INDIA STRATEGIC INTEREST IN AFGHANISTAN
Since the early 19th century, Afghanistan has been at “centre” of power politics in Central Asia. It’s vital “strategic geography” has retained its importance at the global level. Geographically, Afghanistan is “landlocked”. The Afghan border touches Central Asia through the province of Xining in China, whereas on the West, it borders with Iran and shares borders with immediate neighbour Pakistan in the South West.
Afghanistan holds a significant “geo-strategic” importance in the South Asian politics, which has been a “principle” factor in shaping a diverse history, political economy, ethnicity and regional politics.
The “segment of the economy” has never played a vital role in regional politics; although, credit goes to its vital strategic topography that retains its vital importance in South Asian politics.
New Delhi’s partnership with Kabul is “pragmatic”. In the last decade, New Delhi overshadowed its “strategic” interest by implementing “peacebuilding and rehabilitation, infrastructure development” in the region. India extensively demonstrated its “soft power foreign policy approach” in Afghanistan.
Over a decade of “partnership”, New Delhi has established a “multi-dimensional” approach on Afghanistan, implementing an “extensive peacebuilding-focussed development approach” to become the biggest “stakeholder” in Afghanistan, and fifth biggest partner in “institutional development and infrastructure” – while opening “bilateral” economic partnership, strengthening people-to-people connections and providing opportunities to entrepreneurs on both sides. India continues to identify new opportunities in an effort to further “strengthen and reinforce” its commitments towards a “stable and prosper” Afghanistan. Not limiting to economic partnership, India’s Afghan policy comprises of numerous strategic initiatives, making it an “appropriate” subject of “assessment” during the discussion of Afghanistan’s future prospects.
Where does India’s interest lay?
As stated in the aforementioned arguments, Afghanistan geographical position puts it at the centre of Middle East, Central Asia and South West Asia. It is evident from its history, Afghanistan was never acknowledged as a country rather than a “buffer state in a foreign policy”, isolated and separated by many global powers including the then Prussia, British East India and erstwhile USSR.
Today, Afghanistan plays the role of a “bridge”, connecting the West with the East. At the helm of major security challenges (radical Islamic fundamentalism to drug trafficking, women smuggling and trafficking of illicit weapons) affecting the borders of regional and extended neighbours. Moreover, Afghanistan’s immediate and extended neighbours such as Iran, Pakistan, Russia, Uzbekistan, China, continue to interfere in the former’s domestic policy and regional affairs.
For India, Afghanistan was not an option but a choice, particularly because of the former’s deteriorating China on the one hand and constant threat of Pakistani hostility on the relations with China and frequent border skirmishes with Pakistan, Afghanistan became precedence in India’s foreign policy, initiating series of massive developments within India’s Afghan policy. Thus, a politically stable and socio-economic vibrant Afghanistan is a priority for New Delhi, not only as a responsible regional power but also a neighbour extended or not.
In the light of changing global political dynamics, key factors that highlight India’s strategic partnership with Afghanistan are mentioned below:
It is a widely accepted fact that, India’s approach to Afghanistan was largely linked to its foreign policy on Pakistan. It is vital for India to prevent Pakistan’s “interference in all forms” in Afghanistan and counter Islamabad’s motives to establish a stronghold or influence Kabul through any means. Also, historically, it is evident that India has played all counter moves to prevent Pakistan’s occupation of Afghanistan. New Delhi would take all necessary steps to minimise Islamabad’s influence in Afghanistan’s regional affairs while ensuring that Taliban or any segment linking to the former do not rise again. Islamabad, on the other hand, uses all available means to outmanoeuvre India’s “partnership” with Afghanistan. Friendly relations between India and Afghanistan is conceived as a “security threat” perception by Pakistan as the latter is geographically flanked by the former states. For Islamabad, Kabul is a natural ally, much needed to release the pressure induced through regular borders skirmishes on the Indian side, a potential strategic dilemma particularly with a nation ten times its size on the west and an irritant country which continues to express control over Pashtun territories within the Pakistani side of Durand Line. Highlighting its Pashtun cultural connection, Islamabad considers it an “edge”. In an effort to undermine India, Pakistan induces rigorous methods, policies to influence Kabul. It is no less than the case of “traditional security-dilemma” especially with respect to India and Pakistan’s Afghan policy. Any aggression induced by Pakistan and a violent response from Inia could potentially jeopardise regional stability and security in the country, resulting from a “possible” deterioration which could pave the way for Taliban to re-appear.
