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IDSA COMMENT

India’s Policy Objectives in Afghanistan

November 21, 2013

Afghanistan’s location at the strategic crossroads between South Asia and Central Asia and South Asia and the Middle East makes the country extremely important for India. India has historically had friendly ties with Afghanistan and wishes to see a stable government installed in Kabul that is independent of any external interference. It has funded some major Afghan reconstruction and development plans and has invested US$1.5 billion so far. It has recently committed another US$500 million. The funds have been spent on building the 218 km-long Zaranj-Delaram road linking the Iranian border with the Garland Highway, electric power lines including one from the CARs to Kabul, hydroelectric power projects, school buildings, primary health centres and the new building for the Afghan Parliament. India is also training Afghan administrators, teachers and officer cadets, but only within India. At present, there is no support in India for sending military troops to Afghanistan. However, that might change depending on the security environment after the draw-down of NATO-ISAF forces has been completed.

India signed an Agreement on Strategic Partnership with Afghanistan in October 2011. This agreement 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 in multinational fora. The two sides also agreed to initiate a strategic dialogue to provide a framework for cooperation in the field of national security. Security cooperation is intended to enhance their mutual efforts in the fight against international terrorism, organised crime, illegal trafficking in narcotics, money laundering and so on. India also agreed to assist in the training, equipping and capacity building programmes for Afghan National Security Forces. The two sides committed themselves to “strengthening trade, economic, scientific and technological cooperation, as well as cooperation between other bodies of business and industry representatives, with a view to expanding trade and economic relations.” Both the countries also agreed to promote regional economic cooperation. India committed itself to continue to provide assistance for Afghanistan’s reconstruction and development programmes and capacity building, particularly in the fields of governance, education, health and technical training. Given its vast experience in the field, India would also like to offer its help to Afghanistan to further democracy, particularly at the grassroots level.

India’s policy objectives flow out of the strategic partnership agreement signed with Afghanistan. These are naturally tempered by various constraining factors, including the prevailing security situation and Pakistan’s continuing interference in Afghan affairs through proxies such as the Haqqani network, which has been declared to be a terrorist organisation by the US State Department. In fact, it is the considered Indian view that Afghanistan’s problems cannot be resolved unless the linkages with Pakistan are also addressed simultaneously. Also, India’s efforts to provide assistance to Afghanistan are hampered considerably by the lack of geographical contiguity and limited access. India is making serious efforts to remove Pakistan’s misapprehensions about India’s role in Afghanistan, but Pakistan has steadfastly refrained from discussing this issue with India because its suspicions about India’s objectives. It is crucial for India and Pakistan to discuss their suspicions at the official level so as to allay each other’s apprehensions and work together for peace and stability.

India seeks a peaceful and stable Afghanistan with a broad-based government that is genuinely independent in formulating its foreign and national security policies, as well as in governing the country in consonance with Afghan customs and traditions. The imposition of the Western model of democracy will not be appropriate as it will not work in Afghanistan’s socio-political milieu. India would like to see the elimination of terrorism from Afghanistan and the destruction of all sanctuaries of the Taliban and the Al Qaeda. India supports the integration and strengthening of military and police forces at the national level, rather than their domination by one or more ethnic communities. India would like to encourage Afghanistan’s regional neighbours and the international community to further enhance their efforts towards reconstruction and economic development.

India’s political, national security and economic policy objectives given below reflect the consensus views of a group of analysts including the author who met under the aegis of the Frederick Foundation, New Delhi. The objectives are dynamic and need to be constantly reviewed and modified based on emerging developments.

The political objectives include an orderly transition to installation of an independent Afghan government that is free of foreign influence; ensuring Afghanistan does not again become a base and safe haven for terrorists and terror infrastructure; countering Pakistan’s agenda seeking strategic depth in Afghanistan; acquiring access to Afghanistan and through it to the CARs; establishing broad-based engagement with all political groups; supporting Afghan-led broad-based reconciliation efforts, as visualised by the Afghan High Peace Council; assisting Afghanistan to train its administrative and judicial staff to improve governance and the delivery of justice; enhancing people-to-people contacts.

India’s national security objectives in Afghanistan should support the capacity building efforts of ANSF by ensuring implementation of the Strategic Partnership Agreement, including the supply of war-like stores; ensure the safety and protection of Indian assets and infrastructure in Afghanistan; and, include intelligence cooperation and sharing.

India’s economic objectives should be to increase trade with Afghanistan and through it with the CARs; increase Indian business investment in Afghanistan; assist Afghanistan to develop its natural resources; further increase India’s reconstruction and capacity building programme; enhance India’s energy security, for example, through the commissioning of the TAPI pipeline; assist Afghanistan to replace narcotics-based agriculture with regular agriculture; work towards implementation of SAFTA; and, promote India-China cooperation on Afghanistan.

India’s national interests lie in a peaceful and stable Afghanistan. India should support all efforts towards improving the security situation and providing good governance. It is only through sustained reconstruction and concerted socio-economic development that future stability can be assured. India will continue to provide aid and assistance to the government and the people of Afghanistan as it has been consistently doing over the past ten years.

Views expressed are of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of the IDSA or of the Government of India.