The Emerging Situation in Afghanistan and Indo-Afghan Relations
Brig Vinod Anand, Senior Fellow, VIF

The Indo-Afghan relations cannot but be seen in the context of the evolving situation in Afghanistan. Many regional and extra regional players have been involved in the Afghan imbroglio for over a decade and some for even over three decades. Intervention by the US and western forces in Afghanistan in the wake of 9/11 attacks was supposed to get rid of Taliban and Al Qaeda but it cannot be said that the western forces have been entirely successful in their mission. Initial successes have given way to war weariness; there are domestic pressures to exit due to ever increasing fatalities of military personnel and weak economic situation of the US and European nations. There have been frequent revisions of their strategies to shape the future of Afghanistan.

Afghan security forces’ fatalities and civilian causalities have also been on the increase. Political situation in Afghanistan remains complex with President Hamid Karzai’s government being unable to extend his control in a significant manner beyond Kabul and provinces in the North and West. Military operations started by the US and NATO against the Taliban stronghold of Kandahar last year have met with some degree of success but whether these operations can be sustained in the coming months when the US and western forces are in a draw down mode is yet to be seen. Though at tactical level it can be said that the US and Coalition forces had established a certain degree of ascendancy over Taliban yet such gains would prove to be ephemeral in the aftermath of US withdrawal.

The dominant factors driving the situation in Afghanistan are the US’s Af-Pak strategy, continuing resurgence of Taliban, Pakistan’s notions of strategic depth and interests of the regional stakeholders.

The death of Osama bin Laden has acted as a catalyst for the US plans of implementing their exit/drawdown strategy which was already in place but Bin Laden’s demise has provided additional impetus to the Obama administration for firming up their withdrawal plans. Even the Coalition partners have been keen to make an exit and now there is a rising clamour to reduce their troop commitments. For instance, like many other troop contribution nations of NATO/ISAF Germany has announced its plans to withdraw all its troops by 2014. Such articulations impart its own dynamics to the perceptions of the different stakeholders in the Afghan imbroglio and largely to the benefit of Taliban.

On the other hand it is increasingly becoming clear that the US forces are not going to withdraw from Afghanistan lock, stock and barrel; their presence would be reduced but all indications are that the US wants a strategic arrangement with the Kabul government for a long term presence. This would be one of the main factors which would militate against reconciliation with the Taliban who are opposed to the presence of foreign forces on the Afghan soil. Further, Pakistan wants to become the single window clearance for any power arrangement that might emerge after the reconciliation or exit of the foreign forces. Pakistan is looking for a government in Kabul which serves its interests especially its notions of ‘strategic depth’. However, the interests of most of the regional actors are opposed to installing a government that is under the tutelage of Pakistan.

India’s Afghanistan Policy

Since the fall of the Taliban government in Afghanistan India has focussed on reconstruction and development in Afghanistan. As stressed by MEA the principal objective of India’s development partnership, covering the entire Afghanistan and all sectors of development, is to build indigenous Afghan capacity and institutions. This approach is based on the understanding that social and economic development is key to Afghanistan becoming a source of regional stability.All these projects have been undertaken as part of Afghan National Development Strategy initiated by the Afghans themselves.

New Delhi has pledged US$ 2.0 billion (including 500 million pledged during recent Prime Minister’s visit to Afghanistan during May 2011) on various projects, emerging as the sixth largest bilateral donor to Afghanistan. Earlier in January 2011 the External Affairs Minister S.M. Krishna had visited Kabul, during which several MoUs of cooperation were signed. He had also discussed the reconciliation and reintegration processes with Burhanuddin Rabbani, the Chairman of the High Peace Council. This is a reflection of India intensifying its engagement with Afghanistan at a time when it is believed that end game is being played out in Afghanistan.

