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 At that stage, Kabul argued that Afghanistans treaties with British India relating to its borders were no longer valid since a new country had been created where none existed at the time of these treaties.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>.