Afghanistan – a ‘Graveyard of empires’

Afghanistan is considered as ‘Graveyard of empires’. The fall of Alexander (in Bactria), disintegration of USSR, and the decline of US hegemony all seemed to have started in this region. There is an ever-growing perception that it is difficult to come out of Afghan quagmire.

Afghanistan is also a center of ‘great games’.

  • In Medieval times it was between Persian and Mughal Empire.
  • During colonial times it was between Russia and Britain.
  • During the Cold War it was between USA and USSR
  • Recently it has turned into an arena between India and Pakistan dominance


History of India-Afghan relations

  • Relations between the people of Afghanistan and India can be traced back to the Indus Valley Civilization.
  • Following Alexander the Great’s brief occupation, the successor state of the Seleucid Empire controlled the region known today as Afghanistan.
  • In 305 BCE, they ceded much of it to the Indian Maurya Empire as part of an alliance treaty. The Mauryans brought Buddhism from India and controlled the area south of the Hindu Kush.
  • From the 10th century to the mid-18th century, northern India has been invaded by a number of invaders based in what today is Afghanistan. Some of them were Ghaznavids, Khaljis, Mughals, Durranis etc.
  • Khan Abdul Ghaffar Khan of Afghan was a prominent leader of the Indian independence movement and active supporter of the Indian National Congress.


Cultural ties

  • India and Afghanistan share centuries-old rich heritage with deep-rooted linkages in the field of arts, culture, architecture, cuisine and language.
  • In the field of music, most Afghan musicians were trained in the Patiala Gharana.
  • Today, Indian films, songs and TV serials are popular with the masses
  • As part of India s restructuring programme for Afghanistan, India has regularly aimed to take up projects there that will render Afghanistan’s cultural heritage sustainable.


People to people ties

There has been a strong people to people linkage between India and Afghanistan shaped by history, culture and mutual trust.

  • Presently, as per estimation, there are about 2500 Indians reside in Afghanistan.
  • Most of the Indian Diaspora are engaged as professionals in Banks, IT firms, Construction companies, Hospitals, NGOs, Telecom companies, Security companies, Universities etc.
  • In Afghanistan, Indian medicines and health care system are perceived to be highly trustworthy. Thus, India is the most favored destination for most Afghan tourists, especially for medical tourism.
  • India has maintained an Afghan centric liberalized tourist visa and medical visa regime.
  • There are numerous Afghan students, as many as 16000, pursuing education in Indian Universities.
  • Indian offers many scholarships to Afghan students including Indian Council for Cultural Relations (ICCR) scholarships, scholarships for the children of the martyrs of Afghan Security Forces etc.




Modern Afghan History

  • Monarchy under King Zahir Shah lasted till 1973 and was overthrown by a coup led by Mohammed Daoud Khan.
  • His repressive rule lead to Communist Revolution or Saur Revolution in 1978 which resulted in the formation of the Democratic Republic of Afghanistan. The Democratic Republic of Afghanistan, renamed in 1987 to the Republic of Afghanistan, commonly known as Afghanistan, existed from 1978 to 1992, during which time the socialist People’s Democratic Party of Afghanistan (PDPA) ruled Afghanistan.
  • India was the only South Asian nation to recognize the Soviet-backed Democratic Republic of Afghanistan and the Soviet Union’s military presence in Afghan territories.
  • Meanwhile, US-Pakistan interest coincided in Afghanistan. After the Iranian revolution, Iran came out of US influence in the Middle Eastern region. So the US was apprehensive of growing Soviet influence in Afghanistan. Thus CIA-ISI worked together to destabilize the communist government in Afghan, which led to USSR intervention in 1979. The intervention lasted from 1979 to 1989.
  • Mujahadeen succeeded in toppling communist regime in Afghan in 1989. Mujahadeen was Pakistani supported alliance by seven Afghan Mujahideen parties fighting against the Soviet-backed the Democratic Republic of Afghan forces in Soviet-Afghan war.
  • Even though the Mujahadeen government came into power by the backing of US-Pakistan, the government comprised of different warlords. This lead to the power struggle between them and there was a law & order crisis.
  • After fall of Mujahadeen government, India together with the international community supported the coalition government that took control, but relations and contacts ended with the outbreak of another civil war, which brought to power the Taliban.
  • The Taliban regime was recognized only by Pakistan, Saudi Arabia, and the United Arab Emirates (UAE). The destruction of the Bamiyan Buddha monuments by the Taliban led to outrage and angry protests by India. In 1999, the hijacked Indian Airlines Flight 814 landed and stayed in Kandahar in Afghanistan and the Taliban were suspected of supporting them. India became one of the key supporters of the anti-Taliban Northern Alliance.
  • India tried to repair the relations since the 1990s. But the emergence of the Taliban with Pakistan’s support limited India’s options. India continued to support anti-Taliban forces in Afghanistan.
  • Meanwhile, post-cold war scenario changed the regional dynamics and US war on terror in 2001 lead to the defeat of the Taliban.
  • US war in Afghan was started in 2001. The war’s public aims were to dismantle al-Qaeda and to deny it a safe base of operations in Afghanistan by removing the Taliban from power