As a consequence of its capability building efforts, New Delhi has come to enjoy considerable influence in Afghanistan. India’s programmes cover infrastructure projects, humanitarian assistance, small and community based development projects, and education and capacity development. India has completed the 218 kms road project from Zaranj to Delaram in south-western Afghanistan to facilitate movement of goods and services to the Iranian border and, onward, to the Chahbahar Port. India constructed 202 kms 220 kV DC transmission line from Pul-e-Khumri to Kabul and a 220/110/20 kV substation at Chimtala bringing Uzbek electricity to Kabul. Construction of the Afghan Parliament in Kabul and Salma Dam power project in Herat province is expected to be completed by 2011-12. Afghanistan has also been admitted as member of SAARC in order to provide benefits of regional trade and cooperation, aim being to make it a regional hub connecting South Asia with central Asia and beyond. It is a different matter that Pakistan continues to follow obtuse policies in the matter of trade transit. Besides disallowing the normal trade the Indian aid goods are not allowed to reach Afghanistan through land route across Pakistan. Some analysts have estimated that if free trade is allowed between South and Central Asia both Afghanistan and Pakistan would gain by large amounts of transit revenues; these could be to the extent that Afghanistan budget could become self supporting and it may not have to depend upon international aid.

Improving Afghan economy continues to be an important plank of the Afghan government’s priorities. Apparently the Afghan economy has been following an upward trajectory since the fall of the Taliban but many structural weaknesses remain. However, there are concerns that there could be substantial reduction in the donor aid in consonance with the US and western troop withdrawal which could adversely impact the economy. Distribution and delivery of aid continues to pose many problems which could get compounded after the transition in 2014. Strengthening economy and providing succour to the common Afghans would go long way in shoring up the Karzai government.

India can play an important part in economic development of Afghanistan and lately according to a joint study report of Jinnah Institute of Pakistan and US Institute of Peace the Pakistan’s elite/decision makers have accepted that India can play an important role in economic development of Afghanistan1. However, they want to limit the role of India to developmental activities only. They, remain opposed to India playing any role in security sector reforms. In addition Pakistan’s foreign policy establishment view as impediments to a peaceful Afghanistan settlement include: questionable viability of a regional framework; lack of clarity on Taliban’s willingness to negotiate; the unstable political and economic situation in Afghanistan; and concerns about Afghan National Security Forces adding to instability in the future2. Pakistan establishment according to the Report also believes that US reluctance to address Pakistani misgivings increases the likelihood of a growing Indian footprint, and in turn, New Delhi’s greater ability to manipulate the end game negotiations and the post-settlement dispensation in Kabul. Large size of Afghan National Army and security forces are also seen as threats to the Pakistani interests.

Another area where India has shown interest is in exploitation of rich mineral reserves of Afghanistan which have been estimated to be in the order of one trillion dollars. Though China was off the block to bid for Afghanistan’s copper reserves in Ayank in Logar province India has also now joined the race by bidding for iron ore blocks and then set up a steel plant in that country. The Hajigak mines hold an estimated reserve of 1.8 billion tonnes of iron ore. Economic prosperity ushered in through such projects is expected to contribute towards building of peace and stability in Afghanistan. Of course, all this is contingent India upon India improving its relations with Iran and Pakistan in order to evacuate the products.

During the hey days of the Taliban regime in Kabul from 1996 to 2001 Pakistan had exploited the unstable situation and worked with that regime to use Afghanistan as a training and recruiting base for launching jihad against India especially in Kashmir. Therefore, India views with consternation the possible return of Taliban regime in Kabul supported by Pakistan. On the other hand India’s successes in Afghanistan in the civil capacity building and reconstruction have driven Pakistan’s security establishment into making allegations about ulterior motives of India. The Obama administration has been over sensitive to Pakistani desire of denying India any substantial role in Afghanistan especially anything that is remotely connected with the security sector in Afghanistan. Washington, therefore, despite sharing common perceptions with India on situation in Afghanistan and Pakistan’s role, has sought to limit India’s role in Afghanistan

There have been many soundings amongst the strategic community of India on whether India should play a more active role and whether there is a need to have a stronger military presence; something that Afghanistan Defence Minister, Abdul Rahim Wardak, who paid a visit to India in June 2011,urged the Indian government to do particularly in training and equipping the Afghan Defence Forces. It needs to be remembered that Indian embassy in Kabul and other interests have come under terrorists attacks frequently; such attacks were known to be sponsored by ISI through their proxies. With the likely return of Taliban to Kabul should India become more pro-active in meeting terrorist threat head-on and/or work towards installing a neutral regime in concert with regional and international actors?

