Any study that seeks to understand the dynamics of Indias “presence” in Afghanistan with the application of soft power must realise that it is a carefully crafted piece of diplomacy””one that is riding high in the presence of the U.S. and the NATO forces in the region. This, of course, does not mean that India and its entities are completely safe. The repeated attacks carried out on the Indian mission in Kabul””the last such attack was carried out in 2009″”signals the inherent dangers of Indian involvement in Afghanistan and is testimony to the rivalry between India and Pakistan for strategic space in the tribal areas west of the Durand Line. The attacks on the Indians were carried out by the Taliban, and it is well known that behind the Taleb and its anti-India position is the ISI of Pakistan.
India seeks to prevent the restoration of any form of a resurgent Taliban regime in the state. Moreover, India seeks to limit Pakistan’s influence over any emergent regime and ensure that no regime emerges in Kabul that is fundamentally hostile towards India.
The fact that both Islamabad and New Delhi are fighting each other for space in Afghanistan makes Indias task more difficult. In other words, they are not steps taken to fulfil a simple foreign policy objective, aimed at providing Kabul with much-needed economic assistance and civil works. These steps, slow and incremental as they may seem, demonstrate to Pakistan that all is not well in its own backyard. And since this is happening under the security umbrella of the United States, it is but natural that the Taliban views any Indian initiative with suspicion. At the heart of the matter is the fact that Pakistan does not want India to become too entrenched in Afghanistan, a nation it has seen as its backyard since the Soviet army withdrew in 1989. Having supported the creation and operations of the Taliban, the military in Pakistan does not want to let go just now. “For Islamabad, Afghanistan is one element in a larger game: not only is Afghanistan part of its Indian policy, but it is also to some extent a component of its global standing.”1
It will take a great deal of explaining to the Pakistani establishment that India is there for basic reasons. It is not that India has not tried in the past, both directly and indirectly through U.S. voices, to tell Pakistan of its intentions, but Islamabad is clearly indicating to India to “back off.” One has to only read a recent statement made by former Pakistan president Pervez Musharraf. He states that if Pakistan perceives Kabul as getting too close to New Delhi, the ISI could be ordered by the government [read military] to take suitable “countermeasures.”2 The question is, what comes next? If India stays the course in Afghanistan, then what happens and, more importantly, what happens after 2014, when international coalition forces will be gone? But first, a look at the goals that India has set for itself in Afghanistan.
Indias Goals in Afghanistan
What are Indias goals in Afghanistan? First, India seeks to prevent the restoration of any form of a resurgent Taliban regime in the state. Moreover, India seeks to limit Pakistans influence over any emergent regime and ensure that no regime emerges in Kabul that is fundamentally hostile towards India. One major imperative of Indian policy in Afghanistan is to prevent the rise of the brand of Islamist militancy that has been prevalent over the past six decades. It is, therefore, a central concern of India to foster good relations with the Pashtun majority in Afghanistan, especially now as that majority holds at least nominal power in Kabul.
India is seeking to develop long-term diplomatic ties and economic arrangements with a stable, popular and pro-Indian regime in Afghanistan, which then enables India to leapfrog Pakistan and build robust strategic and economic ties with the energy-rich states of Central Asia.
This is not simply to influence the Afghan ability to prevent the re-emergence of an anti-India militant milieu. The rise of Islamist militancy on both sides of the Durand Line also correlates strongly with the rise in militant capabilities in Kashmir and across the Line of Control. The Islamist militant groups supported by Pakistan, at least its clients, such as the Lashkar-e-Toiba and Hizb-ul-Mujahideen, are well known for coordinating training, resource allocation and logistical support with groups operating out of northwest Pakistan. Thus, as long as central control and legitimacy continue to elude Kabul, the conflagration in Kashmir will have a ready supply of tinder. India aspires to develop a sufficient diplomatic and intelligence network within the country to be able to monitor Pakistans activities within Afghanistan and, if necessary, to work to curtail them.
