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3.9] India Afghanistan Relations

India Afghanistan Relations Neighbourhood

1. Introduction to India Afghanistan Relations

India and Afghanistan have had long-standing cultural and socioeconomic relations. Since 1947, both countries have had friendly relations, which were further enhanced when the “Friendship Treaty” was signed in 1950. India’s involvement in Afghanistan has been influenced by three key factors: first, striking a balance between Pakistani and Afghan relations; second, domestic political shifts and the inclinations of Afghan political parties; and third, changes in the international political scene.

2. Evolution of India Afghanistan Relations

The historical analysis of the modern relations between New Delhi and Kabul can be divided into four phases based on the level of collaboration.

2.1 From 1947-1991

India Afghanistan PSIR

The first phase began with India’s independence in 1947 and lasted till the end of the Cold War. Delhi and Kabul grew closer as a result of the territorial issues between Afghanistan and Pakistan, particularly those pertaining to Pashtunistan and the Durand Line. India and Afghanistan had cordial ties throughout this time, with the exception of the Soviet involvement (1979–89). India adopted a neutral stance on Soviet intervention due to its unique connection with the Soviet Union and the logic of Cold War politics, which hurt India’s reputation with the Afghans and the West.

2.2 From 1991-2001

The second phase started in 1991 with the end of the Cold War and continued until the Taliban rule was overthrown in 2001.  The first instance of diplomatic isolation and a reduction in Indian influence in Afghanistan occurred as a result of the rise of the Afghan Mujahideen against the Soviet invasion, the withdrawal of Soviet troops, the dissolution of the Soviet Union in 1991, and the formation of a government by the Mujahideen after they overthrew the pro-Soviet regime of Najibullah in April 1992. India had friendly relations with the overthrown pro-Soviet government of Najibullah.  India’s sway changed throughout time, briefly increasing under Burhunuddin Rabbani’s administration from 1992 to 1996.

However, Islamabad’s influence in Afghanistan surpassed that of New Delhi when the Taliban administration, which was backed by Pakistan, came to power in 1996. During this time, India also started supporting the Northern Alliance, a resistance organization against the Taliban, made up primarily of Tajiks, Uzbeks, and Hazaras.

Pakistan’s security establishment used the space that India had cleared on both occasions to advance its “strategic depth” policy, which has led Islamabad to view Afghanistan as its backyard. In the second stage, Pakistan’s “deep state” presented India with more difficulties on the Kashmir front as well. As underlined by Ayesha Jalal, “The tactic of pushing battle-hardened militants from Afghanistan across LOC to wage a low-intensity war against Indian security forces in Kashmir was designed to keep the subcontinent’s most contentious dispute in the international gaze.”  India’s Research and Analysis Wing (RAW) contributed $10 million worth of high-altitude warfare equipment to the Northern Alliance’s defense. In addition, Indian physicians assisted the Alliance with medical care in a hospital they had built in Farkhor, near the border between Afghanistan and Tajikistan. Additionally, India used facilities in Tajikistan and Uzbekistan to conduct operations against the Taliban.

India also took advantage of Russia’s and Iran’s anti-Taliban stance to strengthen ties with these nations and to expand its connections with the Central Asian States. As defined by Mr J. N. Dixit in his book, “India, in cooperation with all like-minded countries, should resist the coercive propagation of any kind of religious, social, or ethnic extremism which can profoundly de-stabilise Afghanistan’s Asian neighbours … An early solution to the Afghanistan crisis is critical for realising the enormous opportunities for energy and economic co-operation in the Eurasian region”.

2.3 Post 9/11

The third phase began with the toppling of the Taliban regime in 2001. India saw a silver lining in the wake of 9/11 when the US launched a worldwide fight against terrorism and launched an operation against the Taliban regime in November 2001, giving it a chance to regain influence in Afghanistan. India has been the dominant regional force, contributing to the establishment of institutions in Afghanistan. New Delhi has given Kabul $2 billion in economic help since 2001 and promised to give Kabul an additional $1 billion over the next few years. Afghanistan has been ravaged by decades of conflict and instability; therefore, New Delhi has supported the growth of democratic institutions there because it believes that Afghanistan’s stability is crucial for India’s own security.

As part of its support for the new arrangement, India announced $100 million in reconstruction aid to Afghanistan following the Bonn Conference in December 2001, which established an interim government in Afghanistan with Mr. Hamid Karzai as interim president and primarily manned by representatives of the Northern Alliance. Since then, India contributed to the bulk of Afghanistan’s infrastructure development, humanitarian relief, and training initiatives. Indian efforts to regain influence in Afghanistan after 9/11 were mostly concentrated on three areas: playing a significant role in the country’s economic growth and reconstruction; establishing connections with Central Asian states; and trying to lessen Pakistan’s influence in the region.

