In The Line Of Fire: More About India”s Afghanistan Policy

Posted on September 11, 2013 in GlobeScope

By Harsh Vasani:

The religion of Islam will be elevated if it ceases to be a political weapon” -Mustafa Kemal Ataturk

One of the hardest tasks in Afghanistan’s history has been to create a modern nation-state wherein citizens of varied linguistic, tribal, regional affiliations come together in a distinctly demarcated Nation. Successive establishments since Abdur Rahman Khan have failed to impose and sustain a strong, centralised nation-state. It is in these fault lines that Afghanistan suffered a great deal.

Now more than a decade after the U.S troops invaded Afghanistan to eradicate the Taliban, it seems like a lost battle, and what is left of Afghanistan is a state deeply divided over tribal lines with an economy on the verge of breaking down and growing social insecurity. While the Taliban are far from over, the pull-out of majority of the NATO forces is seen by many as a solid ground for Taliban resurgence. Not only does this cast a shadow of danger over International security, but the tremors are also felt back home in India.

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Despite witnessing Taliban’s terror tactics in the 1999 Air India plane hijack, India has always played a distant role in international diplomacy with regard to Afghanistan. The decade succeeding 9/11 has witnessed U.S emerging as a dominant force with its NATO allies in Afghanistan and had distanced India even further. It was only Pakistan’s intrinsic role that kept India embroiled in Afghanistan.

Now with U.S and U.K having declared 2014 as the year when they shift from combat mode to support mode and transfer the responsibility of security to Afghanistan; the focus is now India and Pakistan vis-à-vis Afghanistan.

It is safe to say that the Taliban are waiting anxiously for the NATO pull-out with the battle lines clearly drawn. In this essay we reflect on what India needs to do to ensure a stable, safe and secure Afghanistan and to thwart Taliban’s attempts to recapture Afghanistan.

Building Afghanistan 

India has already pledged $2 billion in Afghanistan to be spent on development projects. India knows well the need for a stable economy and employment opportunities in Afghanistan. It already enjoys goodwill among Afghans, courtesy many of its strategically visible projects and a history of non-interference with Afghanistan’s internal matters. Bollywood movies too are much awaited and very popular among Afghans. This bodes well for India and should be used as a leverage to further the friendly relations using welfare programmes, infrastructural ventures and increasing investments in Afghanistan’s economy. A SAIL (Steel Authority of India Limited) consortium has already won mining rights in Hajigak region wherein it plans to build a steel unit and a power station to extract iron ore. Besides this, the deal also talks about building railroad and other infrastructure necessities. India also provides 1300 annual college scholarships to Afghan students and training grants for civil servants. Besides this it has already spent $321 million for food assistance to primary school children and rehabilitation of schools. Such investments in Afghanistan’s education sector will help in building Afghanistan’s society.

Thwart Taliban

It is well established that the rise of the Taliban is alarming for everyone; including Pakistan. India needs to strengthen the Afghan national army, police and other security forces. It has already been training these forces in India’s military academies. It further needs to extend intelligence and logistical support to Afghanistan to help foil Taliban insurgency and to check Pakistan’s influence.
According to recent reports, India is considering Hamid Karzai’s request for exporting arms and ammunition. While this seems unlikely considering India has up till now refrained from engaging in counter insurgency at this level, besides India itself is an arms importer, and would not like to alarm Pakistan by doing so.

According to a report by Ron Moreau, the Taliban is earning upwards of $200 million from the trade of opium and heroin, and has replaced gulf countries as the largest source of funding for the insurgency. While the NATO forces ignored this aspect during their decade long operation, India would do well to understand that it has to press hard in the international community the importance to dismantle the drug trade which will further break Taliban’s back. To do this, then again the international community needs to strengthen Afghanistan’s armed forces. Important to note is the innate role of Pakistan as the transit route for this processed heroin. It is about time the world acts on Pakistan’s double standards.

India And The World

Now with U.S and U.K downsizing its presence, India yet again stands at an enormous risk. Not only will the fall of Afghanistan in Taliban’s hand be catastrophic but the Taliban cadres can look east for a new Jihad while simultaneously trying to resurrect itself in Afghanistan. This is precisely what happened two decades ago-when Soviet finally left Afghan soil leaving large cadres of Mujahideen to look for a new jihad. Their handlers in Pakistan used this, and Kashmir witnessed its bloodiest decade ever.

India should use its clout to initiate a strategy against Taliban. India could and should initiate a dialogue with CARs (Central Asian Republics) and Iran to assist in building a democratic Afghanistan. It is learnt that the CARs (mostly comprising of Uzbekistan, Turkmenistan, and Tajikistan) are insecure about the rise of Islamic fundamentalists in their neighbourhood. Also it is evident that Iran is anxious about the Shia population in Afghanistan and the treatment meted out to them by the Taliban in the past.

India could press China’s concerns too in Afghanistan. After all, not only China has its economic interests, but also it fears the rise of separatist demands of Uighur Muslims in its western Xinjiang province, which is believed to have tangential connections with the Taliban. India would do well to bring China under the same ambit and convince Beijing to take a harsh stand against the Taliban and stop any clandestine funding.

No Afghanistan policy can be made without taking Pakistan into consideration. It is evident that Pakistan is growing insecure with increasing influence of India in Afghanistan. It is time India takes along Pakistan and brings it into confidence. Pakistan has in the recent past witnessed how its Frankenstein can turn against it. Pakistan’s new Prime Minister, Nawaz Sharif, is already wary of the Pak army. New Delhi should encourage him to take bold steps against Taliban. But will Mr. Sharif be willing to take this risk, which may very well cost him his post? Will Pakistan mend its ways when it comes to Afghanistan? Or is this just a pipe dream? Only time will tell.

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