RSTV: THE BIG PICTURE- INDIA’S ROLE IN AFGHANISTAN
Developmental assistance can play a major role in transforming Afghanistan, official sources said, rejecting US President Donald Trump’s jibe at Prime Minister Narendra Modi over funding of a “library” in the war-ravaged country. Trump took a jibe at PM Modi for funding a “library” in Afghanistan, saying it is of no use in the war-torn country as he criticised India and others for not doing enough for the nation’s security. Trump asked India, Russia, Pakistan and other neighbouring countries to take responsibility for Afghanistan’s security as he defended his push for the US to invest less overseas. India may be building small libraries as part of the community development initiative, but most of its investments in Afghanistan were on mega infrastructure projects including the 218 km road from Zaranj to Delaram, the Salma Dam and the new Afghan Parliament building. India has also been supplying military equipment to Afghanistan besides providing training to hundreds of Afghan security personnel.
- India and Afghanistan have a strong relationship based on historical and cultural links.
- In the recent years, the pace of Indo-Afghan bilateral cooperation in the political, security, development, and cultural areas has continued to accelerate, on the basis of the Afghanistan-India strategic partnership agreement (SPA).
Why Afghanistan is important for India?
- Afghanistan serves India’s security and economic interests.
- Afghanistan is tied to India’s vision of being a regional leader and a great power, coupled with its competition with China over resources and its need to counter Pakistani influence.
- India’s ability to mentor a nascent democracy will go a long way to demonstrate to the world that India is indeed a major power, especially a responsible one.
- The pipeline project TAPI (Turkmenistan-Afghanistan-Pakistan-India), which seeks to connect an energy-rich Central to South Asia, will only see the light of the day if stability is established in Afghanistan.
- India’s interest in Afghanistan relates to its need to reduce Pakistani influence in the region.
- New Delhi needs Kabul to get a better view of Islamabad and hence it is pertinent that it fosters positive relations.
- For access to the landlocked Central Asian countries that border Afghanistan.
- The country is home to resource deposits worth one trillion dollars, according to the US Geological Survey.
Pakistan card in Afghanistan:
- For Pakistan, Afghanistan is a zero-sum game with India.
- Ghani’s misguided attempt to forge a workable relationship with Pakistan cost India and Afghanistan a “lost year” that could have otherwise seen real strategic progress.
- India should contain and balance Pakistan’s influence, which may otherwise hamper Indian interests.
- Afghanistan has been the battleground for an India-Pakistan proxy war since 2001.
- Ghani is turning to India because his relationship with Pakistan is breaking down.
- It is breaking down because Pakistan has neither reined in the insurgency nor compelled the Taliban to negotiate.
India’s growing arms footprint in Afghanistan:
- India’s growing arms footprint in Afghanistan points to an important future aspect of its regional power projection.
- Arms generate revenue but can also transform the balance of power, and as India has discovered to its cost, provide leverage during crises and wars.
- India had gifted four MI-25 attack helicopters to Afghanistan.
- Pakistan has raised “concerns” about India’s security assistance to Afghanistan
- Positive impact
- a) Increasing Capacity of Afghan forces resulting in better combat of militants.
- b) Further strengthening of bilateral relations. It will be helpful in aligning Afghanistan towards India, away from Pakistan.
- c) Thrust to manufacturing of defence equipment to India.
- d) Status of regional power requires active involvement in efforts to maintain peace and stability. India also need to make its presence and influence felt in the peace talks
- e) Afghanistan’s stability is essential for India as it provides a gateway to central Asia
- f) A number of India backed project are running there. And Stability can be brought only when Afghan Army is equipped with modern weapons
- g) Both India and Afghanistan are suffering from cross border terrorism. Military assistance to Afghanistan will help it eliminating the cross border terrorism, which will in turn be beneficial for regional peace and stability.
- Negative impact
- a) Leadership crisis is a fundamental problem in Afghanistan which arms cannot compensate for.
- b) Conflict with Taliban and other state actors may increase.
- c) India should first attain self-sufficiency before exporting the weapons to other nations.
India’s policy towards peaceful Afghanistan :-
- India’s development assistance has been the source of its considerable influence and goodwill among Afghan citizens.
- Major projects, such as the Salma Dam and Parliament building in Kabul, that began in 2008-09, have now been completed.