Second, India is seeking to develop long-term diplomatic ties and economic arrangements with a stable, popular and pro-Indian regime in Afghanistan, which then enables India to leapfrog Pakistan and build robust strategic and economic ties with the energy-rich states of Central Asia. In what Stephen Blank characterises as a “great game” strategy, Indias goals reflect the desire to control overland routes to maritime ports for Central Asian resources by denying both China and Pakistan the ability to threaten Indian assets in the region.3 It is highly unlikely that India will curb its activities, humanitarian or otherwise, anytime soon. This is primarily due to the fact that for the first time in recent history, the interests of India and the United States in Afghanistan dovetail. Both states seek a peaceful, secure and non-Talibanised Afghanistan. In order to further these goals, the U.S. has agreed to mediate back-channel talks between India and Pakistan regarding the regional war on terror and “the establishment of a “˜fair bargain between India and Pakistan over their respective interests in Afghanistan.”4
Both states seek a peaceful, secure and non-Talibanised Afghanistan.
In October 2011, Prime Minister Manmohan Singhs said that “India will stand by the people of Afghanistan as they prepare to assume the responsibility for their governance and security after the withdrawal of international forces in 2014.”5 What exactly does this imply? Does it mean that Indian army troops will be there to protect Afghanistan? Or does that indicate a greater role for India in the reconstruction and rebuilding of Afghanistan, including that of its political institutions? There are three reasons for Indias continued and intensified involvement with Afghanistan. First and foremost are the historical links, links that predate the creation of Pakistan and that have deep roots. Second, these links are aimed, as a foreign policy tool, to reduce the influence of Pakistan west of the Durand Line. And finally, in the real world, with the withdrawal of Western forces (read the U.S. and NATO) from Afghanistan, the instability factor tends to increase. This will require a regional solution to the Afghan issue, one that should involve India. In fact, stability in Afghanistan is a must for India because Pakistan will continue to remain unstable in the years to come.
The Historical Link
The historical links between India and Afghanistan predate the creation of Pakistan and have colonial memories. In the case of the latter, the memories are bitter; that of a free country being attempted to be brought under control by the deployment of colonial military power. The ostensible reason was the fear of Russia, the great bear, coming to the doorstep of British India.
The past links of the two countries and recent initiatives by India to be a player in Afghanistan are rooted in that reality. The first important landmark since Indias independence was the signing of the friendship treaty in 1950. Jawaharlal Nehru signed the friendship treaty, which laid out a broad framework for bilateral cooperation at a time when Kabul was coming to terms with the partition of the subcontinent and a new neighbour on its eastern frontiers””Pakistan. The treaty provided that each signatory should be able to establish trade agencies in the others territory.6 The treaty would last for five years in the first instance, and at the end of that period, it would be terminable at six months notice. The strategic partnership agreement signed by Indias prime minister Dr. Manmohan Singh and Afghanistans president Hamid Karzai in October 2011 recalls with great warmth the importance of the 1950 treaty and its commitment to “everlasting friendship” between Delhi and Kabul.7
Bilateral relations between India and Afghanistan received a major boost in 2011, with the signing of a strategic partnership agreement.
Since 1950, India has signed various agreements and protocols with pro-Soviet regimes in Afghanistan to promote cooperation. The Soviet invasion of Afghanistan in 1979 saw India increase its investments in developmental activities by cooperating in industrial, irrigation and hydro-electric projects. While India was the only South Asian country to recognise the Soviet-backed Democratic Republic of Afghanistan in the 1980s, relations dipped in the 1990s at the time of the Afghan Civil War and the Taliban government from 1996 to 2001. India aided the overthrow of the Taliban and became the largest regional provider of humanitarian and reconstruction aid to Afghanistan. In the aftermath of the 2008 bombing of the Indian embassy in Kabul, the Afghan foreign ministry stated that India was a “brother country” and that the relationship between the two is one that “no enemy can hamper.” Bilateral relations between India and Afghanistan received a major boost in 2011, with the signing of a strategic partnership agreement.8
The lessening of Indias influence in Afghanistan can be attributed to the rise of the Afghan mujahideen against the Soviet invasion and, subsequently, the withdrawal of Soviet troops in February 1989.9 This coupled with the disintegration of the Soviet Union in 1991 and the formation of a government led by the mujahideen after the pro-Soviet regime of Mohammed Najibullah in Afghanistan was overthrown in April 1992 led to lessening of Indian influence in Afghanistan. India, however, had cordial relations with the pro-Soviet government of Najibullah as he was a former chief of Khadamat-e Etelaat-e Dawlati (KHAD), the Afghan intelligence service. Later, in 1992, when Burhanuddin Rabbani established a predominantly non-Pashtun government, India again became active in Afghanistan and provided humanitarian and technical assistance.
