India’s World- India Afghanistan Strengthen Security Ties
Afghan President Mr. Ashraf Ghani concluded a successful visit to India recently. There are indications that India is considering scaling up of security ties with Afghanistan, training Afghan defence forces as well as supplying military hardware. India has offered a $1 billion package for assistance this time. This is a shift in India’s primary focus on Afghanistan now of only providing development assistance. India is already Afghanistan’s 5th largest donor having provided developmentary construction assistance of $2 billion since 2001.
1. Strategic Convergence:
Afghanistan had 46 military partners that had been a part of International Security Assistance Force including the US. When it started negotiating strategic partnership agreements, the Afghan leadership was clear that the first such arrangement should be with India. But, it did not fructify as a really strategic partnership at that time when the agreement was signed because the then government of India could not fulfill the demands made by Afghanistan which the present government is more forthcoming about. In the present meeting, the Indian PM and the Afghan President have decided that the Strategic Partnership Council which has to meet at the ministerial level will have its first meeting soon. Somewhere this effort from India signifies that the other nations involved there need to do their duty as well.
2. Break from past strategies of India with Afghanistan:
To an extent it can be said that the current strategy is not a continuation of India’s previous policy with Afghanistan. When President Ashraf Ghani was elected, he had kind of put India Afghanistan relations on the sidelines and concentrated on building up relationships with Pakistan. He sent Afghan cadets to Pakistan’s Military Training Academy and went to Pakistan to meet Chief of Army Staff Mr. Raheel Sharif. He was perhaps doing so in the hope of turning a new chapter in the Pakistan Afghanistan relationship. But after 2 years, it seems he is quite disappointed and has reassessed his policy.
3. The Ghani Shift:
Providing military hardware is a part of India-Afghanistan Strategic Partnership Agreement and therefore, in a sense India is not doing anything beyond its role outside the parameters. It is important to see whether the Ghani shift towards India is tactical or strategic. There are groups in Afghanistan of the view that Pakistan is not going to change its hostility and therefore, there is a natural coincidence of interest between India and Afghanistan. US is also withdrawing from there which can be seen from the fact that 2014 election in Afghanistan was a highly contested one and the National Unity Government was put by Obama-Kerry team which is going out by the end of this year. This is what has further turned Afghan PM to turn towards India. There was pressure on Mr. Ghani from his own government to shift towards India.
4. Taliban’s Role:
India supplying weapons to the Afghan army has got nothing to do with Taliban. Taliban is a fringe element now in Afghanistan. It’s ideological and organizational links with groups like Al Qaeda are unbroken. The leadership changes in these groups are done by Pakistan army. The people in charge today are members of the Haqqani network. They are closely related with the Taliban leadership. India’s relation is with the Afghan government and its citizens. Afghanistan has changed in last 20 years. Taliban is not strong enough today to overwhelm this government in Kabul. Although it is ill equipped militarily, it is strong enough to keep away Taliban from its provincial capitals and Kabul. Even during the Taliban phase, India gave its support to the Rabbani government and recognized it as legitimate.
5. Pakistan’s worry:
Pakistan has always maintained that Indian influence in Afghanistan would be disadvantageous strategically for its own interests. The first interest that Pakistan has shown is a desire to control Kabul’s India policy which no Afghan government is willing to grant. If this is how Pakistan defines its strategic interest, it is irrational. Though Pakistan has its concerns and it says that it wants to bring peace and stability in Pakistan but in actual sense, it is doing just the reverse.
6. Analogy between India-Nepal versus Pakistan-Afghanistan:
Drawing this analogy is not correct because India and Nepal share an open border and give national treatment to Nepali people in terms of work and livelihood. Pakistan- Afghanistan relation is a very complex one. 2/3rd of the Pashtuns live in Pakistan and not in Afghanistan. This is the crux of the problem along Durand line. No Afghan leader is willing to recognize this line as the border. They see their natural frontiers in Attock and Indus River. Pakistan keeps on creating troubles for Afghanistan by sending insurgents to its neighborhood.
7. Access to Chabahar Port:
Access to Chabahar Port is strategically important for Afghanistan to provide an alternate sea route and will change its dependence on Pakistan. This was discussed way back in 2003 but because of sanctions on Iran and other developments, it became difficult. But now the situation has changed and this could be a game changer offering landlocked Afghanistan access to external markets while bypassing Pakistan.
Both India and Afghanistan are equally affected by Pakistan sponsored terrorism who are externally oriented. The aim of terrorists in Afghanistan is to make it unstable and to try to control the government. In India, terrorism is aimed to destabilize India and take the state of Jammu and Kashmir out of the Union and control it. The objectives and methods are both the same and so is the master manipulator of these activities in both the nations.
9. Role of US:
In the last 2 years, US policy in Afghanistan has been holding on to the dispensation that they created post the presidential elections, maintain the National Unity Government at all cost and holding on operations till the new administration comes in the US. Basically, the old engagement of United States is not going to come back but what the new administration might want to do is to make Afghanistan capable enough to fight its own war and stabilize itself. The army they have left there has good quality of training but this is an army which is fighting with personal infantry weapons bereft of any support systems like protected surface mobility, medical evacuation and they have no heavy weapons, tanks or artillery to fight. It has welcomed greater Indian military assistance to fill shortfalls.
Limitations and Precautions:
The fact that much of the proposed equipment originates from Russia like Mi-25 need not be a stumbling block to the agreement. India has to ensure that it builds institutional linkages with Afghanistan and does not have Indian troops on its grounds engaging in combat while strengthening the institution of the Afghan army. India has to be cautious that it does not give any significant political actor the feeling that it is being neglected or its interest is being harmed.