Keeping an “eye” on Beijing
India, within its capacity of an emerging economy, continues to provide significant proportions of aid to Afghanistan. However, the reasons behind the aid do highlight political signature. All major actors in the region, traditionally hegemons play a “signature move” to showcase there “presence/dominance” in the region; India is playing the card in Afghanistan. India and China are in the race to become the regional hegemon. China is also an emerging economy; India’s rigorous development initiatives in Afghanistan will keep China at bay. However, Beijing has an “eye” for natural resources which remains “unharnessed” in the region. New Delhi has initiated numerous infrastructure development projects in Afghanistan, in effort to keep a “vigil” on Chinese activities. After Washington’s deployment of troops under Operation Enduring Freedom (OEF) and its subsequent end in 2014, New Delhi continues to enhance its foreign policy initiatives in an effort to establish its “hegemony” in the region.
Combatting radical Islamic fundamentalism
Another important “aspect” in New Delhi’s strategic partnership in Afghanistan is, “countering radical Islamic particularly Wahhabi militancy” in the region. This initiative is coupled by New Delhi’s immediate concern of rising “Islamic religion-centred” violence in Pakistan and Afghanistan. A rapid increase in Islamic radical Wahhabi militancy poses a direct threat to India’s domestic and external security, which also points to an increase “border incursion” of Lashkar and Hizbul militants in Kashmir. It is “absolutely imperative” for both Kabul and New Delhi to prevent Afghanistan in becoming a “hideout for radical Islamic militancy”. For Islamabad, a radical and Islamic militant centred Afghanistan is vital, particularly when the latter is increasingly “losing ground” in Kashmir. India’s aggressive “military response” in Kashmir has severed “traditional communication routes and severely compromised” militants to operate in the region. The militants, who continue to inspire from the “tales of Mujahid fighters repelling Soviet forces” while receiving “technical means and materials” from Islamabad sponsored violent non-state actors, continue to receive major “crackdown” from Indian forces lately. During the fight against Soviet forces, significant percentage of Kashmiri youths volunteered to confront the Soviet invasion. They then returned “trained in sophisticated weaponry” and “armed with the version of Islam which declared all non-Muslims “infidels” along with “hands on experience” in Guerrilla warfare techniques. New Delhi’s “assessment” of rapid call for “Jihad against the Soviet forces” was correct particularly when military and intelligence officers predicted the “changing global dynamics with respect to rise of fundamentalism in Afghanistan” which undoubtedly played a “vital” role in shifting the traditional concept of international relations “coupled with religion” which drastically altered the future of South Asia and the Middle East.
“Power” player in regional politics
A principle reason behind India’s “aggressive” development assistance program in Afghanistan is to “establish” itself as a “prominent actor” in regional politics, in accordance with an “emerging economy and strong modern military”. New Delhi is “taking all measures” to establish an image of a regional power which is not only a responsible neighbour but cares deeply for its “regional allies”. By “stepping up as a major assistance provider in Afghanistan”, New Delhi continues to take “vital” initiatives in showcasing the world that “in the hour of need, India can stand up and assist all neighbouring economies” in the region. However, experts interpret India’s “aggressive assistance initiatives in Afghanistan” as a mean to “replace US in the region” if Washington calls all “available resources” back. However, the aforementioned argument made by various experts “remains inconclusive” especially when New Delhi supported America’s “War on terror” which continues to remain a “vital element” in “security centred procedures” implemented by Washington. However, New Delhi’s interest will be well served if Washington’s “security and stability” led approaches in Afghanistan bear “positive” outcomes, New Delhi will be forced to make difficult choices particularly in the light of a new “irrational and unpredictable” President at the Oval Office. However, President Trump on numerous accounts expressed “deploying more troops in Afghanistan”, however, if the White House recalls its decision, India will be forced face a “security threat” which could not only challenge its national security but would force New Delhi to formulate and strengthen its counter-terrorism policies with Afghanistan
Anant Mishra : Anant Mishra is a security analyst with expertise in counter-insurgency and counter-terror operations. His policy analysis has featured in national and international journals and conferences on security affairs.