India’s Afghanistan policy: What needs to be done

File photo. Photograph:( Reuters )

Shanghai, China Jan 31, 2019, 05.11 PM (IST) Sudeep Kumar

According to the reports, the US envoy Zalmay Khalilzad and Taliban negotiator Maulana Abdul Ghani Baradar negotiated a deal in Doha for the withdrawal of foreign troops from war-ravaged Afghanistan within 18 months. 

This week, the US Director of National Intelligence, Dan Coats, warned about the possibility of an increase in the attacks by Taliban, Daesh/IS, TTP, and Al-Qaeda on the Afghan state and foreign forces.

At this moment, nobody is certain about the future of political uncertainty and peace process in Afghanistan. However, it seems that US President Donald Trump is quite right in his analysis of the Af-Pak policy. The US has given more than $33.4 billion to Pakistani army for the war on terror in Afghanistan. 

On the contrary, the Pakistani army facilitated the safe passage of Osama bin Laden from Tora Bora mountains, Afghanistan to a residential army colony in Abbottabad, Pakistan.

In order to take leverage of the strategic depth in Afghanistan, the Pakistani army formally established diplomatic relations with the Taliban and helped Saudi Arabia and UAE to tie formal diplomatic relations with the Taliban. 

Pakistani army did not hesitate to invite China against the US strategic interests in this region too.  

Afghanistan has been always considered geopolitical chessboard, where the US, Afghan state, Taliban, the Pakistani army, and regional powers like Iran, India, China, Russia, Saudi Arabia, UAE are involved. In post-9/11 scenarios, despite several rounds of Afghan general elections, neither the roots of robust democracy took place nor did the Afghan national army and Afghan national police succeeded in taking back Taliban-controlled areas.

With the active support from Pakistani army, the Taliban not just survived over the years but also attacked the foreign forces and Afghan army bases in the last 17 years. According to Afghanistan deputy defence minister Hilaluddin Helal, there are currently 21 terrorist organisation with the strength of around 50200 militants, where Taliban is the biggest with 38000 militants. However, Daesh/IS has more than 2000 militants, which includes 70 per cent Pakistani, 6 per cent Uzbekistani, 4 per cent Chechens and 3 per cent Arabs. 

Indeed, the Pakistani army is over joyous in the aftermath of the withdrawal of foreign forces and increased legitimacy of the Taliban in Afghanistan. But it would be highly premature to celebrate their political mileage at this moment because Afghan state, Afghan national army and Afghan police forces are still in place with the support of the US and regional players (Iran, India, Russia, China, Saudi Arabia, UAE) in the peacebuilding efforts and infrastructure development process in Afghanistan.  

The history tells us that the Pakistani army relationship with Taliban has been full of ups and down. Some of the major incidents include the Taliban refusal to protect the Bamiyan Buddha and furthermore, it never agreed to recognise the Durand line between Afghanistan and North-West Frontier Pakistan -  a colonial legacy indeed. The Taliban opened a political office in Doha, participated in a conference in Moscow, and above all is cultivating relationships with regional powers including Iran, Uzbekistan, Russia, China and the US.  

In the long run, the Afghan economy will rely on the foreign aid and official developmental assistance by the regional powers. In order to boost bilateral trade with Afghanistan, many regional countries started air cargo transportation, while the Chabahar port will facilitate alternative trade routes to Afghanistan.

Consequently, the bilateral trade between Afghanistan and Pakistan has reached the lowest level in the last 17 years. Pakistan’s external financing has significantly dropped by over 60 per cent in the shape of loans and grants from July, 2018 to December, 2018, under the leadership of prime minister Imran Khan. 

According to the UK-based advisory service Economist Intelligence Unit (EIU), the real GDP growth to average 2.9 per cent per year from 2018-19 to 2022-23. The economic success story of Bangladesh proves that the root of Pakistani macroeconomic problems is not economic, but predominantly Pakistani army’s obsession with strategic and military adventurism under which terrorism is an instrument to exploit the so-called strategic depth in the Afghan theatre. 

In short, harbouring and sponsoring terrorist groups has always been a policy of the successive selected governments under the diktat of Pakistan army. 
 
The Pakistani army has been a common source of concern for both Afghanistan and India. In order to understand its dominance in the Pakistani political system, one needs to remember that the Pakistani army has ruled for more than 33 years out of 70 years. Pakistani defence allocation in general budget constitutes over 34 per cent without any audit and scrutiny. 

Indeed, the Pakistani army is more a problem rather than the solution. Therefore, Indian interests in Afghanistan are two-fold, directed towards Afghan led-peace process on the one hand, while reducing the abilities of the Pakistani army to operate cross-border terrorism on the other.

Indeed, regional powers have a common concern with regards to Daesh/IS, Tehrik-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP), Al-Qaeda, East Turkestan Islamic Movement (ETIM), and Taliban. In the growing face of any one of these terrorist groups in the Afghan, the theatre would bring a whole new level of action and reactions. On these backdrops, one needs to ask these critical questions: How to build an inclusive, pluralistic Afghan state, whose future hinges on democracy, economic development and human rights? Can Taliban and Afghan state devise a mechanism to work together? In the absence of foreign forces, how effective the Pakistani army would be in Afghan state affairs?  

India’s Afghanistan policy is oriented towards Afghan-led, Afghan-controlled, Afghan-owned peace process, which in reality will be a true representative of Pashtuns, Tajiks, Uzbeks and Hazaras. Since 2002, India has given over $3 billion foreign aid to Afghanistan. 

In order to strengthen the Afghan army, India has promised to give four Mi-25 attack helicopters before July, 2019. India has built roads, schools. Dams (Salma dam and proposed Shahtoot dam), and even Afghan parliament. Indian developmental assistance can be summarised in five categories - infrastructure development, economic development, humanitarian assistance, connectivity and capacity building projects. 

In conclusion, perhaps the best possible Indian approach to the Afghan crisis lies in the combination of both bilateral and multilateral diplomacy. India-Central Asia-Afghan trilateral meet and Shanghai Cooperation Organisation (SCO) can be very effective platforms to strengthen the Afghan state.  

(Disclaimer: The opinions expressed above are the personal views of the author and do not reflect the views of ZMCL)

Sudeep Kumar

Sudeep Kumar is pursuing Ph.D. in Chinese Politics from East China Normal University (ECNU), Shanghai.

Story highlights

The best possible Indian approach to the Afghan crisis lies in the combination of both bilateral and multilateral diplomacy.