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India’s Role in Afghanistan: Past Relations and Future Prospects

Relations between India and Afghanistan can be traced back to over 2000 years ago. India has always strived to maintain its interests in Afghanistan, especially in the present. Having borne the brunt of civil war and foreign interventions for over three decades, Afghanistan is in dire need of peace and development. There is inadequate security, human rights violations, poor socio-economic conditions, and presence of foreign troops. The development of complex obstacles to accomplishing these needs has been fuelled by Afghanistan’s war-torn past. The present phase of war in Afghanistan largely began with the US-led NATO (North Atlantic Treaty Organization) invasion of Afghanistan following the attacks on the US by the Islamic jihadist group Al-Qaeda on the 11th of September, 2001. However, with the withdrawal of foreign troops set for the end of 2014, India may play a greater role in Afghanistan and will face certain challenges.

India’s Past with Afghanistan

India was the only South Asian country which recognized the communist People’s Democratic Party of Afghanistan (PDPA) government and the presence of Soviet military personnel, and provided technical and humanitarian aid to President Najibullah’s Afghanistan.[1] The Soviet Union provided India with significant economic and military aid during the time when Nikita Khrushchev was in power, which led to the formation of strong economic, military, strategic and diplomatic ties. This greatly influenced India’s decision to maintain diplomatic ties with the Soviet-backed PDPA government in Afghanistan. Diplomatic ties, however, ended after the Taliban regime took power.

During the time when the Taliban was in power, India experienced many security threats in terms of the proliferation Afghan mujahedeen militants in the Kashmir area. In 1999, Indian Airlines Flight 841 was hijacked by a Pakistan-based mujahedeen group, and eventually landed in Afghanistan. The hijackers were believed to be associated with the Taliban, which led to further tensions between Afghanistan and India. India supported the rebel movement of the United Front when the Taliban was in power. During the US-led intervention, India offered support in forms which included intelligence. After the Taliban government was toppled, India actively participated in rebuilding efforts.

India has committed US$2 billion to development in Afghanistan, and the latest tranche worth US $100 million was cleared on November 8th, 2012.[2][3] India has assisted Afghanistan in sectors such as power generation, education, infrastructure development, transport, health, defense and diplomacy. In 2005, India suggested Afghanistan’s membership to the South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation (SAARC). India and Afghanistan have formed strategic and military partnerships to combat regional militants.

With regards to humanitarian assistance and education initiatives in Afghanistan, India has played a significant role. Every year, about 1,000 Afghan students study in Indian universities on scholarships, and Afghan civil servants have access to Indian training institutions.[4] The Indian government also runs a program that provides lunch meals to around 2 million Afghan school children. In addition, India has also constructed numerous field clinics and a children’s’ hospital. [5]

The Indian firm C&C Constructions has been actively involved in the infrastructure sector in Afghanistan. It has built roads exceeding the length of 700 km in total which cost around US $250 million. The crown jewel of C&C’s works is the bronze-domed Afghan parliament building, costing $125 million and funded by the Indian government.[6]  Other projects include a 400-km power line, and a hydro-electricity plant. However, with targeted attacks towards India in Afghanistan, security of construction personnel remains a key issue. Sanjay Gupta, the Director of C&C Constructions, has expressed his concerns over the safety of his workers and stated “There are elements who don’t want the Indian presence there… Maybe it’s time to wind up.”[7]

India has agreed to assist Afghanistan in whatever way possible, including training ANA forces, and supports the withdrawal of international forces by 2014. The Indian Prime Minister stated “Our co-operation with Afghanistan is an open book. We have civilizational links, and we are both here to stay … India will stand by the people of Afghanistan as they prepare to assume responsibility for governance and security after the withdrawal of international forces in 2014.”[8]

The Indo-Pak Power Struggle

In 2008, the Indian embassy in Kabul was attacked by car bombs, which resulted in the death of 41 people and injured over 141 people.[9] A similar event occurred in 2009, and 17 people were killed.[10] The Taliban accepted responsibility for these attacks, and is believed to have received help from Pakistan’s ISI.

Pakistan has long viewed India’s role in Afghanistan with suspicion. According to a leaked US embassy cable, in 2010, the Pakistani Prime Minister Gilani told US Senator John Kerry that India had to “decrease its footprint in Afghanistan and stop interfering in Balochistan” in order to gain its trust.[11] Pakistan has regularly accused the Research and Analysis Wing (RAW), the Indian military intelligence agency, of sending espionage personnel into Afghanistan under the guise of engineers and doctors, and of supplying the Balochistan Liberation Army (BLA), a militant group that has conducted many attacks on Pakistani civilians and security personnel, with arms. India has repeatedly denied these allegations, which have not been corroborated by evidence.

India’s increasing role in Afghanistan may spark further tensions with Pakistan, and could lead to further violence by certain groups who mistrust India and its intentions. With regards to training Afghan security forces, Abdul Salam Rocketi, a former member of the Taliban and 2009 presidential candidate, believes that Pakistan may view this “as a threat and react negatively to it”.[12] Hence, India will have to tread carefully while making defense-related decisions with respect to Afghanistan.

