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Mainstream, VOL LV No 9 New Delhi February 18, 2017

India - Afghanistan: An Analysis of Strategic and Security Concerns

Tuesday 21 February 2017

by Bineet Kaur

India and Afghanistan have close technical, economic, cultural and political relations. The relations between India and Afghanistan can be traced back to the Indus valley civilisation. The relationship is not limited to the governments in New Delhi and Kabul, and has its foundations in the historical contacts and exchanges between the peoples. Following the 9/11 attacks and the resultant US-led war in Afghanistan, the ties between India and Afghanistan grew strong once again. India’s interest is always in seeing Afghanistan move towards greater peace and prosperity. India is one of the closest regional powers and it has invested in institution and infrastructure building in Afghanistan; and there is more trust among the people of Afghanistan towards India because it has made significant investments in developmental projects in the war-torn country. It enjoys immense goodwill among ordinary Afghans and that it has earned due to its decade-long investment in Afghanistan.

In the recent past, Indo-Afghan relations have been further strengthened by the Strategic Partnership Agreement signed between the two countries in 2011. As Afghanistan was under-going three simultaneous political, security and economic transitions in 2015, India had allayed its fears about its future by making a long-term commitment to the security and development of Afghanistan. For India, Afghanistan has immense strategic potential. Geo-strategically India-Afghanistan partnership has considerable value as a counter to the Pakistan threat. Strengthening the security dimension of India-Afghanistan ties is extremely important for India as it is in New Delhi’s interest to help Kabul preserve its strategic autonomy at a time when Pakistan has made it clear that it would like the Haqqani network and the Taliban to be at the centre of the post-American political dispensation in Kabul. India is keenly interested in cultivating a significant partnership with Afghanistan. Due to strategic and security concerns the Indo-Afghanistan cordial relations are in favour of both the nations.

India has given economic and material help for the well-being of Afghanistan. India has made huge investments in Afghanistan ranging from infrastructure to human resource develop-ment. Strategically Afghanistan is important for India’s dream of accessing the Central Asian market, for which it is developing the Chabahar port in Iran. it is a gateway to the energy-rich Central Asian states such as Turkmenistan and Kazakhstan. India, an observer in the Shanghai Cooperation Organisation, has been pursuing better relations with the Central Asian states for energy cooperation.

India has enormous security stakes in the stability of Afghanistan. As an emerging power it cannot remain confined to South Asia. Afghanistan’s internal conditions affect the stability of the region. India’s presence in Afghanistan is to address its security concerns and help construct the regional security architecture. The rise of the IS in the Middle East and its close contacts with the Taliban raise issues of internal security for India. Since the American invasion, the Taliban and its affiliates have shifted their base towards the southern regions and Pakistan. This has increased implications for the security and safety for both Pakistan and the Indian territory. While India’s presence in Afghanistan has a Pakistan-specific utility, it is also about India’s emergent ability to influence its extended strategic neighborhood. India is interested in retaining Afghanistan as a friendly state from which it has the capacity to monitor Pakistan and even, wherever possible, cultivate assets to influence activities in Pakistan. India is keenly interested in forging a significant partnership with Afghanistan.

India is one of the key supporters of Afghanistan. India and Afghanistan have a long-standing record of technical and economic cooperation in various fields. In fact, prior to 1979, Afghanistan was the largest partner in India’s technical and economic cooperation programme.1 In 2001, India’s engagement with Afghanistan became multi-dimensional after the Taliban’s defeat and the installation of an Interim Authority. India’s relations with Afghanistan have steadily improved for several reasons. Unlike Pakistan, ties between India and Afghanistan are not hampered by a contested contiguous border. India’s support for the Northern Alliance against the Pakistan-backed Taliban in the 1990s strengthened its position in Kabul after 2001. Many members of the Alliance are members of the government or hold influential provincial posts. India has done its best to restore the balance in its engagement with a range of different ethnic groups and political affiliations in Afghanistan. The balance was tilted towards the Tajik-dominated Northern Alliance during the 1990s as a counter to the Pakistan-controlled hardline Pashtun factions, led by the Taliban. One immediate result was the upgradation of the Indian representation in Afghanistan from a Liaison Office to a full-fledged Embassy in 2002. India actively participated in the Bonn Conference and was instrumental in the emer-gence of a post-Taliban governing and political authority in Afghanistan.

