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‘We are deepening engagement on Afghanistan’

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India and China are deepening their engagement to facilitate Afghanistan’s political transition, in tune with the evolution of a full-spectrum dialogue between the two countries, which includes counter-terrorism and emergence of new regional trade blocs.

In a conversation with The Hindu on the divergence between New Delhi’s and Beijing’s stances on engaging the Taliban in a dialogue, India’s Ambassador to China, Ashok K. Kantha said: “We have our different approaches on issues. But it is not essential that we must agree on all of the key issues, before we start cooperating. On Afghanistan, we have a good dialogue which both sides find very useful.

“They [the Chinese] believe that the multiple transitions that are taking place in Afghanistan will involve countries of the region including India and China. It can be done collectively and there is a role for us that they fully acknowledge.”

Mr. Kantha, who has completed a two-year tenure in China, described as a “big achievement” the mushrooming of a complex network of institutions, resulting from a visit to India by President Xi Jinping and the reciprocal visit to China by Prime Minister Narendra Modi. He said that the emergence of these new institutions had helped bring India-China ties to the “take-off” stage.

He pointed out that in the backdrop of the Paris terror attacks and the downing of the Russian airliner in Egypt, “security cooperation” between New Delhi and Beijing, especially in the field of counter-terrorism, had acquired a fresh urgency.

Consequently, the November visit to China by Home Minister Rajnath Singh resulted in the two sides agreeing “to cooperate in areas like intelligence sharing”. “This is something new, which shows mutual confidence, which we are trying to tap,” Mr. Kantha observed.
Mr. Singh’s visit also resulted in the establishment of a high-level dialogue mechanism at the ministerial level, supported by a Joint Working Group among officials of the two countries. “When the Home Minister came here in November, both sides recognised the need to step up cooperation in the security domain, particularly counter-terrorism. We found that we did not have the requisite dialogue mechanism to take this forward.”

He added: “The next step which has been agreed in principle is that a new agreement for cooperation is to be signed. We have exchanged drafts and are working on it. This is likely to be concluded during the first meeting of the high-level mechanism in the first half of 2016.”

He added that the decentralisation of foreign policy flowed from Mr. Modi’s concept of “cooperative federalism”.

“The Chief Ministers are taking ownership of the relationship with China. New projects are coming up, and specific initiatives are being taken”.

The Indian envoy pointed out that a stage has been set for the emergence of symbiotic economic relationship, where China’s focus on a “new normal” economy dovetailed with India’s manufacturing centred ‘Make-in-India’ campaign.—(The Hindu)