Prospects for the Future

Security is an issue that needs to be improved, and India has made it clear that it will be willing to assist Afghanistan in this issue. Furthermore, security issues in areas of reconstruction have also been highlighted. India would also prefer to make sure that no terrorist training camps are operational in Afghanistan, and would be willing to participate in any Afghan-led operations against insurgents. Nirupama Rao, the Indian Foreign Secretary, stated that “Any integration process in Afghanistan should be Afghan-led, and should include … those who abjure violence, give up armed struggle and terrorism and are willing to abide by the values of democracy, pluralism and human rights as enshrined in the Afghan Constitution.”[13]

India would like to expand its role in the south Asia region, and accepts a regional arrangement for rebuilding efforts in Afghanistan with close cooperation of other nations. However, Pakistan has expressed opposition to the creation of a regional body which will oversee the economic and security situation in Afghanistan. India would also hope for the various ethnic divisions of Afghanistan to cooperate with each other to ensure sustainable peace in Afghanistan. India has also expressed interests in the large natural gas reserves in Iran, and may decide to build a natural gas pipeline through Afghanistan.

It is also in India’s interests to prevent corruption within the Afghan government, and seeks to strengthen democracy in Afghanistan and has also expressed its desire to abolish the illicit cultivation of opium in Afghanistan, as it is a method by which the Taliban raises funds. Methods that may be taken to reduce this could include but are not limited to increasing security in areas where opium is grown, incentivizing the production of other cash crops, establishing fair trade systems to ensure profitability for farmers, and promoting education and awareness in Afghanistan.

Conclusion

Being an emerging economy in South Asia, India believes it is its responsibility to ensure the presence of peace and security in its neighbors. India has made it clear that it will not pull out of Afghanistan, as it has supported the government in the form of humanitarian aid even when the PDPA government was in power. However, the threat of a takeover by the Taliban is also present. Keith Payne, a Vietnam War veteran, stated “The Taliban, like the North Vietnamese, are just waiting for the troops to move out and they will move back in again.”[14] India’s role in Afghanistan may greatly increase subsequent to the withdrawal of international troops by 2014, and needs to be carefully considered by Indian policy makers.

Notes

[1] Crossette, Barbara. India to Provide Aid to Government in Afghanistan. The New York Times, March 7th, 1989. (accessed on April 22nd, 2012) http://www.nytimes.com/1989/03/07/world/india-to-provide-aid-to-government-in-afghanistan.html

[2] Agencies. Indian PM pledges $500m in aid to Afghanistan. Al Jazeera, May 12th, 2011. (accessed on April 22nd, 2012) http://www.aljazeera.com/news/asia/2011/05/2011512174743325321.html

[3] IANS. India clears $100mn aid to Afghanistan. The Deccan Herald, November 8th, 2012 (accessed on November 15th, 2012) http://www.deccanherald.com/content/290885/india-clears-100-mn-aid.html

[4] Malhotra, Jyoti. In Afghanistan, Indians are praised simply for being Indian; Q&A: Jayant Prasad, Indian ambassador to Afghanistan. Business Standard, October 9th, 2009. (accessed on April 22nd, 2012) http://www.business-standard.com/india/news/in-afghanistan-indianspraised-simply-for-being-indian/372716/

[5] Thottam, Jyoti. Afghanistan: India’s Uncertain Road. TIME Magazine, April 11th, 2011. (accessed on April 24th, 2012) http://www.time.com/time/magazine/article/0,9171,2062364,00.html

[6] Ibid

[7] Ibid

[8] Tisdall, Simon. India may pay heavily in future for supporting the Karzai regime. The Guardian, October 5th, 2012. (accessed on April 24th, 2012) http://www.guardian.co.uk/world/2011/oct/05/india-regret-supporting-karzai-afghanistan

[9] Special Correspondent. Bomb rocks Indian embassy in Kabul. BBC News, July 7th, 2008. (accessed on April 24th, 2012) http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/7492601.stm

[10] Tavernise, Sabrina. 17 Die in Kabul Bomb Attack. The New York Times, October 8th, 2009. (accessed on 24th April, 2012) http://www.nytimes.com/2009/10/09/world/asia/09afghan.html

[11] Agencies. India must “decrease footprint in Afghan” to gain Pak trust: Gilani. The Economic Times, December 2nd, 2010. (accessed on May 17th, 2012) http://articles.economictimes.indiatimes.com/2010-12-02/news/28493347_1_balochistan-prime-minister-gilani-syed-yousaf-raza-gilani

[12] Thottam, Jyoti. Afghanistan: India’s Uncertain Road. TIME Magazine, April 11th, 2011. (accessed on April 24th, 2012) http://www.time.com/time/magazine/article/0,9171,2062364,00.html

[13] International Institute for Strategic Studies. India’s Role in Afghanistan. Real Clear World, June 3rd, 2011. (accessed on May 27th, 2012) http://www.realclearworld.com/articles/2011/06/03/indias_role_in_afghanistan_99541.html

[14] Le Grand, Chip. VC hero sees Vietnam parallel with Afghan war. The Australian, April 23rd, 2012. (accessed on July 8th, 2012) http://www.theaustralian.com.au/news/nation/vc-hero-sees-vietnam-parallel-with-afghan-war/story-e6frg6nf-1226335709491

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About the Author

Shreshta Balachandar

Shreshta Balachandar is a 12th grade student at Indus International School, Bangalore, India. He has a deep interest in international relations with a special focus on post war development economics, and hopes to major in international relations and economics in college. He has also conducted research on the macroeconomic situation in Sri Lanka and opportunities and challenges to achieve its goal to increase its per capita income with the India-ASEAN-Sri Lanka Chamber of Commerce and Industry. Contact him at: shreshta_94@hotmail.com. 
  • rayriaz

    India, a country that does not have any land link with Afghanistan.India, where 250 millions of it`s citizen sleep on sides walk,where 60% of it`s citizen lack clean water,and toilet system.India,where more than 200 Districts under Maosit Insurgency. India,where eight Provinces are under seperate movement against Indian occupation rule.India just spent $50 Billions on Arm purchase.