- Last year India and Afghanistan agreed to initiate an ambitious and forward-looking ‘New Development Partnership’, according to which India agreed to take up 116 high-impact community development projects to be implemented in 31 provinces of Afghanistan, including in the fields of education, health, agriculture, irrigation, drinking water, renewable energy, flood control, micro-hydropower, sports infrastructure and administrative infrastructure.
- India has been giving a lot of non-lethal military assistance. In 2016 four MI 25 attack helicopters were given to Afghanistan.
- India is the biggest regional donor to Afghanistan and fifth largest donor globally with over $3 billion in assistance.
- India has built over 200 public and private schools, sponsors scholarships and hosts Afghan students.
- India has shied away from involving itself in full scale war in Afghanistan.
India needs to reassess the policy due to the complexity in the situation of Afghanistan due to the following reasons:
- Continuous attacks :-
- Recently there has been a spike in violence, with the Taliban carrying out a set of coordinated assaults around Afghanistan, rejecting an offer of a three-month ceasefire by President of Afghanistan and laying siege to Ghazni city.
- The violence this year has also put 2018 on course to be the deadliest year for Afghan civilians, with an average of nine people killed every day, according to UN data.
- Pakistan factor :-
- The major challenge is the cooperation of regional players. Peace in Afghanistan and the wider region can only be achieved through a multilateral mechanism involving the US as well as major regional players, including Pakistan, Russia, Iran, China, India and Saudi Arabia.
- Despite six months of concerted American punitive actions on Islamabad, the Pakistan establishment is not shutting down support for Taliban fighters.
- The role of Pakistan is going to expand significantly, with the US depending upon it to implement the interim deal. This will be a diplomatic victory for Pakistan.
- US role:-
- A period of adjustment has become essential following US President unilateral announcement that US is pulling its troops out of the conflict-ridden country.
- Another development is the “framework” deal between the US and Afghan Taliban after six days of discussions at Doha.
- The Afghan war has already become the longest war in US history. With the passage of time, the conflict has not only become more intense – it has also become more complicated
- Iran factor :-
- US administration’s collision course with Iran is another hurdle to realising its South Asia policy. Iran is a neighbour to both Afghanistan and Pakistan, and any action against Tehran will have consequences on the region.
- US is also against Iran which is important to give access to the sea to landlocked Afghanistan through Chabahar port- which is in India’s interests etc.
- Islamic state:-
- After losing occupied territories in and around Mosul, IS is now slowly enlarging its presence in neighbouring countries, particularly Afghanistan. It is now targeting mainly the Shias and the Hazara minority, joining forces with the Taliban thereby changing the dynamics of the war in Afghanistan.
- Russia proposed an international conference on Afghanistan with the participation of all neighbours of Afghanistan including Iran, Pakistan, and India, but the US did not attend citing possible growing Russian military association with the Taliban.
- Control of Afghan government:-
- The Afghan government controls barely half the country, with one-sixth under Taliban control and the rest contested.
- Most significant is the ongoing depletion in the Afghan security forces because of casualties, desertions and a growing reluctance to join
- Afghanistan launched the Kabul Process for Peace and Security Cooperation and also made an unconditional dialogue offer to the Taliban. The Taliban rejected his overture, declaring that they were ready to engage in direct talks only with the Americans.
- Many believe that with Taliban gaining ground, India must be much more careful and choose smaller projects with care.
- The quantum of assistance should not go down, but projects must be selected with the ground situation in mind.
- India’s growing friendship with Afghanistan has always been a major worry for Pakistan.
- Besides the embassy in Kabul, India had consulates in Kandhar, Herat, Jalalabad and Mazr-e-Sharif irked Pakistan.
Need of the Hour:
- It is imperative for Indian to assist Afghanistan in building sound political structures, a strong military and economy, along with human resources.
- India’s push for Afghanistan to be included in the South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation (SAARC), in 2005, was a smart move.
- India needs to enhance its current assistance to Afghanistan given the growing security challenges and economic difficulties.
- In response to Kabul’s military and economic demands India needs to take a tough decision – to address the burgeoning threat in Afghanistan while keeping in mind its own strategic interests
Echoing the Afghan stand, India has been asserting that the peace process must be “Afghan-led, Afghan-owned and Afghan-controlled.”
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