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3.7 India Afghanistan Relations

Afghanistan 2
Presence of Taliban in Afghanistan

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Afghanistan is known as graveyard of empires. The fall of Alexander started from Bactria. Disintegration of USSR. Decline of US hegemony.
It is said that Afghanistan is a place where even angels fear to tread in. It is also said that no one can come out of Afghan quagmire. In Afghanistan, it is a belief that once God finished his task of creating this world, whatever material was left, he has thrown on a piece of land which became Afghanistan. Afghanistan is a cursed land. Afghanistan has been under civil war since the cold war. Afghanistan is known as the place of ‘great games’. Why great games? Afghanistan’s location. Afghanistan is called as a roundabout, which connects West Asia, South Asia, North East Asia, Central Asia.  Afghanistan also has huge geo-economic importance in the form of mineral wealth. Who are the parties in the great games? Initially the game was between British empire in India and the Russian empire. Afghanistan became the buffer state. During cold war, it was a place of great game between USA and USSR. After the end of cold war, the great game has become multipolar.

Players in Afghanistan?

USA – To contain the rise of China and resurgence of Russia. Afghanistan shares border with Iran, which also has a potential to emerge as a regional hegemon. Hence USA will always remain 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 has again surged since US is present in Afghanistan. Opium trade is one of the main source of income for CIA to finance the non state actors in different parts of the world. As a country, USA has never stopped using non state actors as the instruments of foreign policy. The so called GWT (Global war on terrorism) led by USA is a farce. 

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. Russia has monopoly over the transit of oil and gas from Central Asia to Europe. Presence of USA takes away the advantage. USA has a plans to create alternative pipelines. e.g. Baku-Tbilisi-Ceyhan pipeline and TAPI pipeline. US policy is to make Russia beggar. Hence Russia has stakes in Afghanistan. What Russia wants? Any government in Afghanistan which is not pro-USA.

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China – At present there is a proxy war between US and China. The rise of China is seen as threat by USA. 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. USA has always kept the militancy alive, hence China also does not want the presence of USA. USA’s presence in the region will challenge China’s OBOR project.

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. Even Iran does not want the presence of USA.

PakistanWhy Pakistan is in Afghanistan? Pakistan wants strategic depth in Afghanistan. Strategic depth means complete control over the government in Afghanistan. Why? Pakistan does not want any pro-India government in Afghanistan. Pakistan’s policy is to keep India out. Pakistan, can also leverage its strategic depth in Afghanistan to bargain with China, Russia, USA, Iran, Saudi Arabia. Pakistan can have equation with any of the countries except India. Why Pakistan is nervous about India’s presence? We have to understand the importance of Afghanistan for India. 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. Hence 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, Pakistan can loose the north west frontier province. (Based on experience of Bangladesh). Issue of Durand line. Pashtuns in Afghanistan have never recognized the Durand line which 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. Hence Pakistan wants tight control over government in Kabul.

Turkey – Turkey has started nurturing the ambition of becoming the leader in Muslim world. There has been a distancing between Turkey and the West.
1] EU has not inducted Turkey in the organization.
2] There is a resentment against USA in the Muslim world.
3] USA supports the cause of Kurds. Turkey is fearful of losing peace of its territory. Turkey believes that it has not utilized its strategic location at an optimal level. Turkey has cultural capital in central Asia. If Turkey comes closer to Russia, China it can bargain with USA better.

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.
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. Hence Obama administration clubbed Af, Pak and Kashmir.

Analysis of India’s Afghanistan policy.

What is the importance of Afghanistan for India? Vital for India’s security. What should be India’ objectives?
1) Pro-India govt. or
2) Presence of India’s forces. Military footprints in Afghanistan.

Up till end of cold war.
Since Afghanistan was under Soviet influence, India had good relations with Afghanistan. India had outsourced its security to USSR.

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After the end of cold war
Before the end of cold war, Afghanistan was ruled by communists. Communists were defeated by Mujahidin, supported by Pakistan and USA. After initial hesitations, India established formal relations with govt. of Afghanistan. Pakistan lost the strategic depth. Pakistan wants to control Afghans for ever. Afghans cannot be controlled forever, hence any govt. in Kabul tries to counterbalance the influence of Pakistan by engaging with India.

Emergence of Taliban
Taliban were the children of Afghan refugees in Pakistan. Pakistan indoctrinated them in salafism / wahhabism. Pakistan was financed by Saudi Arabia to build a force against Iran. Pakistan helped Taliban to capture power in Kabul. Hence Afghan govt. had to move northwards.