Indian engagement in Afghan post-Independence

  • India has sought to establish its presence in Afghanistan from the early days of its independence in 1947.
  • Afghanistan and India signed a “Friendship Treaty” in 1950 and had robust ties with Afghan King Zahir Shah’s regime.
  • Between 1979 and 1989, India expanded its development activities in Afghanistan, focusing upon industrial, irrigation, and hydroelectric projects.
  • After the Taliban consolidated their hold on Afghanistan in the mid-1990s, India struggled to maintain its presence and to support anti-Taliban forces. Working with Iran, Russia, and Tajikistan, India provided important resources to the Northern Alliance, the only meaningful challenge to the Taliban in Afghanistan.
  • Since 2001, India has relied upon development projects and other forms of humanitarian assistance.
  • The US demanded extradition of Osama-bin-Laden from Taliban post 9/11. Taliban didn’t comply and the US launched the war on Afghan under the war on terror. Northern Alliance, which was fighting the Taliban since the 1990s, offered assistance to the US in this endeavour. Thus all the powers, including India, Russia, the US fought against the Taliban. Taliban was ousted and went underground in Pakistan.
  • Post the Taliban era, engagement by India with Afghanistan focused on to ensure a strong commitment for building peace and stability in Afghanistan.
  • India’s strategy in Afghanistan is guided by the desire to prevent a government that would readily provide Pakistan with strategic depth and a safe haven for terror groups.
  • India has opted to pursue a ‘soft power’ strategy to engage Afghanistan, preferring to contribute substantially in the civilian sector rather than in defence and security.
  • India is particularly active in the construction, infrastructure, human capital building and mining sectors. Besides, it has also identified the telecommunications, health, pharmaceuticals, and information Technology as important sectors for bilateral engagement.


India-Afghanistan Relations – Strategic, Economic, and Security Interests

India is interested in retaining Afghanistan as a friendly because it 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 Afghan interest is also central to its aspiration to be and to be seen as a regional power. 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.
  • Islamic fundamentalism in Pakistan and Afghan has deleterious effects in the domestic social fabric of India, as Hindu fundamentalism in India is triggered by these external developments
  • In 2011 India became the first country Afghanistan signed a strategic partnership agreement. This agreement shapes India s overall engagement with Afghanistan. It envisages close political cooperation with a mechanism for regular consultations. It seeks to launch joint initiatives on regional and international issues and to cooperate at the United Nations and other multinational fora.
  • India was the only South Asian country to recognize the Soviet-backed Democratic Republic of Afghanistan in the 1980s. Later, India aided the overthrow of the Taliban.

Now, there exists a high-level political engagement with Afghanistan, which is reflected in the large number of bilateral high-level visits from both sides.

In 2005, India proposed Afghanistan’s membership in the South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation (SAARC).

In 2015, when Afghanistan was going through a transition on the political, economic and security fronts, the government of India was quick to reassure Afghanistan of India s long-term support towards its reconstruction and rehabilitation

In 2016, Afghanistan supported India’s boycott of the SAARC summit hosted by Pakistan. This was a major diplomatic victory for India.


