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War On Terror: Will It Emerge As Ménage A Trois Between Washington, Beijing And New Delhi? – Analysis

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The notion of Ménage a Trois is one of the three perennial rudiments of the strategic triangle in International Relations (IR). The other two being the Stable Marriage and Romantic Triangle, which were frequently applied by Lowell Dittmer to analyze the various aspects of the US-Soviet-China interactions in the triangular framework during the Cold War period.

However, for Dittmer, the concept of “strategic triangle” although applied to the relationship between these three Cold War rivals, is not a concept from area studies based on the geo-cultural peculiarities of particular time and place. Rather, it is a Social Science term based upon the logical, quaisi-geometrical relationship among political actors in the international arena. In the post-Cold War era, it is witnessed that Asia once again settled into a strategic triangle, however, this time involving the U.S., China and India. Broadly speaking, the concept of Ménage a Trois is applied to a situation where the three important independent international actors (states) have mutually positive relationship and all of them are linked together by common endeavors.

Here this kind of strategic triangle is applied to the trilateral relationship between China, India and the United States because in the contemporary world order which is characterized globalization and complex interdependence, the levels of mutual dependence has become so perennial to each of them that a trilateral cooperation on the issues where their interests overlap can yield win-win outcomes. It is observed that there is vast foray of arenas (more pertinently relating to the security issues) where the interests of the trios are at odds with each other and which is a constant source of friction between them.

Conversely, the three powers also held identical and overlapping views on a number of global issues such as climate change, nuclear proliferation, maintaining international financial stability and facing the common threat emanating from the global terrorism. These are the issues which threatens each and every state on this planet without any geographical considerations.

In this article, a brief analysis is made to answer the critical question; will the global terrorism and especially the war on terrorism in Afghanistan bind Washington, Beijing and New Delhi together at a time when the competitive elements in their relationship are assuming new dimensions? This question assumes wider significance in the context that all the three states are facing the menace of terrorism in one way or the other. Moreover, as there exists deep strategic distrust between the trios especially between the two dyads i.e., China-India and the U.S.-China, it is expected that the cooperation on this common threat (terrorism) can reduce the competitive and conflictual elements in their bilateral and trilateral interactions.

Immediately after the twin tower terrorist attacks on the American soil on September 11, 2001, the three states reached an unprecedented consensus that the menace of terrorism poses a serious threat not only to their respective states but also to the global peace and stability. Since then, the three states have recurrently reiterated their resolve to eliminate this nuisance with combined endeavors.

It is due to this mutual understanding that the relationship between China, India and the United States has improved a lot since then. For example, in case of China and the U.S. the counter terrorism cooperation has improved their relationship to a great extent. Four years after the American catastrophe unleashed by terrorist attacks in which some three thousand innocent lives were lost, the U.S. Deputy Secretary of State Robert Zoellick acknowledged that, “China and the United States can do more together in the global fight against terrorism” after “a good start”, in his policy speech that called on China to be a “responsible stake holder” in the world.

More than a decade, thereafter, on March 24, 2014 at the sidelines of Nuclear Security Summit, Chinese President Xi Jinping said that he appreciated Obama’s condemnation of terrorism in all forms, and China is willing to work with all the countries, including the United States, to fight terrorism. These two statements from the two highest officials reflect the consistency in their approach to deal with the threat of terrorism.

Similarly, during the same period, the counter-terrorism cooperation between India and the U.S. has also witnessed an upward trajectory. For instance, in the post 9/11 period, Washington and New Delhi intensified their cooperation in the areas of law enforcement including programs developed by the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI), the Department of Homeland Security (DHS), the Drug Enforcement Agency (DEA) and the Diplomatic Security Anti-Terrorism Assistance (DSATA).

Furthermore, the Indo-U.S. Counter-Terrorism Joint Working Group (CTJWG) emerged one of the crucial means for sharing of information and intelligence, devising anti-terrorism programs and other areas of mutual concern.

Beijing and New Delhi, on the other hand, has also vowed to work together for eliminating the menace of terrorism. On 21 November, 2015 while issuing a Joint Statement, the two Asian giants agreed to enhance cooperation in combating international terrorism through (a) coordinating positions on anti-terrorism endeavors at bilateral and multilateral levels, (b) exchanging experiences on anti-hijacking, hostage situations and other terrorism related crimes, (c) exchanging information on terrorist groups and their linkages.

The need for coordination and cooperation between New Delhi and Beijing on counter terrorism arises from the fact that China’s Xinjiang province and Indian state of Kashmir are infested with separatist movements. As the Global Times,(Chinese daily) stated in one of its editorials”…separatists in Xinjiang, bordering disputed Kashmir, are believed by the Indian government to have certain links with terrorists in Kashmir – a hotbed of terrorists that India has blamed for attacks”.

Being geographically in proximity with each other, India and China realize the need to weed-off this threat with joint endeavors and also in collaboration with other important states particularly the United States. It is observed, therefore, the three states held the identical interest in fighting terrorism.