Approach of GOI.
Since Taliban was supported by Pakistan, India did not recognized Taliban. It continued to regard the displaced govt. as a govt. in Afghanistan. It is to be noted that Taliban was recognized only by 3 countries. Pakistan, Saudi Arabia and UAE. Should India have recognized Taliban or not? India should have recognized Taliban. Why? The principle of India’s foreign policy has been non-interference in the domestic affairs. India should have been friend with any govt. which is in power in Kabul. US can afford not to recognize but India cannot afford. India paid the price of the mistake. IC 814 hijack. (Dec 1999) Hence India learnt the lesson not to ignore the developments in Afghanistan and stay engaged.

US war on Afghanistan –  Oct 2001
GWOT (Global war on terrorism) It was seen as big opportunity in India. India extended unconditional help. However USA instead of punishing Pakistan, made it as frontline state, a major non NATO ally. Hence angry India entered into strategic  partnership with China in 2003.
India Iran Russia USA Turkey Pakistan (half hearted) were together in a war against Taliban. They supported northern alliance.

Bonn Conference 2001
Conference of reconstruction and development of Afghanistan. India emerged as a leading donour from Asia. Despite its own economic problems, India had contributed $3bn as an aid. China has given so far only $500mn as an aid.

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Analysis of India’s policy
India had stick to soft power diplomacy. Why? Two reasons. 1) India’s own lack of strategic culture.  India is known for risk-averse, sedate diplomacy. It is known as cautious prudence.  2) US pressure on India. For USA, Pakistan’s support was important. Pakistan laid the condition, no Indian military footprints, not even as peacekeepers.
Thus when India limited itself in a soft power role, India was actually pursuing Pakistan’s India policy in Afghanistan.

What is the consequence of India’s policy?
India’s soft power made India one of the most liked country in the hearts of ‘ordinary Afghans’. However India is not seen as a key player in Afghanistan’s strategic scenario. What is Afghanistan’s strategic scenario? War is going on in Afghanistan. In war, the party which has no role militarily can never be regarded as a major stakeholder. Comparison with China. Pakistan already acts as a proxy for China so China need not to be present directly. India has been ignored in the dialogues e.g. Quadrilateral or Russia Afghanistan Iran talks. Taliban and US talks.

What should have been India’s policy?
India itself restricted its role. There have been occasions when Afghan govt. earlier Karzai and now Ghani invited India for greater role in Afghanistan. Even Trump administration held that India should have military footprints. India has been reluctant to send its military personnel, even to train the members of Afghan defence forces.
India has been a force multiplier for others and India has not used its own power for itself.
// We can also say that by exercising hard power i.e. having military footprint in Afghanistan, India does not wish to provoke Taliban and invite tragedy like IC 814 hijack. Since Taliban is a non state actor, even vast army is not enough to deal with such actors.

Views of Scholars

While India provided assistance, It has not been bold enough to project hard power. India has major strategic interest. India has been in supportive role of others. India has missed opportunities to enhance its prestige to be recognized as major power. India has been seeking influence without commensurate responsibility. India has to decide whether to step up to the plate with all attendant risks or keep shouting from the sidelines.

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While Harsh Pant’s analysis is too critical, Avinash Paliwal believes that India’s engagement has not been so bad. If historian remember Afghanistan as a great graveyard of empires, in future Afghanistan will be seen as a place from where India started learning the statecraft. Despite adverse geography, inadequate capacity, excessive caution, India could maintain itself as a player in the game. India can even claim success as governments in Afghanistan have been pro-India. However India’s success is much because of USA’s flip flops, Pakistan’s bungling and simply luck factors i.e. factors outside India’s control. Pakistan has been integral to India’s Afghanistan policy. India calls its policy as ‘measured response’.

Future prospects
India risks losing big. India might lose as it mishandled domestic politics. Today Russia, Iran are against India. USA’s support can never be taken for granted. India’s Afghanistan policy represents the attitude of naval gazing. 800 yrs ago, Prithviraj Chauhan could not see the storm coming from Ghori. 800 years after, nothing has changed. India needs its own Afghanistan policy. India also need to think as to what it is giving to Afghanistan, what Afghanistan really needs or India is giving what it can give. Reliance on soft power is always sub-optimal.