India-Afghanistan: Economic interests

  • Afghanistan has a mineral wealth of about $1-3 trillion of Iron ore, Lithium, Chromium, Natural Gas, Petroleum etc.Safeguarding Indian investments and personnel in Afghan is utmost important to India as Indian investment in Afghan amounts to about $3bn.
  • Afghanistan is gateway to energy rich central Asia & situated at crossroads between South Asia & Middle East
  • India wants to improve transport connectivity and economic collaboration with countries in Central and South Asia through Afghan.There is a land route through Wagah Atari route. But Pakistan doesn’t allow India-Afghan trade through this route.
  • India and Iran inked a transit agreement on transporting goods to landlocked Afghanistan. Indian investment in Chabahar port in southeastern Iran will serve as a hub for the transportation of transit goods.
  • India-Afghan established two air corridors to facilitate bilateral trade.
  • India helped Afghans in the reconstruction of Salma Dam in the Herat province. India has also constructed a new Parliament complex for the Afghan government.
  • India ratified UN TIR (Transports InternationauxRoutiers or international road transport) Convention in 2017. TIR facilitates trade and international road transport by permitting customs sealed vehicles and containers to transmit nations without inspected at borders.Afghan Pakistan are contracting parties of TIR.TIR may boost trade between India-Afghan through Pakistan.
  • The bilateral trade at for the year 2016-17 was over USD 800 million and has immense potential to be expanded further.
  • Many prominent Indian companies are doing businesses in Afghanistan such as Gammon India, Spice Jet, Phoenix, APTECH etc.
  • India is the one of the largest market in the region for Afghan products
  • The inauguration of the Dedicated Air Cargo Corridor in June 2017 between Kabul-Delhi and Kandahar-Delhi has provided a fresh impetus to bilateral trade.
  • The massive reconstruction plans for the country offer a lot of opportunities for Indian companies.
  • It has also signed the TAPI pipeline project that aims to bring natural gas from Turkmenistan through Afghanistan and Pakistan to India


India-Afghanistan: Security interests

India faced many security challenges from the Taliban in Afghan during the 1990s.

  • Pakistan has raised and supported several militant groups such as Lashkar-e-Taiba, Harkat-ul-Mujahideen/Harkat-ul-Ansar, and Harkat-ul-Jihad-al-Islami among others, which operate in India.All of these groups have trained in Afghanistan, with varying proximity to the Taliban and by extension al-Qaeda.
  • Radical ideologies and terrorism spreading in this region are a security threat for India.Pakistan can incubate and move around various anti-India groups in Afghan especially in LoyaPaktia.
  • The golden crescent comprising of Iran, Afghan, and Pakistan is a worry for India, especially with respect to the issue of drug abuse in Punjab.
  • Islamic State is using Afghan as an outpost in Asia as it comes under stress in Iraq and Syria.
  • Stable government in Kabul is essential to reduce terror activities across south Asia & in J & K
  • In 1999, the hijacked Indian Airlines Flight 814 landed and stayed in Kandahar in Afghanistan and the Taliban was suspected of supporting the hijackers. After the hijack India became key supporter of Anti-Taliban Northern Alliance
  • At present, both nations have developed strategic and military cooperation against Islamic militants.
  • Security cooperation between the two countries is intended to enhance their mutual efforts in the fight against terrorism, organised crime, narcotics trafficking, money laundering and Haqqini Network(hawala)
  • India agreed to help in the equipping and capacity building programmes for Afghan National Security Forces

Recently India donated three Mi-25 attack helicopters to Afghanistan as part of the bilateral strategic partnership to counter the Taliban




India s role in reconstruction and rehabilitation of Afghanistan

India has played an important role in reconstruction and rehabilitation of Afghanistan, making significant investments in technical cooperation and capacity building in the country. India’s support and collaboration extends to the rebuilding of air links, power plants and investing in health and education sectors as well as helping to train Afghan civil servants and security forces.

  • India helped build Delaram-Zaranj highway connecting the Delaram district in Afghanistan to the border of Iran. It will provide Afghanistan with another outlet to a seaport in Chabahar in Iran and also facilitate its bilateral trade with India.