Indian PM’S Visit to Kabul in May 2011 and Indo-Afghan relations

Manmohan Singh’s visit was decided upon sometime in April much before the US Navy Seals carried out Abbotabad operation to kill Osama bin Laden on May 1, 2011. It has been quite evident for some time that with the US under pressure to draw-down in Afghanistan and with President Obama due for re-election an end game in Afghanistan is in sight. Regional actors have been jockeying for influence in the end game being played out in Afghanistan. Part of this end game was the visit of Prime Minister of Pakistan Yusuf Raza Gilani accompanied by Gen. Kyani, the Army Chief and Lt. Gen Shuja Pasha, the ISI Head to Kabul on April 16, 2011 to confer with Hamid Karzai, the President of Afghanistan. Reports emanating from Kabul indicated that the trio had apprised Karzai on how the US had let down both him and Pakistan and therefore they should find a common cause in uniting and asking the US to abstain from a long-term American military presence in Afghanistan. Pakistan’s Prime Minister even suggested that it is both Pakistan and China towards whom Afghanistan should be looking for strategic partnership rather than the US. Gilani is believed to have told Karzai that Pakistan’s ‘all-weather friend’ China will be a more valuable partner for regional development. And striking deal with Afghanistan through the aegis of Pakistan would be beneficial for all.

It was in this background of end-game being played in Afghanistan scenario that Indian PM visited Afghanistan rather than in the wake of Bin Laden being eliminated though that event has also become crucial to the unfolding dynamics of the US’s Af-Pak strategy. India remains quite concerned with instability in Afghanistan and protecting its strategic interest in preventing Afghanistan becoming a safe haven for terrorists and extremists.

In his discussions with Karzai Indian PM stressed that Afghanistan had to make its decisions without “outside interference or coercion”. He supported an Afghan led peace process rather than any other dictated by outsiders. Obviously the reference was to Pakistan’s strategic ambitions of becoming the ‘single window clearance’ for any solution. The hapless Afghans have been victims of outside interference now for over last thirty years. Most important was his address to Afghan Parliament to underline India’s support to fledgling democracy of Afghanistan. He was first Head of State to do so. India has given funds for construction of the parliament building. This was symbolical of India pursuing its interests through soft power approach rather than hard-line tactics of Pakistan and its reliance on proxies.

The two important statements he made in Kabul were that he supported Karzai’s efforts for the reconciliation plan with the Taliban who have been seen for long by Indian security establishments as instruments of Pakistan to attain its objectives of ‘strategic depth’. And he ruled out any unilateralist intervention (read US type i.e. the Abbotabad operation). In fact the Indian military had suggested that Indian forces could out similar strikes against some of the terrorist leaders hiding in Pakistan.

During the visit the two sides agreed to impart a long term commitment to their multifaceted bilateral relations and to actively develop them in the years ahead. India and Afghanistan decided to establish a Strategic Partnership covering all areas of mutual interest. The Strategic Partnership will be implemented under the framework of a Partnership Council. The Council will be headed by the Foreign Ministers of both the countries and will meet annually. It will consist of separate Joint Working Groups (JWGs) on designated issues of common concern.

In the political sphere, the two sides agreed to hold regular Summit level meetings, institutionalized dialogues at various levels, regular consultations on peace and security, and closer cooperation and coordination at the United Nations and other international and regional fora.

In the area of economics and commerce, the two sides decided to enter into a Strategic Economic Partnership, recognizing the advantages of closer economic integration with the South Asian market and the region. They agreed to explore greater cooperation in sectors such as mining, metallurgy, fuel and energy, information technology, communications and transport, and also jointly explore the possibilities of regional trading arrangements with other countries. The two countries agreed on the importance of regional projects such as Turkmenistan-Afghanistan-Pakistan-India gas pipeline (TAPI), in promoting regional integration.

The two sides agreed to enhance and expand cooperation in the field of education & human resource capacity development, including through expanded opportunities for education and training for Afghan students in India and a significant expansion of the ongoing Small Development Projects (SDPs) scheme for grass-root level development in all parts of Afghanistan.

