Geopolitics

End game in Afghanistan
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Issue Courtesy: Aakrosh | Date : 11 Nov , 2011

India will like to see a deal in Kabul that does not lead to a situation of complete confusion and mindless violence as seen after 1989. As Manmohan Singh and Hamid Karzai reiterated, albeit in a muted manner, they do not want to see Pakistan exploiting the departure of the U.S. and allied forces to trigger another civil war in Afghanistan that upends all the gains of the past one decade.

In this context, Mullah Omar’s Eid message gains significance. Even though it is believed that he is living under the clandestine care of Pakistan, Omar appeared to oppose any attempt by Islamabad to impose a regime in Kabul, be it even his own. Working in favour of Afghanistan’s national interest seems to be the new mantra he is spouting now.

India, like China, seems to be gearing towards futuristic investments for extracting Afghanistan’s reportedly huge mineral wealth. Considering that harnessing items like minerals are long-drawn-out processes, clearly China and India are ready to invest in the future of Afghanistan. While the U.S. Department of Defence had triggered these activities, now the two Asian majors seem to have been voting with their money in favour.

Pakistan had been raising constant objections about the rising Indian footprint in the Afghan theatre.

India also intends to train Afghan human resources, including the Afghan police and the Afghan National Army. These are, however, kept at a low key so as not to raise the hackles of Pakistan. Since 2007, India had been sending batches of civil servants to create training modules for their Afghan counterparts, But the Indian officials are strictly not taking on daily functions of the Afghan bureaucracy as New Delhi wants the programme to be Afghan-led and Afghan-owned.

The number of fellowships offered to Afghan students to come to India for academics is increasingly going up under the supervision of the Indian Council of Cultural Research.

Capability

One of the biggest problems India faces in Afghan relief work is one of access. Since the two countries do not share a border and Afghanistan is landlocked, the best way for India to reach it is via Pakistan. Considering the latter’s animosity towards India and its suspicions about India’s involvement in Afghanistan, Pakistan tries to tie India up in a series of antiaccess regulations.

So India has developed an alternative circuitous route via Iran. This increases the cost of transportation and delays its arrival. The Iranians too get a veto right on what India can or cannot send to Afghanistan.

But New Delhi has still been on the job of undertaking important public works like the highway from Zaranj to Delaram, the electrification of Kabul with a power transmission line from Pul-ki Kumri, and Salma dam. The problem here lies with the security of the Indian personnel working on these projects. India had initially begun with the deployment of 80 Indo-Tibetan Border Police (ITBP) personnel. After the attacks on its personnel, the country raised the number ITBP forces to 120. And another 120 were added later.

One of the biggest problems India faces in Afghan relief work is one of access. Since the two countries do not share a border and Afghanistan is landlocked, the best way for India to reach it is via Pakistan.

During 2005–2006, the U.S. goaded India to provide military equipment to the Afghan National Army and the Afghan police. In turn, very quietly, New Delhi supplied many pieces of the equipment the latter wanted. The American embassy in Kabul coordinated the exercise between Indian mission there and the Afghan government.

But the Americans were wary of having the Indian government deploy military troops—”boots on the ground” as they were dubbed. They felt that if India heightened its Afghan engagement in such a fashion, the other neighbours of the country might raise demands for inducting their own troops, which would complicate the situation for the U.S. government and its allies.

India, on the other hand, became too dependent on the U.S. for its own Afghan engagement. Though occasionally the former made some forays for coordinating with regional partners like Russia and Iran, the actions lacked conviction.

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The views expressed are of the author and do not necessarily represent the opinions or policies of the Indian Defence Review.

About the Author

Pinaki Bhattacharya

Pinaki Bhattacharya, writes on Indian strategic security issues. He is currently working as a defence correspondent for a leading newspaper published from New Delhi.

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