  • India has also agreed to build the 600-km-long Bamiyan – Herat rail link which will serve to connect the Hajigak mines to Herat and further to the Iranian port of Chabahar via the Delaram-Zaranj highway


  • India has constructed Afghan-India Friendship Dam (earlier known as Salma Dam) in Heart province.
  • India also established Agriculture University ANASTU in Kandahar in 2014.
  • The new parliament building in Kabul has been constructed by India as a Goodwill gesture by India
  • India has constructed over 2,500 miles of roads in Afghanistan.
  • India has built over 200 public and private schools, sponsors over a 1000 scholarships, hosts over 16,000 Afghan students
  • India is running several programmes for training and capacity building for civil servants and police force in Afghanistan
  • Recently, India has also agreed to implement some important new projects such as the Shahtoot Dam and drinking water project for Kabul,
  • Road connectivity to Band-e-Amir in Bamyan Province to promote tourism, low cost housing for resettlement of returning Afghan refugees in Nangarhar Province and a gypsum board manufacturing plant in Kabul etc.
  • Expansion of national television network with an uplink from Kabul and downlinks in all 34 provincial capitals.
  • Women’s Vocational Training Center in Bagh-e-Zanana for training of Afghan women in garment making, nursery plantation, food processing and marketing.
  • Reconstruction of Indira Gandhi Institute for Child Health, Afghanistan’s only hospital for children, in Kabul.
  • 84 ongoing projects related to agriculture, education, health, vocational training and solar energy.
  • 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.


Pakistan’s policy on Afghanistan and its effect on India

  • Its biggest fear is the possibility of the creation of greater Pashtunistan. NWFP, south & central Pakistan is dominated by Pashtuns. Pakistani political leaders and the army feel that Indo-Afghan nexus stokes the secular ethno-national Baloch and Pashtun separatist movements in Pakistan.
  • They don’t recognize the legitimacy of the Durand line and treat it as a colonial boundary. The Pashtun government of Afghan is inspired by integration of the region in Afghan.
  • Pakistan wants a strategic depth in Afghan – it wants whosoever rules Afghan is completely controlled by Pakistan. Pakistan is not ready to tolerate even the minimum presence of India (diplomatic also).
  • Pakistan has tensions over India’s presence in Afghanistan and the presence of India is seen as a provocation in Islamabad and as evidence of an Indian strategy of encirclement.
  • India has repeatedly stressed that its relationship with Afghanistan is independent of Pakistan.
  • India argues that the tripartite relationship between India, Pakistan, and Afghan are mutually independent




US policy

US policy on Afghan had not been consistent.

  • On the one hand, the US thinks that it needs the assistance of Pakistan to solve the issue because of the geographic proximity of Pakistan to Afghan.
  • On the other hand, the US is also wary of Pakistan’s double game of supporting the US and Taliban at the same time.India’s reconstruction program in Afghan is inconvenient for the US for the fear of provocation of Pakistan.
  • Under the Obama administration regional diplomacy along with providing additional troops in Afghanistan was endorsed. The aim was to draw down forces from 2011 and by 2014 Afghan will take over security.But Taliban increased attacks thus exposing the weakness of Afghan capability to take over.
  • With Trump government the focus has shifted to ending Afghan war at the earliest possible time. But hasty withdrawal would create a vacuum as the ground situation had become more complicated with various terrorist outfits including ISIS and al-Qaeda gaining space in Afghan.


New Afghan strategy of US (2017)

  • Military commitment without a deadline.
  • Open acknowledgement of Pakistan’s role in providing sanctuary to Afghan-based militant groups.
  • Acknowledgement of India’s’ role in stabilizing Afghan.
  • ’s new Afghanistan-Pakistan-India policy builds India’s economic assistance into its own strategy for Afghanistan.
  • Under the strategy, the US held back its aid to Pakistan until Islamabad demonstrates action against terrorist groups. However, China came in aid of Pakistan by arguing that Pakistan has also been affected by terrorism.
  • After the US released this new Afghanistan strategy, Defense Minister Nirmala Sitharaman visited the US. India put forward its Afghan strategy:
    • There will be no Indian boots-on-ground in Afghan.
    • India will provide economic assistance and capacity building.
    • India will sign MoU with Afghan to train its police force.
    • India will assist Afghan in its own way and not the way desired by the US, that is boots-on-ground.

A “framework” deal between the US and Afghan Taliban signed at Doha. Washington’s hasty timetable of 18 months to disentangle itself from the Afghan quagmire has narrowed the US’s options. Due to this India is trapped in a strategic blind-spot in Afghanistan.


Stakes/interests of other countries

A) China

China’s role in Afghanistan is gradually evolving towards more engagement in various areas.