Since then, India’s main focus has been to support the Afghan Government and the political process in the country as mandated under the Bonn agreement of 2001.2 It has continued to pursue a policy of high-level engagement with Afghanistan through extensive and wide-ranging humanitarian, financial and project assistance, as well as participation in international efforts aimed at political reconci-liation and economic rebuilding of Afghanistan. India has launched an extensive assistance programme in Afghanistan since 2001 wherein it has pledged $ 750 million toward reconstruction efforts most of which is unconditional.3 Out of this around $ 270 million has already been used on projects ranging from health and rural development to training of diplomats and bureaucrats. Delhi has emerged as one of Afghanistan’s top six donors, having extended a $ 500 million aid package in 2001 and gradually increasing it ever since.

A peaceful Afghanistan is good for Indian trade and energy security. India has a funda-mental interest in ensuring that Afghanistan emerges as a stable and economically integrated state in the region. Though Afghanistan’s economy has recovered significantly since the fall of the Taliban, it remains highly dependent on foreign aid and trade with neighbouring countries.4 The only way in which the Afghanistan Government can retain and enhance its legitimacy is by bringing the Afghan economy back on track. To do so largely depends on other states and India is playing an important role in this regard.

The preferential trade agreement signed by India and Afghanistan gives substantial duty concessions to certain categories of Afghan dry fruits when entering India, with Afghanistan allowing reciprocal concessions to Indian products such as sugar, tea, and pharma-ceuticals. A consortium of Indian steel companies, led by the National Mineral Development Corporation (NMDC), India’s largest iron ore mining company, is bidding to acquire all or some of Afghanistan’s 1.8 billion-tonne Hajigak iron ore mines.5 This is a rare instance of public and private sector companies joining forces to bid for an overseas raw material asset. Indian companies are worried about the safety of their investment because of the Taliban threat and so are afraid to venture solo.

Bilateral trade between India and Afghani-stan has been on the rise. India hopes its investment in the Iranian port at Chabahar will allow it to gain trading access to Afghanistan, bypassing Pakistan. Pakistan currently allows Afghanistan transit rights for its exports to India, but does not allow goods to move from India to Afghanistan. With the opening of the Chabahar port after the Iran nuclear deal, the trade with Central Asia through Afghanistan seems more probable, given the maintenance of peace in Afghanistan. The economic corridor that China proposed to build along the Kashgar-Gwadar route is of strategic importance to India as the area is a disputed one.

As a responsible and democratic regional entity, India has also re-animated the commit-ment towards its regional role as a benign power investing in social and economic development of its immediate neighbourhood, reminiscent of the ‘Gujral Doctrine’ of the mid-1990s.6 Integrating Afghanistan into the South Asian regional dynamics became a strategic imperative for India. At the 14th Summit of the South Asian Association for Regional Co-operation (SAARC) in 2007 in New Delhi, Afghanistan was granted full membership.7 As such, the economic realm of India’s Afghanistan approach has been increasing ever since. Although intra-regional trade in South Asia is extremely low, Afghanistan’s admittance to SAARC was aimed at paving the way for economic re-construction initiated by the Indian support. The economic benefits thus generated would lead to political capital, re-establishing India’s historically positive linkages with Afghanistan and demonstrating to the world community that India, although a developing country itself, was able to live up to its aspirations as a major power.8 The economic realm of India’s Afgha-nistan strategy is not, however, detached from the Pakistan and Taliban factors because by drawing Afghanistan away from its economic and geo-political dependence on Pakistan, India hopes to weaken the resource base of the Taliban or at least provide alternative sources of income and resources for the Afghanistan Government.9

India always wants a peaceful Afghanistan. India has considerable stakes in a peaceful and developing Afghanistan and must have a say in charting a path for resolution of issues, the outcome of which will have considerable regional impact. India has over the last two decades spent considerable diplomatic energy and made investments in developing a healthy relationship while helping in Afghanistan’s reconstruction. Increasing economic growth, providing humani-tarian assistance, improving capacity-building measures are all part of India’s soft power strategy of “reviving the traditional role of Afghanistan as a land bridge, connecting South Asia with Central Asia and West Asia”.10 India has lot to offer for the betterment of the region considering the TAPI project, the MVA (motor vehicle agreement), if extended, NSTC (North- South transport corridor), SAARC satellite and many more—all of which are beneficial for the participating countries but these benefits have to be foreseen by the respective leaders of states; else the region will not get rid of poverty, malnu-trition, economic disparity, gender imbalance etc.