Apart from being politically important, economically too Afghanistan is important in that it is a gateway for India to the oil- and mineral-rich Central Asian republics. Also, the massive reconstruction plans for the country offer a lot of opportunities for Indian companies.
The rise of the Taliban in Afghanistan and the removal of the Rabbani government in September 1996 again marginalised India. India did not recognise the Taliban government and closed its embassy in September 1996. During this period, the non-Pashtun groups opposing the Taliban regime formed the Northern Alliance and controlled areas in the north of Afghanistan bordering the Central Asian States of Tajikistan and Uzbekistan. India then chose to support the Northern Alliance.
Apart from being politically important, economically too Afghanistan is important in that it is a gateway for India to the oil- and mineral-rich Central Asian republics. Also, the massive reconstruction plans for the country offer a lot of opportunities for Indian companies. Strategically, an actively pro-Delhi regime in Kabul would be discomforting to Islamabad, which has traditionally seen Afghanistan as its backyard.
From a strategic perspective, Afghanistan offers the best example of India following the principles of Mandala prescribed by Chanakya in the Arthashastra. Kautilya said: “A ruler with contiguous territory is a rival. The ruler next to the adjoining is to be deemed a friend.” In that sense, Indian policy reflects the realist principle in engaging Afghanistan both for bilateral relations and for counter-intelligence purposes vis-Ã -vis Pakistan. This aspect is explored in further detail below.
The military experience of the Soviets in combating the mujahideen backed by the U.S. Central Intelligence Agency and Pakistan’s ISI is also an important factor in comprehending India’s reluctance to send troops to Afghanistan.
Afghanistans frontier with British India was drawn by Mortimer Durand, a British civil servant, in 1893 and agreed upon by representatives of both governments.10 After Pakistans independence from Great Britain in 1947, their leaders assumed that they would inherit the functions of British Indias government in guiding Afghan policy. But soon thereafter, Afghanistan voted against Pakistans admission to the UN. At that stage, Kabul argued that Afghanistans treaties with British India relating to its borders were no longer valid since a new country had been created where none existed at the time of these treaties.
Although India did not publicly support the demand for “Pashtunistan,” Pakistans early leaders could not separate the Afghan questioning of the Durand Line from their perception of an Indian grand design against Pakistan. Therefore, it became policy to try and limit Indian influence in Afghanistan to prevent Pakistan from being “crushed by a sort of pincer movement” involving Afghanistan stirring the ethnic cauldron in Pakistan and India stepping in to undo the partition of the subcontinent. Pakistans response was a forward policy of encouraging Afghan Islamists that would subordinate ethnic nationalism to Islamic religious sentiment.11
The second historical aspect of importance is that India understands the Afghan situation in military terms, given the British experience, and demonstrates the dangers of getting involved in a complex tribal society combined with the recent growth of jihadi terrorism. There is another angle to this historical link. No one could better understand the Soviet invasion of 1979 than India for it had seen it from precisely that perspective. Little wonder then that Mrs. Indira Gandhi told President Brezhnev in Moscow in September 1982 that “The Way in Is the Way Out.”12 It took the Soviets a decade to understand the simple logic of the message that Indias prime minister gave to the USSR. The military experience of the Soviets in combating the mujahideen backed by the U.S. Central Intelligence Agency and Pakistans ISI is also an important factor in comprehending Indias reluctance to send troops to Afghanistan.