  • China has evolved into a notable player in Afghanistan in the areas of investment, economic and humanitarian assistance.
  • Afghanistan’s geographic location at the crossroads of Central and South Asia, between India in the South and Russia in the North along with vast natural resources is of great strategic value to China.
  • China’s interest in ensuring stability in Afghanistan is also important for ensuring security of its border province Xinjiang, its investments in the Central Asian region and also its OBOR initiative.
  • Beijing is concerned about possible links between its Muslim minorities in Xinjiang and the Taliban, as well as other Islamist groups in Afghanistan.
  • China’s role as a mediator and confidence-builder may be crucial, as its pressure has kept Pakistan peacefully engaged.
  • India and China have agreed for joint projects in Afghan in the Wuhan summit in 2018.

B) Iran

Iran would want to see a steady hand at the helm in Afghanistan.Iranian Revolution 1979 can be seen as a precursor to Afghan turmoil. Iranian Revolution led to following developments in the region:

  • Iran came out of US influence. The US thus intervened in Afghan to counter USSR influence in the region. This lead to USSR intervention in Afghan in 1979.
  • Iranian Revolution consolidated Shia sect in Iran. This threatened Saudi and UAE lead by Sunni sects. This, in turn, led them to finance Wahhabism-Salafism and thus Taliban.
  • Since Saudi was promoting Wahhabi Islam through the Taliban, Iran supported the overthrow of the Taliban in 2001.

After deterioration of US-Iran ties, Iran began to support the Taliban in its borders to ward off US presence from their borders.

In 2017 it supplanted Pakistan as Afghanistan’s largest trading partner.

C) Russia

  • Russia has increased its involvement in Afghanistan.
  • Russia established ties with the Taliban in 2007 to discuss the issue of drug trafficking through the central Asian region.
  • Moreover mutual fear of ISIS has brought the Taliban and Russians closer.
  • After the Syrian crisis, Russia is trying to flex its muscle in this region to boost its global power status.


Peace conferences and processes

There are many peace conferences and processes to solve the crisis.

  • Bonn Agreement 2001 was the first international pact on Afghanistan for peace and reconciliation.
  • There are two major international peace efforts that are currently underway – the American push for peace led by ZalmayKhalilzad (Special Representative for Afghanistan Reconciliation, Khalilzad) and the Moscow-led consultations.
  • ZalmayKhalilzad has held talks with different stakeholders – Pakistan, Saudi Arabia, Qatar and the Taliban with the intention to deliver a deal in six months. Appointment of Khalizad indicates the US urge to get out of Afghan at the earliest possible time.
  • Moscow consultations are called ‘Moscow-format consultations on Afghanistan’. Moscow consultation is one of the few peace processes which have managed to get the Taliban and Afghanistan at the same table of talks notwithstanding its inconclusiveness.
  • Heart of Asia Conference, Kabul process etc. are some of the other peace conferences.India hosted the 6th Ministerial Conference of Heart of Asia at which the Amritsar Declaration was adopted. It called for immediate elimination of terrorism to help Afghanistan in its political and economic transition.
  • In peace conferences, India’s stand is that it should be Afghan-led, Afghan-owned and Afghan-controlled and with the participation of the government of Afghanistan. India is also wary of talks with the Taliban and the distinction of ‘good Taliban-bad Taliban’.






Afghan Peace Process

There are a number of indigenous players with regard to Afghan peace process

A) The Taliban group

  • The Taliban has at least four main branches whose relations range from pragmatic cooperation to active hostility.
  • They are organized around decision-making bodies called “shuras,” these branches oversee various commissions and operate across Afghanistan – often in competition with one another and sometimes even within themselves.
  • Recently, they have engaged with countries like Russia and the US regarding peace process and withdrawal of troops from its soil.
  • The Taliban does not recognize the present day Afghan government as legitimate government as they believe that it does not represent the will of the people.

B) The Haqqani Network –

  • The Haqqani network is the most ruthless, disciplined and organized subgroup within the Taliban.
  • The Haqqani network is also a major impediment to the prospects of negotiations with Kabul.
  • The network’s leader favors a solely military solution to the conflict. The main base of its operation is in Pakistan.

