India’s Military Support to Afghanistan
Requirement of Indian Troops for Afghanistan
On 21 August 2017, when President Trump unveiled his Government’s New Policy on Afghanistan it announced furtherance of Strategic Partnership with India for US’s South Asia concerns and asked from India more economic & developmental assistance in Afghanistan. He, however, never requested any active military assistance from India. Even when the US Secretary of Defence, James Mattis visited New Delhi he said that US applauded India’s invaluable contributions to Afghanistan and welcomed their efforts to promote Afghanistan’s democracy, stability and security but there was no mention of any active military support. Neither has Afghanistan ever asked for active military support. They have requested for military assistance in terms of training and equipment but never for Indian Forces or Troops in Afghanistan. However, the Indian RM during a joint media briefing with US Secretary of Defence on 26 Sept 2017 said India will not send troops to war-torn Afghanistan, but pledged to help the troubled country build infrastructure and stamp out terrorist safe havens. The issuance of the above statement shows that India has been thinking about the same and the statement was given to clarify the present stance to all concerned in the neighbourhood region. If that be the case, it is important to at least weigh the pros and cons of India providing Active Military Assistance in Afghanistan i.e. troops on ground.
Advantages of Active Military Assistance
India has already changed its erstwhile stance as regards military assistance by providing lethal military equipment in the form of 04 x MI-25 helicopters recently. If another line is crossed by putting troops on ground it can achieve the following advantages:-
- Enhance the ANDSF effort against the Taliban due to the additional strength on ground.
- Utilise its vast Counter Insurgency experience to assist ANDSF operations as well as provide ‘on the job’ training.
- Reduce the ‘Strategic Depth’ Pakistan seems to believe it has by Indian troop deployment in its backyard. Indian troop presence will definitely put fear in Pak hearts and destabilise their thought process.
- The move is likely to put China on the back foot too specially after the Doklam issue where India showed its changed stance towards China.
- Indian troop presence may ultimately help USA achieve its goals too hence likely to enhance Indo-US relationship provided US plans to follow through on its Pakistan stance as far as Afghanistan is concerned.
- Russia may also be supportive in case this action by India reduces the IS threat but there may be mixed signals hence the advantage may be very less. The India visit last week of Special Envoy of Russia to Afghanistan Zamir Kabulov may have been for the same issue.
- Enhance India’s intelligence ‘on ground’ status.
- Give ‘in-situ’ support to Indian developmental projects as well as other local developmental projects due to the inherent troop presence.
Disadvantages of Active Military Assistance
Due to the ‘crossing of the line’ once it would be something India could not undo hence India’s Foreign Policy concerns of India are well founded. Whether it is a temporary NO or a permanent one only time will tell. In addition, the question remains whether additional troops from India are really going to make any material difference overall to the Afghanistan effort. The disadvantages of Indian troop deployment which are apparent are:-
- Indian ‘troops on ground’ means India joins the New Great Game. Till now it was only supporting Afghanistan with no exterior or ulterior motives. However, once it has ‘troops on ground’ its motives will be questioned and may sour the great and long lasting Indo-Afghan friendship.
- Once deployed, it would be very difficult to pull back and the deployment would definitely be a much extended one.
- Due to geographic constraints, the logistic problems may outweigh the gains causing either a huge logistics chain or massive aerial effort thus increasing the financial burden too. It is also likely that the troops on ground may become non-starters due to inadequate logistic back-up most of the time. Consequently sustenance and maintenance efforts may require bulk of troops deployed to be also eaten up for logistics requirements thus negating the desired aim and role of the deployment.
- Pakistan will be visibly threatened even if Indian troops are not deployed close to Pak border and it may cause retaliatory effect in Kashmir or elsewhere. The same was echoed by US Secretary of Defence in a Congressional hearing on South Asia back in US after his visit in India.
- This action will show a clear case of siding with the US and likelihood of souring Russia and Iran ties for India is possible unless handled deftly.
- The move can backfire if US reneges on its Pak stance or changes the rules of the game adversely for India in the future.
- There are also likely to be casualties specially in the start as no Counter Insurgency operation can be fought without good ground intelligence as well as a finger on the local pulse. All this is likely to take time to develop. Additionally, Indian casualties in Afghanistan would also cause uncomfortable questions back home for the Government which is already dealing with regular casualties in Kashmir.
Other Forms of Military Assistance
During the visit of Afghanistan CEO Abdullah Abdullah on 27 Sept 17, the Union Cabinet chaired by the Prime Minister Narendra Modi, gave its approval for signing an MoU between India and Afghanistan on Technical Cooperation on Police Training and Development. Training of ANA personnel is already in progress along with medical help to casualties. The same can be enhanced further. Further military assistance could be in the following ways :-
- Supply of more lethal equipment.
- Training of a Special Forces Brigade of Afghanistan.
- Training for Afghan Army doctors and medics in the field.
- Training of Afghan Women Police.
- Increased cooperation in intelligence sharing.
- Maintenance of off-road Russian equipment for both Afghan Army and Air Force.
To Be or Not To Be
There seems no reason why the military assistance enumerated in the previous paragraph can’t be given, however, Active Military Assistance needs a very deep thought and a change in the Indian Foreign Policy. Preparation, earmarking and planning for the same specifically the logistic planning can definitely be done as any Out of Area Contingency may also require similar logistical requirements. The quantum of troops to be sent would be based on the desired dividends.
To sum it up it seems that while Active Military Support to Afghanistan by India is seemingly Strategically Desirable, it is also Logistically Challenging and Tactically it may be a Nightmare initially.