New Delhi: News reports indicate that the United States is taking China’s assistance to bring Pakistan in line. As the Great Power with the most leverage with Pakistan, it is surprising that the United States did not consider China earlier. How does this affect India? More in a bad way than good, but India can do little about it.

The United States is concerned about perceived Pakistani terrorism in Afghanistan but not so much for provable Pakistani terrorism against India. The United States started with Cold War objectives in Afghanistan but the focus has shifted to continental America’s security after the 9/11 attacks were launched from that country.

America is fighting an unwinnable war in Afghanistan. America blames Pakistan for its defeats but that is not entirely true. Pakistan has been playing a double game giving overt support to the United States while also covertly backing the Haqqani and other Taliban factions fighting to gain power in Afghanistan. If there was any chance of the United States winning, Pakistan wouldn’t dare the double game.

American sustenance in Afghanistan is questionable. Being far closer, the Soviet Union still had to quit Afghanistan, which nevertheless partly contributed to its collapse. While collapse does not stare the United States in the face, it would welcome another Great Power to carry its Afghan burden if it does not alter the world power balance.

Enter China. China has shown a surprising Great Power capacity and deftness to influence geopolitics which is degrees superior to the United States. It is clearly more successful in Afghanistan than the United States. It has quietly gone about extracting resources while the United States is blamed as an occupying power. The unfairness of this is staggering. If Chinese power can bring peace to Afghanistan and the United States is protected from terrorism, Washington couldn’t care one way or another.

India, however, could scarcely view these developments benignly. But it is in equal measure helpless to alter the narrative. While Afghanistan affects America’s security, unrest there does not leave India unscathed. Even so Afghanistan affects India for more than its domestic troubles.

Pakistan seeks strategic depth in Afghanistan against India. It risks US displeasure and even sanctions and backs Afghan insurgents with the hope to control the country for weightier options against India. Indeed, Pakistan apprehends an Indian advantage if it loses Afghanistan. It already complains of an Indian second front directed against Pakistan and based in Afghanistan.

Pakistan and China are all-weather allies. Indian military planning factors for a collusive Sino-Pak war against India. Such a war is far-fetched when Chinese geopolitics is dominated by geo-economics. All the same, India has to consider the additional risks posed by Chinese-Pakistani joint actions in Afghanistan approved and encouraged by the United States. US encouragement to China in Afghanistan has definite consequences.

But what is the alternative? Aside from humanitarian and moderate security assistance, India can do little. It cannot and it does not seek a larger role in Afghanistan. It does not share a working border with the country and it will not commit troops. Moreover, India-Pakistan rivalry has added to Afghanistan’s unrest. Pakistan incites terror attacks against Indian assets in Afghanistan while alleging proxy Indian strikes across the Afghan-Pak frontier.

In the midst of these accusations and counter-accusations, the United States has begun to cede (or given intimations of ceding) some of its role in Afghanistan to China. China does not share America’s neutrality between India and Pakistan. An increased role for China in Afghanistan will tilt the scales further against India.

Geopolitics, however, has a predisposition to spring nasty surprises. If China reaches a position of pre-eminence in Afghanistan, it may attract the same revulsion and opposition that the United States presently does and that the Soviet Union once did. Afghanistan is fundamentally unwinnable.

This begs a further question. Would China risk its Great Power status in Afghanistan with its unblemished record of defeating empires? It appears doubtful. And if the Pakistanis can play double games with the Americans, why should they spare the Chinese? At times, they have viewed ties with China in very transactional terms.

Often in a highly confused and dangerous geopolitical situation, it is wise to step back, seal your mouths, and prepare for the worst. India cannot retreat from its Afghan commitments. It concerns national prestige. Equally, hasty and precipitate action could ruin it further for India.

India has to wait and watch and furthermore steel itself to face pressure on the Kashmir issue. The link between Afghanistan and Kashmir can no longer be denied. The United States is convinced of the link and China would do everything to encourage the perception.