C) The Afghan Government

  • It is the legitimate government recognized by the UN along with other countries.
  • President Ashraf Ghani re-launched the Kabul Process in June 2017.
  • The principal purpose of the process is to ensure an Afghan-led and Afghan-owned, inclusive peace process where the people are fully in the driver’s seat to address the multiple dimensions of ongoing war and violence in Afghanistan.

D) External Stakeholders

  • The US led NATO forces – the US and the allied countries have actively engaged with all the parties in the peace process including the political faction of the Taliban group.
  • The US government has become wary of the long drawn war (which resulted $900billion dollars in the past 17 years) and one of the most important agendas of the current administration is safe return of the American soldiers.
  • Regional powers – countries like Qatar and Russia have actively engaged with all the stakeholders of the peace process, including the Taliban. The headquarters of the Taliban is located in Doha from where they engage with the rest of the world.
  • Russia a key stakeholder in the process – Russia has hosted talks with Taliban delegates and members of Afghanistan high peace council, as the Kremlin seeks a role as peace broker between Islamist rebels and the US-backed government in Kabul.
  • Pakistan’s destabilizing role in Afghanistan – Pakistan sees Afghanistan as potentially providing strategic depth against India


Challenges for India

  • India s efforts to provide assistance to Afghanistan are hampered considerably by the lack of geographical contiguity and limited access.
  • The prevailing security situation in Afghanistan and Pakistan s continuing interference in Afghan affairs through proxies such as the Haqqani network.
  • Growing terrorism in Afghanistan under influence of Al Qaeda and ISIS has created security concerns for India.
  • Afghanistan, in the Golden Crescent, has been one of the most extensive opium-producing areas and drug, trafficked from Afghanistan into the Indian states like Punjab, has affected its youth and has also promoted terrorism and organized crime.
  • In 2011 Afghanistan and Pakistan signed Afghanistan Pakistan Trade and Transit agreement (APTTA) which has been restrictive in the bilateral trade between India and Afghanistan. Under APTTA Pakistan allows Afghan trucks carrying goods meant for India only upto its last check point at Wagah and not to Indian check point at Attari, less than a Km away.
  • Growing Chinese influence in Afghanistan has also created a diplomatic challenge for India.


Way forward for India

India’s national interests lie in a peaceful and stable Afghanistan. Therefore, India should support all initiatives towards improving the security situation in Afghanistan and promoting peace and prosperity in the war-torn country.

  • India should remain committed towards the elimination of terrorism from Afghanistan and the destruction of all sanctuaries of the anti-India terrorist outfits.
  • India should continue to provide aid and assistance to the government and the people of Afghanistan.
  • India should also continue its developmental efforts in Afghanistan especially training its security forces and building its infrastructure so as to maintain peace and prosperity in this friendly neighboring country.
  • India should also help Afghanistan to attain strategic autonomy and free itself from the clutches of Pakistani leadership.
  • Implementation of the trilateral agreement involving Iran which would use Chahbahar port to augment connectivity in the region will go a long way in promoting Afghanistan
  • India’s Afghan policy should also take into account its energy security, for example, through the commissioning of the TAPI pipeline.
  • It is also important for India to address the Pakistan factor in its relations with Afghanistan. For that, it is crucial for India and Pakistan to discuss their suspicions at the official level.
  • Increasing Capacity of Afghan forces resulting in better combat of militants.


Recent events (US Pullout Taliban Resurgence)

  • Recently US-Taliban talks were held in Doha and US announced that there has been an in-principle agreement on key issues:
  • US troop will leave Afghan and in return,
  • Taliban promised that Afghan will not be used by terrorists.
  • S. and Russia have accepted the idea that peace in Afghanistan is not possible without major concessions to the Taliban. Taliban has become the center stage in all the peace conferences.
  • As a result the Taliban has emerged as an important central player in the Afghan peace process. Since only Pakistan has influence over the Taliban, this turn of events can be considered as a diplomatic victory of Pakistan whereas India is increasingly being sidelined in these proceedings.
  • Current talks with the Taliban are not Afghan-led, owned or controlled, and the Taliban has not abjured violence, or sworn allegiance to the Afghan constitution before joining talks.
  • With the spectre of a Pakistan proxy in power in Kabul is now looming large, India is now engaging with China and Iran, and with a range of Afghan actors including former President Hamid Karzai, who is said to be playing a key role in the US-Taliban process.
  • India’s developmental approach has earned it immense goodwill among the Afghan people. However, the “soft power” strategy has limitations. But there is a domestic consensus in India that boots-on-ground is not an option. Thus India is in the dilemma between continued soft-power or to aggressively push its hard power.
  • Many experts opine that the announcement of drawdown of troops is a strategic blunder for the US. It will lead to instability in Afghan that will not only affect India’s interest but also regional stability.