“¦political and strategic timidity of India’s political leadership, who have yet to recognise that being a big power would involve shouldering military responsibilities to reorder in India’s favour the security environment in South Asia.
Thus far, India has shied away from a military commitment in Afghanistan. There are two major reasons for this. The first is the American reluctance to permit Indian military involvement in Afghanistan out of deference to Pakistan army sensitivities. The second reason is the political and strategic timidity of Indias political leadership, who have yet to recognise that being a big power would involve shouldering military responsibilities to reorder in Indias favour the security environment in South Asia.13 The first rationale is understandable, but the second, one feels, has less to do with timidity and more to do with strategic reality.
The Security Link
The Afghanistan-Pakistan complex has been a security concern for India since the time of the rise of the Afghan mujahideen and subsequently the Taliban. The trajectory of jihadi violence in India, particularly in Jammu & Kashmir, is linked to the political and security situation in Afghanistan and is borne out by the sequence of events. The exit of the Soviets in 1989 coincided with the rise of militancy in J&K, and the sustained high level of violence by foreign terrorists in India coincided with the reign of the Taliban in Kabul 1996 onwards. The decline in violence and the return of normalcy to J&K occurred after 2001, when U.S. and NATO forces displaced the Taliban regime in Kabul. With the possible pull-out from Afghanistan of these troops by 2014, the chances are that Pakistan will attempt to retake control of Afghanistan using the Taliban and restarting the proxy war against India. Therefore, the link between Indias security situation and Afghanistan is quite clear and obvious.
“¦it must be recalled that India’s support for the Northern Alliance against the Taliban in the 1990s strengthened its position in Kabul after 2001 as many alliance members have come to hold key governmental or provincial posts.
The reason Afghanistan is relevant to Indias foreign policy is that Pakistan sees the former as giving it “strategic depth”””a notion that has led Islamabad to treat Kabul as its backyard.14 This feeling was reinforced when its creation, the Taliban, captured Kabul in 1996. But the security link with Kabul predates the coming of the Taliban. Indias external intelligence agency Research and Analysis Wing (R&AW) has enjoyed a close working relationship with KHAD, which was an important source of information on Pakistan. This relationship has been resurrected with links to the National Security Directorate under Hamid Karzai. The main reason for the links in the 1980s was that many of the training camps for Khalistani terrorists were based in the North West Frontier Province of Pakistan, bordering Afghanistan. Arms and ammunition for these camps came from Pakistan army stocks and were monitored by KHAD, which kept India informed.
After the Soviet Union invaded Afghanistan in 1979 and the CIA started supplying weapons and equipment to the Afghan mujahideen, it transpired that the ISI was secretly transferring some of the equipment and weapons meant for the mujahideen to the Khalistani terrorists. Access to such information lay at the heart of the R&AW-KHAD and KGB relationship.15
Indias relations with Kabul have improved steadily since the fall of the Taliban for a number of reasons. The fact that both countries do not share a contiguous and contested border combined with the Pakistan factor have steadied the ties. At the same time, it must be recalled that Indias support for the Northern Alliance against the Taliban in the 1990s strengthened its position in Kabul after 2001 as many alliance members have come to hold key governmental or provincial posts. New Delhi has also tried to balance its engagement with different ethnic groups and political affiliations and has used its support for President Hamid Karzai to demonstrate its keenness to revive its close ties with the Pashtuns. On the other hand, it has supported the Afghan government and the reconstruction of the countrys economic and political order.16
Pakistan’s main concern that India is trying to encircle it by gaining influence in Afghanistan has in part led to its continued support for the Taliban.
The then top NATO commander in Afghanistan General Stanley McChrystal, in his August 2009 “COMISAFs Initial Assessment,” opined: “Indian political and economic influence is increasing in Afghanistan, including significant development efforts and financial investment. In addition, the current Afghan government is perceived by Islamabad to be pro-Indian. While Indian activities largely benefit the Afghan people, increasing Indian influence in Afghanistan is likely to exacerbate regional tensions and encourage Pakistani countermeasures in Afghanistan or India.”17 While Indias presence in Afghanistan has Pakistan-specific utility, it is also about Indias emergent ability to influence its extended strategic neighbourhood. Pakistans main concern that India is trying to encircle it by gaining influence in Afghanistan has in part led to its continued support for the Taliban.