Strategically Afghanistan is important to India’s dream of accessing the Central Asian market. India’s involvement in Afghanistan aims to address its strategic concerns. First, it supports a plural government in Afghanistan representing all the ethnic groups. Second, for a viable state that can pursue an independent foreign policy, Afghanistan needs outlets to the outside world for trade. Connectivity therefore becomes the key issue and India is supportive of the Silk Route. Third, Afghan forces must be combat- capable to take responsibility in the post-transition period. The Strategic Partnership Agreement that the two countries signed in October 2011 is an important step in this regard. Fourth, the ability of Afghanistan to emerge as a self-sustaining economy would help the emergence of a viable state. India is engaged in the economic development of Afghanistan, which is likely to sustain its presence in the post-transition phase. Fifth, the contesting interests of the regional countries would make Afgha-nistan unstable. India would like to be engaged with the regional countries in finding a solution to Afghanistan and at least support the Afghan Government’s multilateral political and econo-mic initiatives. It shares Kabul’s apprehensions regarding drug problems and extremism in Afghanistan.11

India has played an important role in the recons-truction and development of Afghanistan. Keeping the reconstruction of war-ravaged Afghanistan in mind, India prioritised economic engagement. According to a Ministry of External Affairs report, “India’s programmes cover four broad areas—infrastructure projects, humani-tarian assistance, small and community based development projects, and education and capacity development.”12 It tailored various development projects after consultation with the Afghan Government and, according to its requirements. India has invested in “building capacities and institutions for effective state system that is able to deliver goods and services required by the Afghan people”.13 It is providing scholarships, training bureaucrats and helping in capacity building in the agriculture sector. It has highly acclaimed medical missions in Kabul, Herat, Kandahar, Jalalabad and Mazar-e-Sharif providing free medical consultation and medicines to 30,000 Afghans every month.14 Indian projects have high visibility and touch the life of ordinary Afghans and generated enormous goodwill, a political capital, towards New Delhi. The Indira Gandhi paediatric hospital, the Pul-e-Khumri-Kabul electricity transmission line, the Afghan Parliament building and the Zaranj-Delaram Highway are some of the significant investments.

India announced an additional Rs 600 crores (approximately US $ 120 million) to meet the escalation cost of the Salma Dam Power Project which will generate 52 MW of power and irrigate 40,000 hectares of farmland.15 The Indian Prime Minister and Afghanistan’s President formally inaugurated the Salma Dam, jointly pressing a remote-control button that sent water surging through turbines; this will provide electric power to the country’s most rapidly-growing industrial hub. Water from the dam will also irrigate a region. India will extend cooperation to every part of war-torn Afgha-nistan despite facing barriers of politics, geography and terror attacks on its mission in Herat, Prime Minister Narendra Modi asserted after inaugurating a landmark dam in the strate-gically important Herat province. In an address after inaugurating the Afghan-India Friendship Dam along with President Ashraf Ghani, Modi hailed the people of Afghanistan for denouncing terrorism and said division among them will only help those seeking to “dominate” the nation from outside.

India needs a peaceful Afghanistan for its energy desire. India, an observer in the Shanghai Cooperation Organisation, has been pursuing better relations with the Central Asian states for energy cooperation. It gave a $ 17 million grant for the modernisation of a hydropower plant in Tajikistan, and has signed a memoran-dum of understanding with Turkmenistan for a natural gas pipeline that will pass through Afghanistan and Pakistan. As the strategic realities in South Asia radically altered after Osama bin Laden’s death on May 2, 2011, the then Prime Minister, Dr Manmohan Singh, lost no time in reaching out to Afghanistan with his two-day visit to Kabul. There he announced a fresh commitment of $ 500 million for Afghanistan’s development, over and above India’s existing aid assistance of around $ 1.5 billion.16 New Delhi and Kabul agreed that the “strategic partnership” between the two neighbours, to be implemented under the framework of a Partnership Council headed by the Foreign Ministers of the two nations, will entail cooperation in areas of security, law enforcement and justice, including an enhanced focus on cooperation in the fight against international terrorism, organised crime, illegal trafficking in narcotics, and money-laundering. The Prime Minister was given the rare honour of addressing a joint session of the Afghan Parliament to underscore Indo-Afghan unity in fighting extremism. Most significant was Dr Singh’s expression of his country’s support for the Afghan Government’s plan of national re-conciliation involving the Taliban insurgents, thereby signally an end to India’s public opposition to a deal with the Taliban, and bridging a strategic gap with the United States.17 Ordinary Afghans, on the other hand, appear to have welcomed Indian involvement in development projects in their country.

