India's Role in Afghanistan - II
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Issue Courtesy: Aakrosh | Date : 18 Feb , 2012

The experience of such incidents suggests however that India will have to be prepared to play a much more proactive role in supporting any government in Kabul, both physically and ensuring the safety and security of its assets. When the Soviets withdrew in 1989, there was turmoil. A brief period of stability was again disturbed by the Taliban in 1996, which lasted till 2001. At the core of the matter lies the tribal and feudal structure of Afghan polity. Basically, history shows that the tribes have played an important dual role in establishing order in terms of who rules the nation and maintaining control in those areas where the reach of the government in terms of security and governance is low or nonexistent. This has to be interwoven with the concepts of qawm and manteqa, both of which form the basis of society. The former can be seen as societal networks while the latter signifies the place or region from where people come. In both Afghanistan and Pakistan, the Qawm (or people belonging to one tribe and region) has prevented the inroads of modernity into society, at the same time giving shape to a form of resilience to face any external or internal shock.30

The decentralisation of power using the Indian model may be a good starting point, and alongside, the devolution of financial power will have to take place.

The place from which a person originates or in which a person resides is known as manteqa, and it is composed of several villages or cluster settlements/hamlets where solidarity is shaped amongst the local population. The manteqa shapes the identity of a person in Afghanistan. In order to take the best advantage of this societal situation, it is necessary for both the West and India to analyse development and peace initiatives from this perspective. In terms of development, the focus has to be really on the villages of Afghanistan. The decentralisation of power using the Indian model may be a good starting point, and alongside, the devolution of financial power will have to take place. This of course is dependent on the strength of the central government at any given point in time.

Given the complexity of the tribal situation, it is but natural that challenges will arise in the distribution of power. Ahmed Rashid aptly stated in 2001, “Over the centuries, trying to understand the Afghans and their country was turned into a fine art and a game of power politics by the Persians, the Mongols, the British, the Soviets and most recently the Pakistanis. But no outsider has ever conquered them or claimed their soul.” This is an indication of the difficulties involved in acquiring a sense of purpose and direction in Afghanistan.31

Editors Pick

From the U.S. perspective, Afghanistan has to be rid of the Taliban and al-Qaeda. That is why operation Enduring Freedom was launched. But domestic compulsions in the U.S. are creating grounds for the withdrawal of U.S. troops from Afghanistan. This also means that political support to President Hamid Karzai or any other candidate is going to be a problem. The only possibility is that the U.S. continues its operations in Afghanistan using the CIA, as it did prior to 2001. For Pakistan, the stakes are higher. For Pakistan, its creation, the Taliban, and by default its control over Afghanistan, cannot be allowed to wither. For India, the stakes are high in terms of a stable Afghanistan constituting a counter-poise to Pakistan; that is why the soft-power approach has provided some gains for New Delhi.


If history shows that political stability is a mirage in Afghanistan, it also shows that if one works the system through the traditional systems of power sharing, like the shura and the jirga, the chances of finding a political solution are greater””that is, if at the national level, there is consensus that stability is a factor in the continuance of Afghanistan as a nation state. Otherwise, it will be argued that it is better to split Afghanistan along ethnic and tribal lines and give everyone his share of the cake.

India will continue to be in Afghanistan whether or not the 2014 withdrawal happens. It is more likely though that planning for a military presence in Kabul is envisaged and thought out without being announced. After all, who knows what tomorrow might bring!

Notes and References

  1. Ibid.
  2. Prime minister Dr. Manmohan Singh quoted in the International Institute of Strategic Studies. "India"™s Role in Afghanistan." IISS Strategic Comments 17 June 2011. <>.
  3. Statement to the media by Prime Minister Manmohan Singh during the visit of President Hamid Karzai, New Delhi, 4 October 2011. <>.
  4. C. J. Radin. "Afghan-Indian Agreement Heralds a Strategic Shift in the Region." 31 October 2011. <>.
  5. Op cit, n. 17.
  6. G. Rauf Roashan. "Pros and Cons of Federalism in Afghanistan." <>.
  7. Ibid.
  8. Ahmed Rashid. "Divide Afghanistan at Your Peril." 4 August 2010. <>.
  9. BBC News. "Talk to Taliban, Miliband Urges." 27 July 2009. <>.Also see, Reuters. "Exclusive: Secret U.S., Taliban Talks Reach Turning Point." 19 December 2011. <>.
  10. Mail Online. "US Talks with Taliban Reach Critical Juncture." 20 December 2011. <>.
  11. Op cit no-16.
  12. Reuters. "Afghanistan Sets Ground Rules for Taliban Talks." Dawn, 30 December 2011. <>.
  13. Raphy Favre. "Interface Between State and Society in Afghanistan, Discussion on Key Social Features Affecting Governance, Reconciliation and Reconstruction." February 2005. <>.
  14. Ahmed Rashid quoted in Shahmahmood Miakhel. "The Importance of Tribal Structures and Pakhtunwali in Afghanistan; Their Role in Security and Governance."
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About the Author

Bhashyam Kasturi

Bhashyam Kasturi has written extensively on terrorism, intelligence systems and special forces, in Indian and international journals/newspapers. He is the author of the Book Intelligence Services: Analysis, Organization and Function.

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