One of the most important highlights of the visit was additional grant of US$ 500 million by the PM for projects to be decided in consultation with Afghan partners making their total development commitment to Afghanistan US $ 2 billion. Evidently, such actions do not find much favour with Pakistani side.

Further, the two sides also agreed on the need to explore regional infrastructure development projects and further energize cooperation under the framework of the South Asian Association of Regional Cooperation (SAARC).

There was also an agreement on the need on cooperation in the area of security, law enforcement and justice, including an enhanced focus on cooperation in the fight against international terrorism, organised crime, and illegal trafficking in narcotics, and money-laundering. However, such kind of cooperation has been frowned upon by Pakistan and due to the US deference to Pakistan sensitivities it is unlikely to make much headway unless there is a dramatic change in US-Pak relations.

India’s strategy towards, as can be seen over the years, has been primarily focused towards helping the Afghan people through developmental aid which benefits them the most. In general India has earned goodwill among Afghans through its soft power approach. The only way Pakistan can instigate Afghans against India is through radicalizing them, raising the banner of jihad and through radicalizing the Pashtuns and other Afghan ethnic and religious groups. Overall, the Prime Minister’s visit to Kabul was part of a strategic approach to remain relevant in the emerging end-game in Afghanistan. But the moot point is how long will Karzai’s government last and what would be the nature and extent of cooperation with the new dispensation that could appear in Kabul in the coming years.

Post-Bin Laden Situation in Afghanistan

The killing of bin Laden has had a significant impact on Obama’s Af-Pak strategy which has been in place since he took over. Withdrawal of troops in a phased manner has already commenced. Bringing Bin Laden to justice had been one of the most important goals of the US since September 2001. If one looks back the American forces had carried out Cruise missile attacks against Bin Laden’s camps in Khost, Afghanistan in August 1998. However, he was able to escape the attacks. If Taliban government of Mullah Omar had handed over their so called guest Bin Laden then to the Americans then the scenario would have entirely been different. The US has been keen only to degrade the capabilities of Taliban and may not be that much interested in eliminating them. The Americans have done business with the Taliban before. It also needs to be remembered that the US has never declared Taliban as a terrorist group or organization. Neither has the United Nations done so. Only certain individuals of Taliban have been included in the list of terrorists issued regularly by the UN.

Therefore, as a consequence of Bin Laden’s elimination the US is gradually reverting to counter-terrorism strategy which involves lesser number of troops on ground instead of a counter-insurgency strategy which is what is being followed up till now. The US Vice President Joe Bidden had been favour of pursuing such a strategy earlier but he was over ruled due to strong influence of Pentagon leadership in favour of putting more boots on the ground to degrade Taliban’s ascendancy. Bin Laden’s death seems to be a turning point for the Afghan War. As mentioned earlier the year 2014 had been announced by Obama as the time line when the responsibilities could be handed over to the Afghan National Security Forces. Implementing such a plan has now increasingly become possible with the extermination of Bin Laden. But will this solve the Afghan puzzle in the near to mid-term is another question.

Secretary of State Hillary Clinton has stated that Bin Laden’s death “opens up possibilities for dealing with the Taliban that did not exist before.” It is quite evident that the US is not going to withdraw in a hurry given the strategic interests it has not only in Af-Pak region but in the wider region that includes Iran, Central Asia, China and a nuclearised and unstable Pakistan. The US and NATO appear to be there for the long haul albeit with much reduced presence despite bin Laden's demise. In July 2011, Afghanistan's National Security Advisor Dr. Rangin Dadfar Spanta revealed that Washington and Kabul have reached an agreement in principle for the proposed Afghan-U.S. strategic partnership pact to be valid until 2024, at which time it could be extended or terminated following a review3.

Thus the US presence is likely to continue even after security responsibilities are handed over to Afghan forces in 2014. The U.S is expected to continue to conduct counter-terrorism operations using Special Forces and CIA operatives in both Afghanistan and Pakistan.