India has deliberately refrained from giving its support to the military dimension, sticking to civilian matters. But Western observers tend to view Indian involvement in Afghanistan as problematic, since it has worked to undercut Pakistan’s own influence in the country. The result is that India’s attempt to leverage its “soft power” in Afghanistan is becoming increasingly risky. New Delhi will have a tough road ahead as the perception grows that the Taliban are on the rebound. This heightened sense of political uncertainty was also fostered by the Obama Administration’s decision to reduce American military presence in Afghanistan.

From the strategic and security perspectives, India’s Afghanistan focus is aimed at curbing terrorism, containing and decreasing Pakistan’s influence, pursuing a policy of aid, development and economic integration with the goal of being recognised as a major power globally, one that will generate general goodwill locally, within the Afghan population. In addition, it is also keen on exploiting the energy sources in Afghanistan and developing it into a hub for accessing Central Asian resources. Afghanistan is not only relevant from the security perspective, but also as an essential gateway to the hydrocarbon-rich Central Asia. This region, if made accessible, could improve the resource portfolio of an energy-thirsty economy, while reducing the dependency on supplies from the Middle East. Moreover, it would allow India to chime in to the concert of other nations, such as Russia and China, seeking to exert influence in Central Asia and exploit the energy hotspots.18

If Afghanistan is the most important frontier in combating terrorism targeted against India, the critics ask, then how long can India continue with its present policy? The return of the Taliban to Afghanistan would pose a major threat to its borders. In the end, the brunt of escalating terrorism will be borne by India, which has already been described as “the sponge that protects” the West.19 Indian strategists warn that a hurried US withdrawal from Afghanistan will have serious implications for India, not the least of which would be to see Pakistan rush to fill the vacuum. As a result, shedding its reticence on the Afghan security issues, India has been more outspoken about its commitment to build the capabilities of the Afghan security forces.20 This has led to the signing of a strategic partnership agreement between New Delhi and Kabul in October 2011 that commits India to the “training, equipping and capacity building” of the Afghan security forces.

To be fair, India’s role in Afghanistan should not be viewed through the eyes of Western observers who have dubbed it provocative, or the perspective of Pakistan, which resents its own waning influence. Rather, India’s involvement should be seen through the eyes of the Afghan people who are benefiting from the use of its neighbour’s soft power, whatever its motivations.

India is an emerging regional power in South Asia. While the debate over how to approach Afghanistan is far from resolved in the Indian political corridors, any change in strategy will have serious implications for the future of India’s rise as a global power and for regional security in South Asia. And, more often than not, New Delhi is forgotten in the Western media analysis of the situation in Afghanistan, which largely focuses on the West and Pakistan. India’s recent entry into the Shanghai Cooperation Organi-sation, her prominent position in the BRICS, her leadership role in the SAARC region and her neighbour-first policy make New Delhi a prominent player in the subcontinent in matters of peace and development. It can no longer remain silent on matters concerning her neighbour since those affect her directly or indirectly.

A stable and peaceful Afghanistan is needed for the stability of the whole region of South Asia. But the recent peace talks are going on when there are almost daily attacks by the Taliban in its own soil. Moreover, the peace talks, being hosted by the ISI, also raise a question-mark. Also historically the western passes have always been vulnerable to foreign invasion. An alliance between the ISI, Taliban and ISIS may be very much on the cards and if that happens, then India’s sovereignty will come under enormous strain considering the recent attacks on Gurdaspur where the terrorists avoided their traditional route through the Valley. The ongoing Afghan-Taliban talks could have long- term implications in shaping the geopolitical scenario in the region. The talks between Afghanistan and the Taliban are very crucial for peace in Afghanistan. When that country is heading towards peace and the democratic process, India with its strategic and economic interests in Afghanistan certainly has concerns which could be affected through these talks. India, which had a special interest for the UNSC seat, would have voluntarily involved itself in this kind of peace talks also because it is a big player in SAARC.

Apart from engaging Pakistan, there are several other initiatives of which New Delhi is a part. Efforts were made for a trilateral engagement at track one-and-a-half level between India, Iran and Afghanistan. An attempt at this was made by the Institute for Defence Studies and Analyses in 2010.21 “A trilateral cooperation mechanism between Afghanistan, Iran and India, particularly on the economic and trade front, would be vital for the stability of the country.”22 The interests of Afghanistan are intertwined with those of India, as neither country wants to see the domination of Islamabad in the emerging power-equation in Afghanistan. Therefore, while New Delhi supports a multi-ethnic government there, it is not supportive of the return of a hardline Taliban to power.