India Afghanistan Zaranj Delaram Highway PSIR

The 280-kilometer critical route in Afghanistan, which connects Zaranj town on the border with Iran to the town of Delaram in Herat province along the Kandahar-Herat highway, is one of India’s largest infrastructure construction projects. India has contributed to the rehabilitation of the Salma Dam power facility in Afghanistan’s Herat province. It entails building LO kv power transmission lines from Salma Dam (aka Afghan-India Friendship Dam) to Herat city and will produce 42 mw of electricity.  In addition, India is building a 220kv double circuit transmission line that will connect Kabul to Pul-e-Khumri. It will supply electricity to Kabul from the Timriz power project in Uzbekistan. India is also involved in developing the mining sector in Afghanistan.

1During the visit of the Afghan President, Hamid Karzai, to India in March 2003, India and Afghanistan signed the Preferential Trade Agreement, according to which 38 items that Afghanistan exports to India have been given 100 per cent tariff concessions. Harsh Pant evaluates that India has fundamental interest in ensuring that Afghanistan emerges as stable and economically integrated state in the region. For this, India has signed the preferential trade agreement with Afghanistan giving substantial duty concessions to certain categories of goods entering India. During the visit to Afghanistan of the Indian Prime Minister, Manmohan Singh, in August 2005, India and Afghanistan signed two Memoranda of Understandings (MoU) and an Agreement for Co-operation.

During his visit to India in October 2011, Afghanistan’s President Hamid Ansari Karzai signed the Strategic Partnership Agreement (SPA), which established a legal framework for political and economic cooperation. In terms of Afghanistan’s strategic development and India’s “extended neighborhood” policy, which highlights the need to expand Indian influence outside of South Asia, the years 2011 to 2014 saw a strengthening of bilateral relations between the two countries through the SPA.

2.4 Post 2014

Abdullah Abdullah, CEO of Afghanistan visited India in March 2015, during which he also participated in a conference organized by India Today. Acknowledging India as Afghanistan’s most generous supporter, he said that “India ought to look at Afghanistan as a permanent friend.”

Two of India’s most significant projects in Afghanistan were unveiled by Modi in December 2015: the opening of the Afghan parliament building and the ceremony to transfer four Mi-25 assault helicopters. India started to move over its prior reluctance to provide Afghanistan with just non-lethal aid like transport trucks and training, under Modi’s leadership. According to the joint statement, it was “agreed that groups and individuals that perpetrate violence on the people of Afghanistan and challenge, by use of violence and terror, the Government of Afghanistan cannot be allowed to exercise control or wield influence over any part of Afghanistan‟s territory in any manner whatsoever.”

Modi visited Herat in western Afghanistan in June 2016 and jointly inaugurated with Ghani the Afghan-India Friendship Dam, earlier known as the Salma Dam. It was his second Afghan visit in a span of six months. Stressing India’s commitment to Afghan peace and development, Modi said, “India will not forget you or turn away…Your friendship is our honour; your dreams are our duty.”

The importance of the Indo-Afghan ties was further underlined by Afghanistan‟s decision to award Modi its highest civilian honour, the Amir Amanullah Khan Award.

2.5 Post 2021

In 2021, the Taliban declared the Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan following the US withdrawal from the country. After the majority of Afghanistan was taken over by August 2021, dozens of refugees from that country landed in India. A new visa category was introduced to expedite applications for Afghan nationals wishing to enter India after the Taliban returned. Operation Devi Shakti was the codename given to the evacuation.

Midway through 2022, India sent a “technical team” to the Afghan capital to reestablish diplomatic ties.

India has supplied 500,000 doses of the Covid vaccination to Afghanistan as part of humanitarian help for the country’s citizens, even after the Taliban took power in January 2022. Subsequently, India sent 50 trucks to Afghanistan with 2500 MT of wheat as humanitarian help. 27 tonnes of essential relief supplies were then delivered to the Afghan people in the wake of the 5.9-magnitude earthquake. India pledged to provide Afghanistan with development assistance worth Rs 200 crores in February 2023.India declared in March 2023 that it would use Iran’s Chabahar Port to transport 20,000 tonnes of wheat to Afghanistan.

Approximately 14,000 Afghan students were enrolled at Indian universities as of 2023, receiving financial aid from organizations such as the Indian Council for Cultural Relations (ICCR).

