, India, and Australia, whose raison d’être seems to be to respond geopolitically to increased Chinese military as well as economic power in the so-called Indo-Pacific region. Very little has been written, though, on the “other Quad” (the U.S. – Afghanistan – Uzbekistan – Pakistan Quad Regional Support for Afghanistan-Peace Process and Post Settlement, henceforth referred to as the New Quad). This is an American-led initiative aimed at geo-economically competing with Beijing in Central Asia.
It also has everything to do with Afghanistan. Strategically located at the centre of the historical Silk Road, the country can connect South Asia and Central Asia, and traditionally has been at the crossroads of trade between European and Asian powers. The US has been trying to exploit its potential, creating in 2015, for example, the C5+I (comprising the US and the CARS – the five Central Asia’s Republics). Since the American withdrawal of troops, security and stability in the region has been a major concern for many players. And, from a Chinese perspective, the country can provide Beijing with a strategic base to spread its soft power and influence.
On July 16 the US Department of State issued an announcement on “a new quadrilateral diplomatic platform”, involving Afghanistan, Pakistan, Uzbekistan, and the US. This was basically one month before the so-called fall of Kabul (when Taliban forces took control of the capital city on 15 August). Representatives of these four countries agreed back then to establish this platform with a focus on further increasing regional connectivity and ensuring peace and stability in Afghanistan. The statement highlights the “historic opportunity to open flourishing interregional trade routes”.
Strangely, India is excluded. The very fact that Washington, under Trump’s administration, exempted the Indian-developed Chabahar Port project in Iran from sanctions attests to the tremendous importance of Indian-Afghan trade, from an American perspective also. This initiative can link Afghanistan with the Indian Ocean and Central Asia and enables Indian aid to reach Kabul. Uzbekistan has joined the project too. The New Quad thus can enhance connectivity in the Central Asia and Pakistan region only; without New Delhi, it cannot take into consideration the matter of larger connectivity with Southeast Asian markets.
The name-choice is also curious, for it could indicate that Washington wishes to “contain” Beijing not only by means of a “new (Pacific) Nato” (as the Old Quad has sometimes been described), but also by means of different groupings and alignments. This looks a lot like an anti-Chinese encirclement – which is very worrisome, from the point of China, but also from the point of view of global peace and balance.
Regardless of what plans and objectives Washington really has, it would be hard to coordinate the agendas of all the New Quad’s members too far. Pakistan, for one, has been a steady partner of China and is part of its Belt and Road projects.
Beijing has responded in advance to the last (Pacific) Quad’s summit, which took place on September 24, by describing it as a group that “won’t work” and by stating that “people’s aspirations” in the region as well as “Chinese development” should be seen correctly, with “solidarity and cooperation of regional countries” in mind. In a similar manner, Chinese President Xi Jinping, at the SCO summit, criticized Australia, the UK, and the US recent security deal (the AUKUS). The announcement of the New Quad, however, did not elicit much reaction. The truth is that little is known about it yet.
Mark N. Katz, a George Mason University professor and political scientist, suggests the New Quad was also aimed at keeping military supply lines into the country open, so that Washington could keep supporting government forces – a situation complicated by the Taliban’s take over. Be it as it may, the US remains engaged with Pakistan in military and intelligence matters pertaining to the latter’s neighbor. American troops did leave Afghanistan, but Washington cannot really “leave” it.
It is noteworthy that a few days after the SCO Dushanbe’s summit, Tashkent, Uzbekistan’s capital, held a Central Asia-South Asian connectivity conference, also focused on security matters pertaining to today’s Afghanistan. During this event, both Pakistan and Uzbekistan committed themselves to a strategic partnership, which goes to further enhance their relations now. In February, both countries plus Afghanistan agreed on a roadmap for a new railway – the Pakistan-Afghanistan-Uzbekistan (PAKAFUZ) project which route goes from Mazar-e-Sharif to Peshawar, via Kabul, thus further integrating Afghanistan into the economy of Central Asia. Washington too sees such development as a window of opportunity for economic entrance into the region.
To add yet another acronym to today’s global chessboard, some analysts already talk about an emerging “CRIPTAQ”, a new geopolitical dynamic or informal group comprising China, Russia, Iran, Pakistan, Turkey, Afghanistan and Qatar.
These new alignments and formal or informal arrangements (trilateral or plurilateral) are expected to play an-ever increasing diplomatic role, providing the framework or just the right forum for cooperation and for the construction of new theoretical concepts in the international arena (such as the “Indo-Pacific Region”, “Eurasia”, and so on).
Moreover, one should also expect situations in which the same country is simultaneously a member of two (or more) such groupings – with apparently competing agendas. The case of India, for example, a member of both the SCO and the (Pacific) Quad, is emblematic.
Reconciling those memberships and navigating through these alignments is today’s great diplomatic challenge. And Afghanistan today is a kind of focal point for a number of alignments – it was after all a hot topic for both the last (Pacific) Quad’s summit and the SCO’s summit in Dushanbe. India is a member of both of these groupings and articulated pretty much the same stance on the issue at both of them. The fact that it has been “excluded” from the new Quad also goes to show the limitations of the Washington-New Delhi alliance and thus of the old Quad’s ambitions themselves.
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