Afghanistan has been on the Indian agenda and is a very important factor that can shape the politics of the region. In the immediate aftermath of ‘Operation Enduring Freedom’, India had a favourable position in Afghanistan. This stemmed from the fact that it had close ties with the key elites of the victorious Northern Alliance. However, the influence decreased over time as the United States favoured Pakistan as its main node for the War on Terror.23 As such, India’s influence in Afghanistan has weakened under Pakistan’s strategy of positioning itself as the core mediator between the Taliban and the West. It can be argued that this strategy is being implemented while Pakistan simultaneously utilises the radical elements to maintain its strategic advantage. “Afghanistan has been a prize that Pakistan and India have fought over directly and indirectly for decades,” according to Robert Kaplan. The worst-case scenario that could have emerged in the post-9/11 era was a rise in Pakistani hegemony in Afghanistan. The fear was that such hegemony would result in the creation of an Islamabad-controlled client regime, which would allow the Pakistani security apparatus to revamp its military presence on the border with India.24 New Delhi was thus concerned that a strong Pakistani strategic footprint would rekindle its ties with the Taliban.25 Pakistan’s intelligence agencies have also used Afghanistan to equip and train terrorist elements and instrumentalise them as asymmetrical tactical assets against India in Jammu and Kashmir. This highlights that Afghanistan can be regarded as a domestic issue for India as well.

Even though reducing Pakistan’s influence is still a core issue in and essential to India’s regional approach, this should not be reduced to and only seen in the light of Indo-Pak rivalry. It is no surprise then that Pakistan sees India’s growing influence in Afghanistan as a threat. After India opened its consulates in Herat, Mazar-e-Sharif, Jalalabad, and Kandahar, Pakistan charged that these consulates provide cover for Indian intelligence agencies to run covert operations against Pakistan, as well as foment separatism in Pakistan’s Balochistan province. “Pakistan’s fears of encirclement by India have been compounded” by the new Indian air base in Farkhor, Tajikistan. This is the first Indian military airbase overseas and is convenient for transportation of men and material to and from Afghanistan. It is also a move towards protecting India’s potential energy interests in the region.

India’s concern arises from the security and strategic importance of Afghanistan. The risks to global security from a failure in Afghanistan are great. Abandoning the goal of establishing a functioning Afghan state and a moderate Pakistan places greater pressure on Indian security. Pakistani intelligence would be emboldened to escalate terrorist attacks against India once it is satisfied that the Taliban would provide it strategic depth in Afghanistan. This would surely force retaliation from India. A peace deal that gives Pakistan and its Taliban friends a dominating role in Afghanistan would be an unwelcome development for New Delhi. India fears rewarding bad behaviour would only engender more hostility, a reasonable conclusion based on its past experience, making New Delhi even more reluctant to pursue a “peace process” with Islamabad.

While the West ponders over the prospects of bringing peace to Afghanistan, it needs to examine its policy in the light of the sub-continental conflict rooted in the Pakistan-India rivalry. Buying the loyalty of the Taliban or accepting a Pakistani-brokered deal in Kabul will only pave the way to another, perhaps even more dangerous, conflict involving terrorist groups and nuclear-armed neighbours. By pursuing a strategy that might end up giving Pakistan the leading role in the state structures in Afghanistan, the West might just be sowing the seeds of future regional turmoil. With the Taliban pushing hard for the establishment of an Islamic Emirate rather than a Constitution, and the talks presided over by the ISI officials and China, India is doubtful of the way the talks have been going so far. India, being a neighbour, has reasons to worry about the talks and both the countries sharing interests in trade and economy need to have a say in the ongoing talks.

The Taliban, which is backed by Pakistan, can also be a threat for India as a friend of the enemy is an enemy to us. But Pakistan sees a friendly Afghanistan, in which religious extremism continues to flourish, as essential to keep the pressure on India in Kashmir. While India would like to ensure that Afghanistan does not become a springboard for terrorism, the recent resurgence of the Taliban and Pakistan’s ambivalent approach towards this growing menace remains a major headache for India. With Pakistan succeeding in convincing the West that the best way out of the present mess is to reach out to the “good Taliban”, India’s marginalisation seems only to increase. Though the United States and Afghan govern-ments have insisted that any settlement process should result in an end to the Taliban violence and a willingness to conform to the Afghan Constitution, the possibility of a Pakistan-sponsored settlement between hardline elements of the Taliban and the Afghan Government remains a matter of serious anxiety for India.