Notes and References
- FrÃ©dÃ©ric Grare. "Pakistan-Afghanistan Relations in the Post-9/11 Era," Carnegie Papers, South Asia Project, Number 72. October 2006. p. 3, <http://carnegieendowment.org/files/cp72_grare_final.pdf>.
- MSN News. "ISI May Act if Afghanistan Gets Too Close to India: Musharraf." 27 October 2011. <http://news.in.msn.com/international/article.aspx?cp-documentid=5545402>.
- The articulation of this strategy in the context of Afghanistan is done by Nicholas Howenstein and Sumit Ganguly. "Pakistan & Afghanistan: Domestic Pressures and Regional Threats: India-Pakistan Rivalry in Afghanistan." Journal of International Affairs 63, no. 1, Fall/Winter 2009, pp. 127"“140, Columbia University. <http://jia.sipa.columbia.edu/india-pakistan-rivalry-afghanistan>.
- Hindu. "Statement Made by the Prime Minister at the End of Signing of First-Ever Strategic Partnership Agreement with Afghanistan." 5 October 2011. <http://www.thehindu.com/news/resources/article2513967.ece>.
- For full text, see Indian Treaty Series, "Treaty of Friendship Between the Government of India and the Royal Government of Afghanistan," New Delhi, 4 January 1950. <http://www.commonlii.org/in/other/treaties/INTSer/1950/3.html>.
- For the text of the Strategic Partnership Agreement signed on 4 October 2011, see the Ministry of External Affairs website. <http://www.mea.gov.in/mystart.php?id=530518343>.
- Deccan Herald (Bangalore). "Pak Fumes at Indo-Afghan Pacts." 6 October 2011. <http://www.deccanherald.com/content/195990/indias-afghan-pact-puts-pakistan.html>.
- Ramesh Trivedi. India"™s Relations with Her Neighbours. New Delhi: ISHA Books, 2008. p. 80.
- Geoffrey Hayes and Mark Sedra (eds.). Afghanistan: Transition Under Threat. The Centre for International Governance Initiative and Wilfried Laurier University Press, 2008. pp. 221"“223.
- Hussain Haqqani. "The Wind Blows Another Way at the Durand Line." Indian Express, 15 March 2006. <http://carnegieendowment.org/2006/03/15/wind-blows-another-way-at-durand-line/g4u>.
- Remarks made by Ambassador Maharajkrishan Rasgotra, former foreign secretary, ministry of external affairs, at the seminar on India and the Cold War, 17 December 2010, Nehru Memorial Museum and Library, New Delhi. Also see, V. D. Chopra (ed.). Significance of Indo-Russian Relations in the 21st Century. New Delhi: Kalpaz Publications, 2008. p. 85.
- Subhash Kapila. "Afghanistan: India"™s Contingency Plans for "˜the Day After."™" South Asia Analysis Group, Paper No 3576. 29 December 2009. <http://www.southasiaanalysis.org/%5Cpapers36%5Cpaper3576.html>.
- Ejaz Haider. "Pakistan Needs Strategic Depth." Express Tribune, 7 October 2011, <http://tribune.com.pk/story/268921/pakistan-needs-strategic-depth>.
- B. Raman. The Kaoboys of R&AW, Down Memory Lane. New Delhi: Lancer Publishers, 2007. pp. 125"“126.
- Harsh V. Pant. "India"™s Changing Role in the Afghanistan Conflict." Middle East Quarterly, Spring 2011. pp. 31"“39. <http://www.meforum.org/2895/india-afghanistan>.
- General Stanley McChrystal quoted in Christine Fair. "India in Afghanistan, Part I: Strategic Interests, Regional Concerns." AfPak Channel, 26 October 2010. <http://afpak.foreignpolicy.com/posts/2010/10/26/india_in_afghanistan_part_1_strategic_interests_regional_concerns>.