The Afghanistan-India relation is unique and dynamic prefacing shared vision of economic, social and cultural periphery.
- The relations between the people of Afghanistan and India traces to the Indus Valley Civilisation.
- Following Alexander the Great’s brief occupation, the successor state of the Seleucid Empire controlled the region known today as Afghanistan.
- The Mauryans brought Buddhism from India and controlled the area south of the Hindu Kush; much of Afghanistan has been influenced by Buddhist, Hindu and Zoroastrian cultures until the arrival of Islam in the 7th century. But despite many Afghans converting to Islam, the Muslims and Hindus lived side by side.
- In the timeless Buddhist symbols of Aynak and Bamyan of Afghanistan and in the majestic monuments of Delhi, in Indian cultures, arts, languages, literatures, foods and festivals, both nations see the imprint of bilateral timeless relations.
- 2 Anglo-afghan wars 1839-1842 & in 1870-1880 fought between British India and Afghanistan.
- Boundary line known as Durand Line was drawn between Afghan and British territories, But the Durand Agreement (1893) failed to keep peace and soon there were tribal uprisings which continued till 1898.
- Curzon, the viceroy between 1899 and 1905, followed a policy of withdrawal and concentration. British troops withdrew from advanced posts which were replaced by tribal troops, trained and commanded by British officers.
- Treaty of Gandamak – Amir conduct his foreign policy with the advice of Government of India; a permanent British resident be stationed at Kabul.
Freedom movement and further:
- Afghans support Indians during freedom struggle; the contribution of Khan Abdul Gaffar Khan, revered as Frontier Gandhi;
- The first Indian Government-in-Exile was formed in Kabul by Maharaja Mahendra Pratap and Maulana Barkatullah.
- In 1949, India concluded the Treaty of Friendship with India which opened up diplomatic relations.
- During 1950s and ’60s, India developed its diplomatic proximity with Afghanistan.
- India was among the first non-Communist states to recognize the government installed by the Soviet Union after its 1979* invasion of Afghanistan.
- New Delhi supported successive governments in Kabul until the rise of the Taliban in the 1990s.
- But like most countries, India never recognized the Taliban’s assumption of power in 1996 (only Saudi Arabia, Pakistan, and the United Arab Emirates recognized the Taliban regime).
- Following the 9/11 attacks and the U.S.-led war in Afghanistan that resulted, ties between India and Afghanistan grew strong once again.
- India has restored full diplomatic relations, and has provided hundreds of millions of dollars in aid for Afghanistan’s reconstruction and development.
- Traditionally, India as been in favour of democratically elected government in Afghanistan and has promoted its cause. India had argued that the Taliban are not elected and have no locus standi, as they do not represent the will of Afghan people.
- That’s why India has called for “Afghan-led, Afghan-owned, and Afghan-controlled” process, with participation of the Afghanistan government.
- India continued to build Afghan capacity for governance, security and development; also India has helped rural communities get schools, minor irrigation, health centres, and welfare for children and opportunities for women.
- Afghanistan enjoys a strategic location in South Asia and is particularly relevant to India as a geographical neighbour.
- The country has the Central Asian Republics to the North, Pakistan to its East, and through Iran and Pakistan the Indian Ocean deeper south.
- India’s first and most important interest in Afghanistan is to ensure that Pakistan does not gain an edge within governing structures of Afghanistan. India feels that if Pakistan succeeds in installing Taliban or a Taliban-sponsored regime in Afghanistan, it will be detrimental to the cause of the regional security of India.
- For Indian trade with the Central Asian Republics, the flow could be through the sea lanes of communications of Indian Ocean to Gwadar port, and thereafter by land astride the Delaram highway that India has built-in Afghanistan, to destinations in CAR states.
- A stable Afghanistan bordering India is crucial for regional and domestic security and stability in the South Asia and within India. Hardliners in Afghanistan have often been used by Pakistan to export terrorism in Kashmir.
- A favourable Afghanistan is a sine-qua-non for accessing Central Asia and Eurasia by India through the Chabahar, which bypasses Pakistan.
- Central Asia has large deposits of oil and natural gas. Afghanistan is an energy bridge and thus key to achieving India’s strategic objectives.
- Huge deposits of energy raw materials and high-value mineral deposits. A substantial concentration of such resources is along Afghanistan’s borders with Tajikistan, Uzbekistan, Iran, and Turkmenistan. Further, most Afghan resources remain untapped.
- Afghanistan is of vital importance as a tool of counterbalance to Pakistan and China.
- Afghanistan also denies strategic depth to Pakistan. The Pakistan-Afghanistan border remaining active denies Pakistan the opportunity of positioning additional military capabilities along its borders with India.
So far the Indian involvement in Afghanistan has been centered on the needs of the people of Afghanistan. These have been in consultation with Afghanistan’s elected government.
- Indians have constructed major projects like the Parliament Building in Kabul, the Zaranj Delaram highway project connecting western Afghanistan with the strategic Chabahar port in Iran and the Salma Dam Project (Afghan-India Friendship Dam) which includes a power transmission line.