Over the years, Afghanistan became a hot-bed of terrorism, aggression of superpowers and internal political turmoil causing instability in the entire South Asian region. India played a role of neutralising these impacts with its diplomacy, development programmes, peace promotion. But now the international community is accepting the Taliban as a legitimate representative of the Afghans although actually it is a terror group. This may damage India’s strategic and economic interests in Afghanistan. Geo-strategically the India-Afghanistan partnership has considerable value as a counter to the Pakistan threat. The 60-nation London Conference on Afghanistan in January 2010 advocating talks with the Taliban jolted India, as New Delhi viewed with alarm its rapidly shrinking strategic space for diplomatic manoeuvring. The peace talks between Afghanistan and the Taliban was initiated at Murree. The format of the talks was: 2 (Afghanistan, Taliban) + 1 (Pakistan) + 2 (US, China), with the US, China as observers and Pakistan as a guarantor and guide. Afghanistan is preparing for another round of talks with Pakistan as the facilitator.

India should be more cautious on the issue of the London Conference and recent develop-ments relating to the Sino-US Joint Declaration. Another source of worry for India will emerge if the USA fails to defeat the Taliban or claims partial success as a victory. What will be the Afghan scenario post-US withdrawal especially for India? “The situation will be like that of a patient whom the surgeon has left unstitched on the operation table.” In this scenario India’s security will be in peril in the context of infiltration, insurgency and cross-border terrorism.

A stable and peaceful Afghanistan is not only in the interest of the Af-Pak corridor but also in the interest of other countries in South Asia, and especially India; and India must have a say in the Af-Pak peace talks. When the former Indian External Affairs Minister, S.M. Krishna, underscored the folly of making a distinction “between a good Taliban and a bad Taliban” at the London Conference, he was completely out of sync with the larger mood at the confe-rence.26 The West has concluded that it is not a question of if, but when and how, to exit from Afghanistan which, its leaders believe, is rapidly becoming a quagmire. So when it was decided in London that the time had come to woo the “moderate” section of the Taliban back to share power in Kabul, it was a signal to India that Pakistan seemed to have convinced the West that it could play the role of mediator in negotiations with the Taliban, thereby cementing its centrality in the unfolding strategic dynamics in the region. It would be catastrophic for Indian security if remnants of the Taliban were to come to power in Afghanistan with the backing of the Pakistani Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI) agency and Islamabad’s military.

To preserve its interests in such a strategic milieu, India is stepping up its role in the training of Afghan forces, coordinating with states like Russia and Iran, and reaching out to all sections of the Afghan society. More problematic for the West, there are growing calls in India for taking an increasingly militaristic role in Afghanistan, if only to support its developmental activities.27 The United States has discouraged India from assuming a higher profile in Afghanistan for fear of offending Pakistan. At the same time, it has failed to convince Pakistan to take Indian concerns more seriously. This has led to rapid deterioration in the Indian security environment, with New Delhi having little or no strategic space to manoeuvre. Therefore, India is being forced to reassess its priorities vis-à-vis Af-Pak, given the huge stakes that New Delhi has developed in Afghanistan over the last decade.

Elimination of terrorism from Afghanistan is necessary to maintain peace in South Asia. Pakistan, along with Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates, was the main supporter of the Taliban; India, along with Russia and Iran, threw its weight behind the Northern Alliance. As a consequence, Pakistan’s influence in Afghanistan peaked with the coming to power of the Taliban in 1996. It viewed the Taliban as a means of controlling Afghanistan and under-cutting India’s influence. Pakistan has worked hard to limit India’s involvement in Afghanistan. It made transit rights to Afghanistan conditional upon a resolution of the Kashmir issue. By not allowing India transit rights to Afghanistan through its territory, Pakistan has sought to leverage Afghanistan’s reliance on the Karachi port as its only gateway to the world. But Kabul has pushed back and has used Iran and India to find alternative routes, reducing its historic dependence on Pakistan for transit. Despite Pakistan’s objections, however, Afghanistan has sought Indian assistance in the defence sector. The Afghan Air Force’s fleet of MiG-21 fighters and other defence equipment, mostly of Russian and Soviet origin, has been serviced by Indian technicians. India also played an important role in the reorganisation of the Afghan National Army and hopes that it will help in the long-term evolution of Indo-Afghan military ties.28 India has stationed the Indo-Tibetan Border Police commandos in Afghanistan for the protection of its personnel employed by the Border Roads Organisation. This is for the first time since its independence that India has its military personnel deployed in Afghanistan, something that has obviously not gone down well with Pakistan.29 Faced with a resurgent and resilient Taliban aided by Pakistan, India and Afghanistan are also cooperating exten-sively on intelligence gathering. The Afghan authorities have further hinted at the role of the ISI in the bombing of the Indian Embassy in Kabul which the Pakistan Government was quick to deny. The message of the bombing seemed clear to India: it should get out of Afghanistan.