India recently participated in a meeting of diplomatic representatives from ten countries as part of the Regional Cooperation Initiative, which was called by the Taliban administration in Kabul. This indicates that the two sides are becoming more engaged, which is surprising considering that New Delhi does not formally recognize the regime. Sher Mohammad Abbas Stanikzai, who has ties to India and is familiar with Indian ethos and culture, started it. He would be aware of New Delhi’s role in Afghanistan’s development and that India has no territorial aspirations.

3. Significance of Afghanistan

3.1 United States

The aim of USA in Afghanistan is to contain the rise of China and resurgence of Russia. Afghanistan shares border with Iran, which has an antagonistic relation with the USA. Iran also holds potential to emerge as a regional hegemon. Hence the stakes of USA are larger in Afghanistan. The other motives of USA are the mineral wealth and the opium trade. As different reports suggest that when Taliban was ruling in Afghanistan, the production of opium declined to negligible. It surged again, however, when the US was present in Afghanistan. Recently, with America first policy, USA has withdrawn from Afghanistan, allowing Taliban to capture the power. It appears that USA’s role as a global policeman is on decline. 

3.2 Russia

Afghanistan has border with Central Asia. Central Asia is a soft belly of Russia. From Central Asia, non-state actors can provoke insurgency in Russia’s Caucasus region. Currently Russia has monopoly over the transit of oil and gas from Central Asia to Europe. Hence Russia wants any government in Afghanistan which is not pro-USA.

3.3 China

USA has contained China on the eastern side. The only option for China to expand with least resistance is Eurasia. China’s Xinjiang region is affected by Uighur militants. China does not want Afghanistan to become the support base for Uighur militants. China was never in favour of US presence in Afghanistan since it kept the militancy alive. China wants a malleable government in Afghanistan, which will not obstruct its OBOR project.

3.4 Iran

Iran is dominated by Shias whereas Afghanistan is dominated by Sunnis. Iran does not want any govt. in Afghanistan which is tilted towards Saudi Arabia. It also does not want any Sunni Orthodox faction to be in power. It also does not want the presence of USA.

3.5 Pakistan

Pakistan wants strategic depth in Afghanistan. It wants complete control over the government in Afghanistan, and not a pro-India government. Thus, Pakistan have always been nervous about India’s presence in Afghanistan. Afghanistan is important for India to grant access to Central Asia, West Asia. In case of war with Pakistan, India can open the second front in the north western part to release pressure from Kashmir.

Pakistan also has fears of losing its north west frontier province to the Pashtuns in Afghanistan. Historically, Pashtuns have lived in the region, which currently occupies parts of Afghanistan and parts of Pakistan. Pashtuns in Afghanistan have never recognized the Durand line which artificially divides the Pashtuns in two states. Pashtuns have a dream to create Greater Pashtunistan or get merged in Afghanistan. Hence Durand line is a bigger reason for Pakistan’s policy of strategic depth. This is also the reason that Pakistan wants tight control over government in Kabul.

India Afghanistan Relations Pashtun Region

3.6 India

Afghanistan is central to India’s security. Historically the invasions on India were from Khyber Pass. It is believed that India has to ensure peace and stability in Afghanistan to prevent Afghanistan becoming a safe haven for anti-India terrorist activities. It is said that India should contribute to the security of Afghanistan in a similar way, it takes the security of its own borders. India has to ensure that any govt. in Afghanistan is pro-India and not a tool in the hands of Pakistan.

India has to have a friendly government in Afghanistan which allows stationing of Indian forces if need arise. Afghanistan can be a better battlefield than Kashmir. India and Pakistan can have proxy war in Afghanistan. If India wants to reduce terror attacks in Kashmir, it has to keep Pakistan engaged in Afghanistan. The biggest nightmare of Pakistan is that if India is present in Afghanistan,

For other parties, Afghanistan can be a variable sum game but for India and Pakistan, it is a zero-sum game. It is recognized that until and unless the relations between India and Pakistan do not improve, proxy war in Afghanistan will not end.

4. Conclusion

India and Afghanistan have a complicated and lengthy history, with India attempting to influence the growth and destiny of the former. The result of the ongoing conflict and insurgency in the nation, the political and economic changes in Afghanistan, and India’s strategic interests and priorities will all have an impact on the future of Indo-Afghan relations. Afghanistan may act as a bridge, aiming to deepen trade and economic connections and advance regional integration if it can attain stability and development.

In general, the capacity of all parties to collaborate in order to tackle Afghanistan’s problems and advance stability and development will determine the course of Indo-Afghan relations in the future.

Posted in PSIR NOTES

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