Mission Afghanistan


India must take on a global leadership role, providing both economic and military aid together with regional/global partners, in support of the Afghan government.

Ananth Durai
15 March 2013

The recent visit of Afghan president Hamid Karzai to India has highlighted the strong and growing cooperation between the two countries.  Since the toppling of the Taliban regime in 2001, India has offered close to $2 billion in mostly economic and humanitarian aid. The signing of a strategic partnership agreement in 2011 paved the way for deepening bilateral relations. The Indian government's Public Sector Units (PSU) consortium won a large mining concession in Hajigak, an investment that will lead to the construction of a steel mill – and that some estimate in the region of $8 billion. India has also paid in blood for the stability and support of Afghanistan, most recently in an attack on Indian Army doctors.

But what exactly is India’s game plan in Afghanistan? To answer this, we need to understand the regional picture.

All quiet on the northern front

India has had tremendous success in eliminating terrorists inside Jammu and Kashmir state (J&K) over the last five years with intelligence reports appearing to indicate frustration among the ranks of the terrorists at the lack of support by the Pakistani authorities for their war in Kashmir. Terror attacks are at an all time low and have been low in the last three years in J&K. Tourism to the state has reached record levels (9 million visitors as of October 2012) and progress is being made economically in the lives of ordinary citizens in the region.

During 2012, Indian police received over 1000 amnesty applications from youths who had crossed over to Pakistan at the height of the insurgency from J&K for arms training, wishing to return to India and rebuild their lives. This has been encouraged by cutbacks in Pakistani funding for Kashmiri organisations, as well as the futility of terrorist activity.

Unfortunately all this success cannot be attributed to Indian diplomacy, so much as to the regional geopolitical situation. Evidence arising from the interrogation of terrorists under arrest supported by intelligence reports suggest that the Pakistani establishment appears to be encouraging Kashmiri groups to turn their gaze towards fighting US/ISAF troops in Afghanistan. This is supported further  by numerous arrests and intelligence reports from the ISAF in Afghanistan. It is no secret that Pakistan continues to provide support/sanctuary to the Taliban and its allies such as the Haqqani network.

We can conclude as a result that Pakistani efforts and priorities appear to be lie in securing its ‘backyard’ and ensuring that the ISAF/US forces vacate Afghanistan, paving the way for the Taliban takeover of Afghanistan, post 2014.

But why? The main reason appears to be to put a stop to Pashtun nationalism thereby also ensuring that the current Afghan security establishments don’t become a further tool to be used against Pakistan, forcing them to deploy their armies in the defence of two borders.

So what is India doing to prevent a Taliban takeover in Afghanistan?

India is following a three-fold approach:

  • - Training Afghan National Security Forces to fight the Taliban.
  • - Encouraging economic investment in the Afghan government to enable them to raise tax revenue to fund the fight against the Taliban.
  • - Helping support the functioning of the Afghan government in a variety of ways – training officials, building the National Parliament building and many other programmes designed to deliver effective governance to the people of Afghanistan.

India has already trained hundreds of mid-level Afghan military officers according to analysts, and this now appears to be escalating. India has agreed to train 600 officers every year since the visit of President Karzai, and in addition will also help train companies (100 men) of ANA soldiers in order to develop the cohesion of ANA units.

In addition to this, Indian Air Force pilots will help train their counterparts in the ANSF to support operations.  Efforts will only increase over the next few years to ensure that a viable and sustainable government stays put in Kabul. But India can and needs to do more in Afghanistan.

Solutions for a global problem

A return of the Taliban after 2014 will mean that jihadis battling US/ISAF troops will now look around for a new focus and this is likely to be regional hotspots – J&K, Chechnya, Iran, Xinjiang amongst others. Of most concern to India is obviously J&K. Thankfully our security establishment is preparing for such a flare up post 2014. However, an escalation in J&K or at the Indian Line of Control will mean all the hard work of improving the economy and weaning away jihadists over the last ten years could go to waste. Perhaps another Kargil could be planned by Pakistan, in which thousands of lives and billions of dollars are spent on fighting each other which could be devoted to improving the lives of citizens.

However, India at the moment has chosen a bilateral approach together with Russia and Iran to discuss Afghanistan at a National Security Council level. But it is important to remind security establishments worldwide that a Taliban return is a problem for everyone. India has an opportunity to lead a regional and even global partnership effort to support the Afghan government. This will have to involve economic and military aid.

Rawalpindi fears

The Pakistani position is that India’s close relations with Afghanistan stems from India’s ambition to encircle Pakistan. But it’s never too late to remind the Pakistani’s that they continue to support terrorist acts in India and have used Afghanistan as a base for attacks against India. Nations have two choices – cooperation or conflict. Despite the continued acts of terrorism supported by the Pakistani military – India has made every attempt to seek cooperation –as is proved by  the Sharm El Sheikh agreement delinking terror from bilateral relations (despite lack of support for this from the Indian public). Despite these efforts, we look across the border and we see the terror infrastructure largely intact.  To date, the Pakistani Army has not revised its doctrine of ‘strategic depth’ in Afghanistan – a view we share with the US and its allies.

During the Taliban-controlled Afghanistan years, Pakistan left their northern borders largely undefended while a major proportion of Pakistani military resources were used to support their military on the borders with India.

Eventually, India will be forced to take the view that the continued support of terror by Pakistan will have to be met with a longterm response. That response is likely to involve supporting the Afghan government with military supplies (thus far India has refrained from doing so despite Afghan requests in the hope that Pakistan will maybe opt for cooperation instead of conflict) and even a military presence that ensures that Pakistan will have to guard their northern borders. Guarding their northern borders will mean deploying their meagre resources towards developing new infrastructure, more weapons and leaving the southern borders much less defended. This will make Pakistan vulnerable. This weakness is likely to result in Pakistan having to stop their terror support activities due to lack of resources and also to the absence of resources enabling their defence against any Indian military retaliation.

To conclude, India is likely to revisit their decision not to supply the ANSF with offensive weapons in 2014, if Pakistan continues to support terrorism on Indian soil. In the coming year, the PM of India, Manmohan Singh should also consider having a serious dialogue with the military leaders of Pakistan offering a no-war agreement in exchange for total cessation of support for terror.

This can only be secured with the support of Pakistan’s close allies – the GCC, China and the USA. This is precisely the reason why Indian strategists have done well to open a good line of communication between these three parties. Whether Pakistan will agree to such a proposal remains to be seen. The ball is in Pakistan’s court: will Pakistan decide between cooperation or conflict?

India must also take on a global leadership role, providing both economic and military aid together with regional/global partners in support of the Afghan government. A failure to do this could cost citizens in the region very dearly.

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