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Herat to Hambantota

There can always be a manipulative dragon breathing fire on a helpless tiger.

Herat to Hambantota

US President Donald Trump may seem to have had wavering thoughts regarding Afghanistan but the intensified violence there in recent times point to a far graver concern. The 16-year war in Afghanistan has kept the United States engaged for the longest time under three Presidents and four Presidential terms. Much like the characteristic eccentricity of President Trump, conveniently pulling out of Afghanistan will not only leave the state helpless in its ruins but also pose worse terror threats in a domino effect. The weakening hold of Taliban will be of no good if the vacuum from US withdrawal will be filled by Islamic State making deeper inroads in the war-ravaged country. The suicide bombing in a Shia mosque at prayer time in Herat in western Afghanistan last month (responsibility denied by Taliban) is only a glimpse of what the grim, ghastly picture might look like.

President Trump minced no words when he made a repugnant remark that Pakistan contributes to precipitating matters in Afghanistan. This is true despite the fact that Pakistan has been struggling with its own home-grown terrorists for long. The war in Afghanistan began essentially to avenge the September 11 terror attacks that wrenched the US out of slumber to the Asian phenomenon called terrorism. The civil war in Afghanistan until now was primarily a struggle against Taliban that had toppled and terribly destabilised at large a very progressive and modern Afghan society. When the US invaded Afghanistan with the intention of taking on the Taliban and nabbing Osama bin Laden, most al-Qaeda and Taliban operatives managed to escape to Pakistan where they found shelter.
The recent times have seen deepening relations between India and the US. Beyond how it began as a diplomatic exercise with the ascension of BJP to the Centre, secure ties between India and US are a necessity to fortify India's regional presence as an Asian giant, particularly against China. Internal strife in Afghanistan is a hindrance for India in consolidating its influence in most of south Asia. America's decision to not withdraw its troops keeps Kabul free of the dangers of having to possibly deal with a worse, ISIS-like situation taking form in an already Taliban-eaten state. With a situation under control in Afghanistan and India welcome to help stabilise matters apart from the ongoing infrastructure and economic projects, Pakistan sidelined - courtesy America – this part south Asian power bloc led by India is a significant force against China to consider before making any mischief.
Aggravated by domestic politics in the backdrop, China, under its President Xi Jinping, seems to be desperate in its strategic acquisitions before late 2017 when the 19th Party Congress will be held to name the China's next head. It is rumoured that he is delaying naming a successor to signal a desire to extend his tenure. Consolidating a position in the Indian Ocean region is of immense strategic and economic gain for China. After much delay and protest, Colombo signed the $1.1bn (£837m) deal with Bejing for the control and development of the southern deep sea port of Hambantota, also touted as a competitor of Singapore. The assurance is that China will run only commercial operations from the port - on the main shipping route between Asia and Europe as part of the New Silk Road initiative. With China's breakneck ambitions, only time will tell how safe Hambantota port will be for India.
Speculations are rife that this project can turn the region into a Chinese colony because a state-run Chinese company has a 99-year lease on the port and about 15,000 acres of land for industrial zone in the vicinity including a proposed international airport. This obviously requires eviction of thousands of villagers, who, the government says, will be compensated with new settlement. China has invested millions of dollars in Sri Lanka's infrastructure since the end of the 26-year civil war in 2009. Sri Lanka insists that the reason to go ahead with this initiative is purely economical. However, there can always be a manipulative dragon breathing fire on a helpless tiger. The cost of maintaining the post at its current status is much more than the earnings from trade. Hence, the risky deal of developing the port incurring huge debt (Sri Lanka's national debt stands at around $64 billion, ie, 76 per cent of its gross domestic product). Unlike the USA in Afghanistan, China has not invited India to help Sri Lanka make sound economic decisions, nor should India proactively violate the island nation's sovereignty and intrude in its domestic affairs. If India secures a position in the Afghan region with America's cooperation, helping reconstruct the war-torn country, this is clearly a picture where China has pitted itself against India by taking Sri Lanka under its wings.
(The author is EditorialConsultant and Senior Copy Editor with Millennium Post. The views are strictly personal.)

Kavya Dubey

Kavya Dubey

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