Prime Minister Narendra Modi's meeting with Chinese President Xi Jinping in Wuhan in China's Hubei province on Saturday, April 28, saw them agreeing on undertaking a joint India-China economic project in Afghanistan, official sources said.
It was learnt that officials from both sides will identify the project following discussions. If the plan works out, it will be first such project in the war-ravaged South Asian country.
But how far can an India-China cooperation be successful in Afghanistan even if the two countries have been playing a major role in the uplift of the landlocked country which has virtually been politically and militarily bombed back to the Stone Age?
Afghanistan is home to what analysts say the new great game where a number of powers have found themselves increasingly involved with the West's failure to revive the country from the chaos which started with its 2001 invasion in the wake of the 9/11 attacks. As the US has gone on missing deadlines to see a complete pull-out from the country by transferring the responsibility of the security to its local forces, White House has only turned impatient and the result has been a steady deterioration of relations between the US and Pakistan - the country that matters most for giving peace a chance in Afghanistan.
West's debacle; US-Pak divide and China & Russia's interest in Afghanistan
The West's policy debacle in Afghanistan, its growing divide with Pakistan and also the rising influence of the Islamic State (IS) in Afghanistan have seen countries like India, China and Russia getting a bigger role to play. As the US has turned displeased with Pakistan over its failure to rein in terrorists taking shelter in its territory, the Donald Trump administration has sought India's bigger role in Afghanistan - almost to the extent of getting New Delhi as an alternative player to Islamabad.
This naturally angered Pakistan and made China, an ally of Pakistan which is trying to influence Afghanistan decisively, more relevant in the country's politics. Meanwhile, Pakistan also backed Russia, another power which is tacitly aiding the Taliban to keep the IS under check, in Afghanistan, completing the anti-West camp.
In this backdrop where India and China belong to two contradictory positions over Afghanistan, can a cooperative project between them really be achievable?
Indian & Chinese roles in Afghanistan
The roles of India and China in Afghanistan are as complicated as is their bilateral relations. China eyes to make Afghanistan a key component of its game-changing Belt & Road Initiative to fulfil global aspirations but India is among the vocal critics of the scheme for its China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC) runs through the Pakistan-occupied Kashmir which makes New Delhi upset. India was also left out in some key multilateral meetings over Afghanistan where China and Pakistan were present though one can't deny the fact that India is one of those non-neighbours of Afghanistan who has made massive efforts for the reconstruction of the country through soft aid.
From the economic perspective, China cannot execute its plans in Afghanistan without taking India into confidence because New Delhi has been an integral member of the process of Afghanistan's revival. On the question of terrorism, too, the two economies have more common grounds than not.
But the real obstacle to a possible China-India cooperation in Afghanistan comes from the political point of view. The Taliban and Pakistan factors will not let the idea breathe easy. China has struggled to make Pakistan and Afghanistan, who also do not share good relations, repair their ties and put up a joint defence against the terror elements. The Quadrilateral Coordination Group comprising China, Afghanistan, Pakistan and the US hasn't made any.
China's contradictory stands on terror
Moreover, as Siegfried O Wolf, a researcher at University of Heidelberg's South Asia Institute told Germany-based Deutsche Welle media, China only wants to contain the Afghan crisis and not resolve it.
He said China indirectly encourages Pakistan to continue its backing for cross-border terrorism while at the same time, it also backs Islamabad's policy of fighting militants who could pose a threat to the CPEC. Also, Beijing's support for talks between Afghanistan government and Taliban makes it challenging for sides like the US and India to readily engage themselves in the peace process.
India, though softened its stand from 'zero support for Afghan government's talks with Taliban' in 2007 to 'support Afghan government's talks with Taliban but without compromise with terrorism' in 2018, yet the Modi government would be uncomfortable in finding itself in a direct link with the terrorist group.
Can India and China still cooperate in Afghanistan?