Since British times Afghanistan has played a pivotal role in determining the stability of the Indian subcontinent. Following the American invasion, the Taliban and its affiliates have shifted their base towards the southern regions and Pakistan. This has increased implications for the security and safety of both Pakistan and the Indian territory. Cross-border terrorism both on the western and the eastern fronts of Pakistan is crucial for India’s developmental interests in Afghanistan and at home. With the withdrawal of US troops from Afghanistan, India is skeptical about the political stability of the region with the emergence of terrorist activities in the southern regions of Afghanistan. This would directly impact the peace and security of the whole region. India needs a stable and secure Afghan regime to control the IS-led Sunni extremism and terrorism of all hues. Hence a Taliban regime like the last one, which promoted terrorism and was indirectly responsible for the hijacking of IC-814, would be bad for India.

As a responsible and democratic regional power, India needs to take a leadership role in resolving outstanding conflicts particularly when those affect it directly. As an important member of SAARC, India has a considerable role to play in Afghanistan. It can consider the following measures to deepen its engagement: It should consolidate its economic developmental effort in Afghanistan. If need be, it should not hesitate to provide more aid to various developmental schemes. Building schools and universities to harness human resources and train future intellectuals would be important. India should double the scholarships for Afghan students to study in Indian universities and professional institutes. It should form coalitions with like- minded countries to keep the ethnic groups together, so as to confront radicalisation. It should work in tandem with other regional countries to ensure stability. India should not hesitate in leading frequent proactive discussions and consultations with other countries in the region on how to stabilise Afghanistan. If need be, it should open a bilateral channel of communication with Pakistan’s government and military to minimise Islamabad’s apprehensions regarding New Delhi’s role in Afghanistan. India should make its presence visible in Afghanistan as it has already started to do so by building transport communication networks and cons-tructing the Parliament building. It should increase its investments in health care in Afghanistan by building hospitals and opening dispensaries in remote areas. India’s investments have generated tremendous goodwill in Afgha-nistan and this will ultimately help it gain strategic influence. India has preferred multi-lateral bodies to engage within a regional framework in Afghanistan, creating less scope for a zero-sum game undercutting each other’s interest.

India is a prominent player in the subconti-nent in matters of peace and development. It can no longer remain silent on issues con-cerning her neighbour since those affect her directly or indirectly. India has enormous security stakes in the stability of Afghanistan. As an emerging power it cannot remain confined to the South Asian regional resettlement support centre as Afghanistan affects the stability of the region. India’s presence in Afghanistan is to address its security concerns and help structure the regional security architecture that would facilitate its aspiration to play a more visible role in the political and economic affairs of the region. Afghanistan provides a new challenge to India to shape the regional security architecture to prevent a spill-over of the conflict dynamics from Afghanistan and play a proactive role rather than reacting to the evolving situation. New Delhi has enormous goodwill and would like to capitalise on it and play a larger role in seeing peace established in Kabul.30 As a responsible and democratic regional power India also needs to take a leadership role in resolving outstanding conflicts particularly when those affect it directly.

As an important member of SAARC, India’s active involvement in the region is valuable to counter the growing clout of China. Both India and Afghanistan being SAARC members committed to regional cooperation, the talks could impact future strategies of the member- nations towards promoting regional coope-ration. As a key player in SAARC, India’s influence in the peace talks would have been instrumental in establishing the objectives of the South Asian Free Trade Area (SAFTA) agreement. It wants to setain Afghanistan as a friendly state from which it has the capacity to monitor Pakistan and even, wherever possible, cultivate assets to influence activities in Pakistan. India is keenly interested in developing a significant partnership with Afghanistan. So due to strategic and security concerns the India-Afghanistan cordial relations promote the interests of both the nations.