India’s Afghanistan policy is called as ‘masterly inactivity’ policy. C Rajamohan calls it as ‘Panipat Syndrome’. What is the current trend? 1) India has made strategic bait on Afghan govt.  2) Afghan govt. is highly unpopular because of internal fights and corruption.  3) India’s partner in Afghanistan is USA. USA is highly unpopular. USA is also unreliable.  4) Taliban is controlling huge chunk of territory. Now IS Khorasan has become a bigger threat. Taliban has also become a motley group. (amalgamation of different groups without coherent ideology). Up till now, India’s policy was not to recognize Taliban, there is a conflict between Afghan govt. and Taliban. China, Russia, Iran, Turkey, USA all are talking to Taliban, hence India is also looking for interlocutors. India’s strategic bait is on USA but USA’s policies are against India’s strategic interest. India’s strategic interest is to come closer to Iran. Chabahar port has a huge economic significance but USA’s sanction against Iran weakens the plan for development of Chabahar. Iran is making strategic bait with Pakistan as ISK (Islamic State Khorasan) (aka IS AP – IS Afghanistan Pakistan) is seen as a bigger threat for Iran.

When India realized its mistake?
India was conveniently outsourcing its security on USA. In 2010, at London conference Obama accepted Pakistan’s formula of reconciliation with good Taliban. No one heard India’s voice despite India has been a major donor. India knew that Pakistan’s good Taliban is bad Taliban for India. What changes India made? Up till now India was postponing strategic partnership with Afghanistan. India signed strategic partnership, which includes security cooperation in 2011. Up till now India was ignoring SCO, now India started campaigning for its membership in SCO.

Improvement in relations with Iran, restart Chabahar. Connect Central Asia policy. India had launched ‘look north’ policy at the time of Narsimha Rao, but forgot. However India again launched ‘Connect Central Asia policy’ in 2012. There was no development in ‘Connect Central Asia’. When Modi came to  power, he tried to revive relationship with all countries of Central Asia. Visited all countries. Once again India is trying to strengthen its partnership with Central Asia as Sushma Swaraj visited the countries in Central Asia. (Write on your own). India also sent non-official representation to Moscow format. Even USA sent the observer. What are the prospects in Afghanistan? Taliban has laid down the condition i.e. no agreement till US forces are in Afghanistan. China as well as Russia are establishing the military bases in Afghanistan. China has proposed cooperation with India.

Views of Hamid Karzai, former President of Afghanistan at Raisina Dialogue.

Is Pakistan in control of Taliban? They’re Afghans. Therefore highly unpredictable.

Robert Kaplan – in THE REVENGE OF GEOGRAPHY book calls Afghanistan as ‘Breathtakingly Strategic’.

Pakistan has closes P2P relations among all the players. They share home, bread and butters. They have very cordial relations with people of Pakistan.
But we are not happy with Govt. and military establishment of Pakistan. Interference, support to religious extremism, terrorism…. Destroying our infrastructure.

Expectations from India.
Best relationship historically. We want India to be on board on all processes which will bring peace to Afghanistan.
I am product of India’s scholarship, I studied here. Overwhelming people of Afghanistan see Indians .. Romantic. We expect lot more from India in Afghanistan. Cricket has been major unifying factor.
Chabahar Project? We fully back it. We’ve been desiring it. But we also aspire that Pakistan opens its borders for both of us.

India should have its independent stand and policy on Afghanistan.
India can play different role, not necessarily coercive. India enjoys confidence among its people, Taliban are part of people. If tomorrow Taliban comes to power, India will have to deal with them. They are also stakeholders and cannot be denied saying they’re just insurgents. They cannot be avoided in current scenario.
US have fought with them till recently and now wants to talk with them! India don’t have such background. It should have done it long back.
US and Pakistan – solution will not work. They’ve been responsible for creation and sustenance of extremists.

//Indian Army Chief Bipin Rawat – we can talk with Taliban.
//Sushma Swaraj – Afghan led, owned, controlled method of reconciliation.

Afghan owned, Afghan lead process means – Taliban and Afghan sit together and sort out issue. And backed by those who matter in Afghanistan, regionally and globally.
USA has appointed ambassador Zalmay Khalilzad on Afghanistan to lead the talks with Taliban.
2001 Bonn conference – no deal will be done between foreign powers on Afghanistan.

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Gaurav Singh

Article (Why did the US fail in Afghanistan) explains

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