- Indian engineers are helping to construct the Shahtoot dam near Kabul
- India has also signed a trilateral preferential trade agreement with Afghanistan and Iran.
Military and administrative cooperation
- India is engaged in strengthening Afghan public institutions
- Technical advisers, training for Afghan public servants, policemen and soldiers.
- Supplying military hardware like military vehicles for the Afghan National Army and Mi-25 and Mi-35 choppers for the air force.
- India has provided multiple scholarships to Afghan students
- Providing vocational training and skill development classes to Afghan women and youth.
- Afghanistan was among the first countries to receive anti Covid-19 vaccination from India.
- India’s liberal visa policy has made it easier for Afghan patients to travel to India which has further enhanced people-to-people interaction between the two countries.
People to people contact
- Indian cinema has a large market in Afghanistan.
- India’s involvement and contribution to the development of cricket in Afghanistan has been one of its primary means of soft power influence in the nation.
President Joe Biden’s decision to withdraw all its troops from Afghanistan by September 11, 2021, after two decades of military presence in the region was met with uncertainty and questions about the fate of Afghanistan as the country and the continued presence of Taliban and an American military pull out in the region at this juncture will lead to closing of all the gains the country made in the last 15 years
Brief background of Afghan war
- The Republic of Afghanistan was created in 1973 after ending monarchy, in a non-violent coup.
- In 1978, a military coup, instigated by the communist People’s Democratic Party of Afghanistan, led to the emergence the Soviet-allied Democratic Republic of Afghanistan.
- In 1979, the Soviet army intervened in Afghanistan to support its communist government. It along with the Afghan Army fought against rebel factions known as the “Afghan mujahideen”, backed by the United States and Pakistan.
- In 1989, Soviet troops withdrew but the civil war continued. In the chaos that followed, the Taliban (which means “students” in the Pashto language) sprang up.
- The Taliban, a Sunni Islamic fundamentalist political movement and military organization ruled Afghanistan after 1996 as a totalitarian regime till 2001.
Subsequent to September 11, 2001 attacks in USA, NATO interfered in the affairs of Afghanistan under “Operation Enduring Freedom”
The purpose of NATO intervention is to
- Defeat Al-Qaeda
- Remove Taliban from power
- To create viable democratic state.
NATO stayed in Afghanistan for 13 years (2001-2014) and most of the forces left in December 2014.
The conflict in Afghanistan is the longest in US history, it killed tens of thousands of Afghan civilians and more than 2,400 American troops.
Despite the US-led war on terror, Taliban survived because of the support and strategic depth that they have received in neighbouring Pakistan.
- India’s strategic, economic and security related interests depend on how the current Afghan government keeps the Taliban at bay after the Biden administration pulls its military presence from the region.
- Any political instability in the region will affect the countries. Pakistan has been supportive of Taliban in the past and now, Pakistan can again scale up its support to Taliban
- As the US military presence kept a check on the radically extremist forces and created the possibility of a conducive environment for India to work with Afghanistan.
- Threat of terrorism – The withdrawal can lead to a surge in international and regional terrorism, re-emergence of Taliban’s influence on Pakistan and the political instability it will create in the region.
- The extremist elements in Kashmir and other parts of India through India-focused militant groups such as Laskhar- e-Toiba and Jaish-e-Mohammed will increase.
- Conditions for women and minorities-.Previously, the Taliban has banned girls from schools and women from public life. India belief in human rights and democratic value will come under question.
- Strategic challenges- with more powerful Taliban India may cutoff with central Asia and its resource
- Developmental challenges- various indian projects are are under construction in Afghanistan, what will be the future of such project in Taliban era.
MEASURES THAT CAN BE TAKEN
- India must adopta balanced diplomacy without favoring any particular section by sacrificing its own interests.
- India’s emphasis on good relations with all the regional actors without a reference to their conflicts has been vindicated by the turn of events.
- Barring Turkey, which turned hostile to India under Erdogan, India has managed to expand its ties with most regional actors.
- India must ensure that it remains in the loop of consultations or otherwise arrange for alternative means to safeguarditscommercialandsecurityconcernsintheaftermathofthewithdrawalofcoalitionforces.Leaving the past behind, India may also unilaterally open dialogue with the Taliban to protect its interests.
- India should harness the strategic depth and goodwill of Afghan citizens to become a prominent player in the Afghan process in future.
- Gwadar port development needs to gather speed. We could tap the Afghan market for Indian origin defence equipment, and extend our marketing to the CAR countries.
- Taliban is not exactly a monolith; it has multiple Pashtun tribes and factions. Many groups within Taliban have been wary of Pakistan and make common cause with Pakistani Pashtun in opposing Pakistan’s oppressive policies.
- Afghan peace deal would see Pakistan lose its leverage with US, which India can capitalize to realign geopolitical interests.
- India and Afghanistan Air Corridor—The air corridor will be a big enabler to the bilateral trade and will send a strong message to Pakistan that despite its obstructionist behaviour, India will continue to engage with Afghanistan.
- If India has been pragmatic, Pakistan has struggled to recalibrate its policies towards the Middle East.
- Learning to live with neighbors has then become an urgent priority.