1. A. Baruah (2002), “Karzai Keen on Indian Expertise”, The Hindu, January 22, 2002.

2. Agreement on Provisional Arrangements in Afghanistan Pending the Re-Establishment of Permanent Government Institutions, Bonn Agreement, United Nations, Bonn, Germany December 5, 2001.

3. Nirupam Sen (2007), “Statement on the Situation in Afghanistan at the Security Council”, March 20, 2007.

4. Central Intelligence Agency, Afghanistan: The World Factbook. Available at

5. Priyadarshini Siddhanta (2011), “After Tata exit, JSW and Monnet Ispat join Hajigak consortium”, The Indian Express, September 1, 2011.

6. Gareth Price (2013),”India’s Policy towards Afgha-nistan”, Chatham House (ASIA ASP), Nr., August 4, 2013.

7. Raghav Sharma (2010), “China’s Afghanistan Policy: Slow Recalibration”, China Report 46 (3): 201—15.

8. Smruti S. Pattanaik, (2012), ”India’s Afghan Policy: Beyond Bilateralism”, Strategic Analysis 36 (4).

9. Vikash Yadav and Conrad Barwa (2011), “Relational Control: India’s Grand Strategy in Afghanistan and Pakistan”, India Review 10 (2).

10. Meena Singh Roy (2010), ”Afghanistan and Regional Strategy: The India Factor” in China and India in Central Asia: A New “Great Game?”, Marlene Laruelle, Jean-Francois Huchet, Sébastien Peyrousse, and Bayram Balci (eds.), New York: Palgrave Macmillan.

11. Smruti S. Pattanaik, “India’s Afghan Policy: Beyond Bilateralism”, Strategic Analysis, 36(4), July-August, 2012, pp. 569- 83.

12. Ministry of External Affairs, “India-Afghanistan Relations”, Press Information Bureau.

13. Speech by Minister of State for External Affairs at the Afghanistan International Investment Conference, November 30, 2010.

14. Ministry of External Affairs, “India-Afghanistan Relations”, Press Information Bureau.

15. ”India’s Afghan Thrust: Local Projects, Scholarships, Dam”, The Indian Express, August 17, 2012.

16. ”Strategic ties with Kabul...India not like US, says PM”, The Indian Express, May 13, 2011.

17. Teresita and Howard Schaffer (2011), “India and the US moving closer on Afghanistan?”, The Hindu, June 1, 2011.

18. Raghav Sharma, 2010, “China’s Afghanistan Policy: Slow Recalibration”, China Report 46 (3): 201—15.

19. Ashley J., Tellis (2009), “Lessons from Mumbai”, Testimony to the Committee on Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs, US Senate, January 28, 2009.

20. “India committed to building the capabilities of Afghan security forces”, The Hindu, June 2, 2011.

21.”Now, an India, Iran, Afghanistan Tri-Summit”, The Indian Express, September 21, 2010.

22. Lecture by Ahmad Nasir Ahmad Andisha, Ambassador of Afghanistan to Australia, August 6, 2012, New Delhi.

23. Rudra Chaudhari (2012), “Dealing with the Endgame: India and the Af-Pak Puzzle” in Grand Strategy for India 2020 and Beyond, V. Krishnappa and Princy Marin George (eds.), New Delhi: Pentagon Security International.

24. Meena Singh Roy (2010), ”Afghanistan and Regional Strategy: The India Factor” in China and India in Central Asia: A New “Great Game?”, Marlene Laruelle, Jean-Francois Huchet, Sébastien Peyrousse, and Bayram Balci (eds.), New York: Palgrave Macmillan.

25. Vikash Yadav and Conrad Barwa (2011), “Relational Control: India’s Grand Strategy in Afghanistan and Pakistan,” India Review 10 (2).

26. Ashis Ray (2010), “World Rejects India’s Taliban Stand”, The Times of India (New Delhi), January 29, 2010.

27. Harsh V. Pant (2011), “India’s Changing Role in Afghanistan”, Middle East Quarterly, Spring 2011.

28. Rahul Bedi (2003), “Strategic Realignments”, Frontline, April 17, 2003.

29. John Cherian (2006), “Killed in Cold Blood”, Frontline, May 19, 2006.

30. Barry Buzan and Ole Waever (2003), Regions and Powers: The Structure of International Security, Cambridge University Press, p. 46.

The author is an Assistant Professor, SGND Khalsa College, Delhi University and a Ph.D scholar at Jamia Millia Islamia, New Delhi.

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