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Indian Interests in Afghanistan - A Case Study

Updated: Oct 31, 2022

Sikhs in Afghanistan

Image credits: Yahoo

In a recent interview given by Pakistani Foreign Minister Shah Mahmud Qureshi, he objected to the massive Indian involvement in the ongoing peace talks in Afghanistan. Leaving aside what the civil-military rule of Pakistan stands for, especially when it comes to India, this incident highlights the much less discussed, but extremely significant role played by India in its neighbour country of Afghanistan.

With the American administration’s withdrawal of its troops from the politically unstable region, seeking an end to its two-decades-long war against terrorism, India could and should fill in the void for the risks involved, particularly the rise in power and control of the terrorist regime of Taliban is much more nearer to us.

Over the years, India has invested heavily in infrastructure projects and committed its diplomatic support to the Islamic Republic of Afghanistan. The country as a neighbour is of paramount importance: both strategically and economically. In today’s piece, The GEOSTRATA analyses the relevance of Afghanistan for India in particular and for that very purpose, we will also be venturing onto some tangents: the evolving equations in Afghanistan in general.

Civilisational Cousins

The two nation-states share a deep historical & geographical affiliation with each other that goes as far back as the dawn of the very first civilizations in the world. We as citizens are descendants of that very civilisation: the Indus Valley Civilisation. Not only that, one needs to look at the number of empires that commanded control over the modern-day territories. The Mauryas, Kushanas under King Kanishka and Mughals are some of the prominent ones.

Halford Mackinder, the legendary British strategist considered one of the founding fathers of geopolitics, remarked in 1922: “In all the British Empire there is but one land frontier on which war-like preparation must ever be ready. It is the north-west frontier of India”. This is essential because of the single plateau in the region that is spread over the current states of Iran, Afghanistan and Balochistan (Pakistan).

Modern political borders hardly reflect and sync in line with the historical and geographical realities. More often than not, they were formed amidst intense political contestation of various kinds, and thus are reflective of what one faction or the other could secure from the other. The Middle East and Africa stand as perfect examples. Their borders were decided and drawn upon maps belonging to the institutions of European quarters, meant to benefit their imperial interest and hardly in touch with cultural realities on the grounds. Many conflicts can also be partially explained emerging from this mismatch.

Thus, owing to similar phenomena, the Indian subcontinent stands divided into several nation-states, some often working to undermine their own cousins. Taliban and Pakistani leadership working to undermine Indian interest being the prominent consideration.

Such affiliations, at least in the Indian political discourse, hardly find a mention. One might argue as to them being irrelevant. That’s where the region as a whole has failed. A shared sense of historical and cultural heritages binds nation-states together, in the sense of forming regional forums and alliances, which when articulately leveraged can result in huge economic success, one of the most crucial factors in the hierarchy of the realistic international arena. Look at ASEAN and the European Union. Countries leveraging their unity for economic gains, hence, also securing stability on the broader front.

Economic Significance

The two nations share a 107 km long border, through India’s part of Kashmir but currently occupied by Pakistan (PoK). Afghanistan’s strategic importance for India cannot be over-emphasized. On one hand, it provides India with a gateway to the resource-rich states of Central Asia and on the other, when combined with the Indian manufactured Chabahar port of Iran, it allows India to completely bypass the China-Pakistan economic corridor (CPEC) thus serving as an alternative trade route.

The Indian government has deeply invested in several infrastructure projects in the country, aiming to stabilise the volatile region for peace and security. The Border Roads Organisation’s 218 km-road projects in the remote parts of south-western Afghanistan, a 220 kV DC transmission line from Pul-e-Khumri to Kabul, The Salma Dam power project in Herat province and the famous construction of the Afghan Parliament-the paramount embodiment of republican democracy are some of the prominent examples.

Image credits: Foreign Policy

Indian stakes in the Afghan Peace talks

India gave all its support to the democratically elected government of Afghan, in the long-awaited peace talks between Kabul and the Taliban to discuss and deliberate upon a potential power-sharing agreement. The Indian NSA Ajit Doval expectedly engaged with his Afghani counterpart Hamdullah Mohib at the current meeting of fellow NSAs of SCO member states at Dushanbe, Tajikistan. This crucial meeting came across when President Ashraf Ghani was set to meet with President Biden in the White House along with Afghan’s chairman of the High Council for National Reconciliation Abdullah Abdullah.

The current political struggle within Afghanistan has been lost, at least for now, with the Taliban gaining control over Kabul. It is the same terrorist organisation, that when asked to surrender the Al-Qaeda members by the United States after 9/11, rather chose to provide them with a refuge. Under conventional wisdom, it is the elected government that should possess legitimacy. However, when America signed a peace deal with what it considers a terrorist organisation, the Taliban not only emerged as a potential contender, now it commands control over the entire length and breadth of the country.

The Indian Government made it absolutely clear about the side it stands by. Even the elected government seeks diplomatic and economic support from the Indian regime which commits itself towards an Afghan-led, Afghan-owned and Afghan controlled peace process. Despite several objections by Pakistan, India was invited to the Afghan peace talks at Doha, by Qatar at the request of the Afghani regime. However, the government has also initiated talks with the Taliban, reportedly, for morality aside, realpolitik commands this decision as an absence of any sort of talks with them can jeopardize Indian security, especially in the normalising situations of Kashmir after the abrogation of Article 370, an opportunity ISI would likely consider taking advantage of.

Afghanistan has long been the region observing the involvement of major world powers. Taking recent events into consideration, first came the Soviets. America in its objectives to inflict damage upon the Soviets, provided training and armament support to the country’s tribal men, which came to back horrify America itself in the deadliest terror attack in the history of the world hegemon. Now, it has withdrawn its troops from the region which shares a huge border with Iran, one which stands at complete odds with America and is increasingly acquiring capabilities to acquire Nuclear weapons.

This is the situation India finds itself in while formulating its policies for maintaining and supporting peace in Afghanistan. America has physically gone, China and Russia are moving in to form better relations with the Taliban. Pakistan’s affinities are visible to everyone. India needs to watch out!




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