A) Impact of US troops withdrawal on India:

  • Security situation: Weaker American presence in Afghanistan would embolden local militant groups such as the Taliban,whose influence could subsequently spread to neighboring Pakistan and Kashmir.
  • Regional connectivity and related economic concerns: India’s investments of billions in Afghanistan (India is Afghanistan’s largest contributor of development assistance in the region) and plans to connect with Central Asia would be jeopardized if Taliban, being supported by Pakistan, gains ground.
  • Regional instability: Sudden American withdrawal might create a civil war like situation as various regional stakeholders (China, Russia and Pakistan)will try to reshape the battlefield in accordance with their own strategic priorities, which will hamper India’s long gestated efforts at building Afghanistan.
  • Isolation of India: India’s displeasure with Taliban is explicit and India was supported by US on this, but post US announcement of withdrawal most of the other stakeholders,like Russia and US, have simply ignored and isolated India’s views and have engaged with Taliban and its sponsors in Pakistan in finding a solution.

B) Impact of US withdrawal on the world:

  • Spurt in terrorism around the globe: Taliban may join forces with Pakistani militants to create safe havens for terrorists targeting India, the United States and others using the fertile ground as used earlier by Al Qaeda
  • Increasing salience of Pakistan in Afghan affairs: In variance with 2017 US policy, which attenuated Pakistan’s role in Afghanistan, US withdrawal has again brought Pakistan at the centre-stage in Afghan politics by raising its geo-strategic importance for other contestants.
  • Space for external influence: The removal of the U.S. presence from most theatres of action has created space for regional players: leaving Syria to Iran and its allies; Yemen to Saudi Arabia; Afghanistan to players like Russia, Pakistan and Iran; and Pakistan to China.
  • China’s advance in South Asia:Instability in Afghanistan would give an opportunity for China to make inroads in Afghanistan through its deep pockets, similar to its actions in Sri Lanka, Nepal and Pakistan, thus challenging India’s leadership in South Asia.
  • India-Afghanistan engagement: India is committed to “Afghan-led, Afghan-owned and Afghan controlled” peace process. India’s engagement with Afghanistan is multi-dimensional.

C) Way forward for India:

  • US’s eventual pullout as Afghanistan’s peacekeeper is inevitable, and it would be more prudent for India to prepare for it
  • By abandoning SAARC in favour of BIMSTEC and BBIN to isolate Pakistan India faced the collateral damage of distancing Afghanistan too in the process. Hence India needs to step-up bilateral engagements with Afghanistan.
  • As part of the “India-China plus” initiative, New Delhi and Beijing have identified Afghanistan for implementing joint development projects. Similar initiatives should be explored with other like-minded countries like Russia for Afghan growth and development.
  • It is necessary that India stays abreast of all negotiations and isn’t cut out of the resolution process. New Delhi should leverage the goodwill it enjoys among the Afghan people.
  • India must intensify its dialogue with regional and global stakeholders, and impress upon them that any dialogue with the Taliban must not come at the cost of the hard-fought victories of the Afghan people in the past two decades: on establishing constitutional democracy and the rule of law, and securing the rights of women and minorities.
  • India may have to think of reaching out to the Taliban in near-future.
  • The India Afghanistan relationship is not a simple bilateral engagement. India’s Afghan policy is driven by many extraneous factors such as its geographical constraints, its search for a transit route to Central Asia through Afghanistan and Iran, its troubled relationship with Pakistan and the growing threat of terrorism in India and Afghanistan etc.
  • The centuries-old ties between India and Afghanistan shaped by history, culture and strong people-to-people linkages have become the foundation of the deep and strong relationship between the two countries. Building on the mutual trust and commonalities in traditional and cultural values, India continues to play a major role in supporting Afghanistan s journey towards peace and prosperity.


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