India’s relationship with Afghanistan, as all relationships, has seen its ups and downs. Recently, it was as up as it can be, but considering the dynamics of today and how certain events will unfold, there can be a big down in the future, or as some might say even a divorce.
India has two central interests to have a presence in Afghanistan, these are (i) make sure Pakistan does not use covert means with the help of Taliban to act against India’s interests, and (ii) to gain vast access to the energy market of Central Asia. To understand what is happening right now in Afghanistan, the reader has to have knowledge of the history of relationship.
BACKGROUND TO THE RELATIONSHIP
Let us first look at when the relationship started. It started after India’s independence and continued till the end of Cold War in 1990, this was a peaceful time as India was one of the few non-communist countries to recognise the Afghan government. After the end of Cold War, the Afghan government was overthrown by the Taliban regime. India did not recognise the Taliban regime. There were only three countries that recognised the Taliban regime, they were Saudi Arabia, Pakistan and United Arab Emirates. India provided support to the anti-Taliban Northern Alliance in form of military and money. This was the worst period for the Indo-Afghan relation. Then happened 9/11, US invaded Afghanistan to restore a legitimate Afghan government and to obliterate Taliban. In 2001, after the US invasion, the Taliban regime fell. Since then, India’s relation with Afghanistan has only seen an upward movement. India opened up an embassy in Kabul and four consulates in Afghanistan.
The relationship got a big boost after PM Manmohan Singh signed the Strategic Partnership Agreement (SPA) in 2011. The Afghan forces were not equipped to fight the battle-hardened Taliban soldiers after the gap created by withdrawal of US led NATO forces. The agreement helped Afghanistan in this sphere, as India helped train the Afghan forces. It also provided for closer co-operation in matters of national security by NSAs of both the countries. It also meant that India will invest in infrastructure building in Afghanistan. India has built some dams and undertook construction of roads. All of this has earned India respect among the Afghan people.
Apart from Kashmir, Pakistan has waged one more proxy war against India, that is, in Afghanistan. It is no secret that Pakistan’s ISI still provides support to the Taliban. Other than providing a safe haven, Pakistan also provides them with military and financial support. In this proxy war, India fears for the safety of its some 4000 workers and its diplomats. As a result, India had to deploy some 500 paramilitary forces to keep them safe.
Pakistan fears that if India is able to gain significant ground in Afghanistan, it might use that to its advantage by launching an attack from that side of the border also during the time of confrontation. India also made an airbase in Farkhor, Tajikistan which can be used to supply military aid to and from Afghanistan. Therefore, Pakistan is so determined to undermine India’s position there. Pakistan’s interference has also increased the instability in the region because of continuously terrorising the country and the opium circulation.
WHAT DOES US EXIT MEAN FOR AFGHANISTAN?
US started its journey in Afghanistan with a handful of 350 US special operations forces and 100 CIA paramilitary units. They mostly took the help of militias in the country to run their operations. Then came the peak when US had some 100,000 of its forces and some 15,000 NATO forces. Despite US ousting the Taliban regime in 2001, the Taliban network is nowhere close to being destroyed, as US initially intended. US exit will have 4 major impacts on Afghanistan.
Firstly, the Afghan regime might fall as when the US leaves, the European forces might also leave. The Taliban, with the help from Pakistan will try to regain control of big cities like Kandahar, Lashkar Gah and eventually Kabul.
Second, if Taliban assumes power, they might let other terrorist organisations such as Lashkar-e-Taiba, Haqqani Network, al-Qaeda flourish in Afghanistan. Most of these groups have already expanded their presence in Afghanistan by attacking American soldiers.
Third, Taliban is still opposed to women’s rights and education. Taliban might curb on their rights, after when there was an increase in business ownership by women, a greater number of female students in universities.
Fourth, a Taliban insurgency will lead to more regional instability as both India and Pakistan will vie for greater influence and presence as both have different motives in the region. Pakistan fears that India will encircle it, whereas India fears that Pakistan will train Taliban soldiers and send them to India.
Analysts believe that US should sit down all the parties – Pakistan, Taliban and Afghanistan and devise a strategy and make sure that Pakistan does not support Taliban. Only then should US exit Afghanistan. India when helping train Afghan soldiers should have made some efforts to increase its clout, India would have been in a better situation.
INDIA STEPS IN
Last year Russia held a peace conference in Moscow. India was also a part of the conference along with China, US, Afghanistan and 5 other formerly Soviet nations. India’s presence at the table is vital and very much needed.
India believes in a peace process which is “afghan-led, afghan-owned and afghan-controlled”. This means that only Afghanistan and Taliban should discuss the future path. India does not want Pakistan at the table as they will try to undermine India’s interests. US’s withdrawal will be looked at as US’s failure and Taliban’s win which will strengthen Taliban’s position. They have sensed US’s desperation in pulling out its soldiers and will drag on the discussions up to the point till Trump eventually gives up. As Pakistan’s presence was not worse enough, now India also have a Taliban with a strong hand at the discussion.
Any of this will not work for India as Pakistan will use Taliban to foment terror in Kashmir. India’s misgivings have been tried to be dispelled by Taliban, but Taliban has never kept a promise in the past, so we should not expect much from them. The coming months will be crucial for the Indo-Afghan relations.