The trilateral cooperation between these three states can be best illustrated in Afghanistan. Since the US-led War on Terror in Afghanistan, the situation still remains quite gruesome. More pertinently, Taliban has been regaining control most of the areas in Afghanistan and their resurgence poses a serious threat to the regional peace and stability. A report prepared by UN Security Council in 2014 notes that “insurgent groups (and) international terrorists…took advantage of the protracted political and electoral crisis, to mount major assault around the country”.

Although Washington, Beijing and New Delhi have their own interests and strategies when it comes to Afghanistan, the current turmoil has immense potential to affect the security interests of the latter two given their close geographical affinity to Afghanistan.

It can be discerned from the fact that the instability in Afghanistan can intensify the activities of East Turkestan Islamic Movement (ETIM) which is a violent separatist group founded by Uighur militants in China’s Xinjiang province. Likewise, the Afghan instability also threatens India’s northern areas especially the state of Jammu and Kashmir which is geographically close to Afghanistan.

It is for this reason that both Asian powers in collaboration with the United States are actively involved in the reconstruction of Afghanistan and assisting the Afghan government in its peace initiatives. In this regard, New Delhi has committed to provide US$2 billion in aid for the reconstruction of Afghanistan. Besides, it has also been offering scholarships to Afghan students, training Afghan civil servants and members of law enforcement agencies.

Similarly, Beijing is also involved in various programs related to development and security in Afghanistan. So for as multilateral initiatives are concerned, the three countries are actively involved in Afghanistan’s recovery and stability through venues such as the ‘Istanbul Process’ (known as Heart of Asia). The ‘Istanbul Process’, of which New Delhi and Beijing are active members and the United States is supporting country outside the region, is playing critical role in a number of areas such as forging consensus among countries in the region, advancing cooperation among them on the challenges that Afghanistan faces, and promoting peaceful reconstruction of Afghanistan.

In addition to the ‘Istanbul Process’, China and India also play an important role through SCO (Shanghai Cooperation Organization) since India (along with Pakistan) became full member of this organization on July 2015. The security cooperation among the SCO members is rooted in a shared strategic need to contain three forces – terrorism, national separatism, and religious extremism because these factors directly affects the member countries including Beijing and New Delhi.

Due to these overlapping interests on terrorism between China, India and the US, it is often asserted that such cooperation will led to Ménage a Trois or win-win interactions which will ultimately reduce their political issues. However, when analyzed and examined minutely it is observed that in spite of commonality of interests there are also divergences relating to perceptions, methods and attitudes while dealing with this problem.

It can be discerned from the fact that New Delhi has always maintained critical attitude on Washington’s inability to bring pressure on Pakistan to stop pushing militants into the Indian side of Kashmir. Indian officials are frustrated that Washington has not taken required measures to coerce Islamabad to dismantle Lashkar-e-Toiba (LeT) and other Indian-centric terrorist organization’s infrastructure on the soil of Pakistan.

Although, the United States realizes the danger that LeT poses to regional stability, it still does not meet Indian expectations of placing it on equal footing with other terrorist organizations like Al Qaeda.

In the Sino-Indian dyad, the two states also hold divergent views when the issues of terrorism are related to Pakistan. For instance, China has shielded Pakistan several times by putting a technical hold on India’s demand for UN Security Council to take action against Mumbai attack mastermind Zaki-ur-Rehman Lakhvi, Hizbul Mujahedeen Chief Syed Salahuddin and Lashkar-e-Toyaba leader Hafeez Sayed which are roaming free on Pakistani soil.

Likewise, Beijing and Washington may have many reasons to cooperate on the issue of terrorism, but they have also different perceptions relating to the various aspects of the same problem. Washington considers Uighur and Tibetan movements in China as legitimate protests and their activities are not treated as acts of terrorism by Americans. However, China perceives these movements as illegitimate and threat to its security and territorial integrity.

In Afghanistan also, the three states are also at odds with each other despite immense rhetoric for cooperation. For instance, though the presence of US-led international forces stationed in Afghanistan has been advantageous to China by restricting the movements of ETIM Uighur militants along the Sino-Afghan border, but at the same time, China does not like the US military presence close to its south western borders.

Similarly, while Washington has been appreciative of New Delhi’s reconstruction initiatives in Afghanistan but does not want to antagonize Pakistan at the growing influence of New Delhi in Kabul.

For the United States, Pakistan’s cooperation in bringing stability in Afghanistan is more crucial than India because Islamabad wields significant influence on Taliban. Similarly, China would like to work with Pakistan than with India in bringing peace and stability in Afghanistan. It can be reflected from recent peace talks between China-Pakistan-Afghanistan-US, which makes up the ‘Quadrilateral Coordination Group’. This four-member group excludes India, despite the fact that New Delhi is an important regional actor. It reflects the divergence of approach and perceptions in tackling the same problem like terrorism. Thus it is observed that though the trios share identical interests in eliminating the menace of terrorism, but this overlapping has not been sufficient to promote a Ménage a Trois between Washington, Beijing and New Delhi.

*Dr. Mehraj Uddin Gojree, Assistant Professor, Dept. of Higher Education, J&K. Email. [email protected]


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