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.