Perceptions of India and US widely vary and especially so in Af-Pak context. As a former Ambassador to the US has argued that “there is a clear tendency in India to hold the US to much higher standards of expectations than any of our other strategic partners. We expect the US to follow our script on all issues of interest to us, while often viewing reciprocal US expectations as affronts to our sovereignty. Even while collaborating closely, we tend to shy away from any overt US embrace”. Here differences in strategic construct of looking at both India’s key problem areas become stark.

The obtaining scenario is clearly not to India’s liking. What is worrisome for India is the post US withdrawal scenario that leaves Pakistan in a position to re-establish its influence over Afghanistan and from there to threaten India indirectly. It is painfully familiar with Pakistan’s agenda having been victim of Pakistan involved attacks on its embassy and establishments since 2008. India therefore would like to caution US against rushing headlong into Taliban or making half baked deals which collapse before 2014 ends. Having invested heavily both politically and in terms of aid assistance India will be loathe to see all this being frittered away in the coalition’s rush to pull out.

Implications and Options for India

The worst case scenario for India would be the withdrawal of coalition forces in toto that has grave implications for the region and international community. The impact of a sudden US strategic reversal and consequent spiralling of violence and Islamic extremism out of Af-Pak region would be mostly felt in India. Islamic radicals would feel reinvigorated and get emboldened to extend their jihad not only to Kashmir but also to India’s hinterland. With an air of invincibility after having defeated the erstwhile super power Soviet Union and now the only super power their ambitions to embark on a global jihad would not hold any bounds. Central Asia, North Caucasus, Europe and other parts of the globe would become their area of operations. Jihadi groups would thus unleash more potent attacks not only India but elsewhere also.

Pakistan has already started reaping the negative consequences of Taliban-Al Qaeda combine’s ascendancy with increasing Talibanisation of FATA and Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa with enhanced threat to security of its nuclear weapons. Taliban is increasingly gaining reverse strategic depth in Pakistan and the resulting instability would further threaten India’s security. Evidently, return of Taliban in Afghanistan would not be an unmixed blessing for Pakistan as a united Afghan and Pakistan Taliban would pose more challenges to Pakistani establishment. However, Pakistan’s military establishment is apparently oblivious to this obvious development. A recent joint study by a Pakistani and US think tanks has alluded to this aspect.

Training and Equipping Afghan National Army

So far India has been relying on soft power even though there are some advocates of employing hard power in Afghanistan. Stability in Afghanistan is of vital concern to India. Thus if situation in Afghanistan goes awry would India be willing to consider hard power options? Nevertheless India must ensure good military and political relations with Afghan National Army and strengthen it through training and equipment. India has the capability undertaking training programme designed to train anything upto 25 to 30 battalions per year in counter insurgency operations. However, for this India would need to continue to have dialogue with the US and its allies and emphasise the benefits of ANSF being trained by the Indian army which has vast experience in counter insurgency operations and tactics. Training would be much cheaper compared to the exorbitant amounts being spent by the NATO forces for training Afghans4. Training would imbibe the ethos of minimum use of force and people friendly activities in contrast to the kinetic operations of the coalition troops. Training will be without any ideological content and in the ambience of shared cultural affinity. To obviate India’s role in training ANA General Kayani has offered to train the ANA.

Sending troops would be more of a counterproductive option because of the groundswell of backlash it is likely to cause among the proud Pashtuns and other Afghans. Further, there would be the problems of logistics for maintenance of such a force in a country with which we do not share borders. Staging of forces through Iran would also not be easy given the state of our relationship with Iran at the present juncture. Yet, vigorous measures to prevent the type of attacks which have taken place against our embassy in Kabul twice and once against a guest house where Indians were housed need to be taken. Selective targeting of terrorist groups and their leadership is one option which should be considered if our own agencies are up to it.

Establishing strong institutional linkages with ANA which is likely to play a pivotal role in stabilizing the country would serve Indian goals better. Further, even though elements of erstwhile Northern alliance have merged with Karzai’s government it would be beneficial to renew links with the components of the alliance as they would hardly be supportive of a Taliban dominated government.

Comprehensive Indian Engagement with Afghanistan

India’s investment in development infrastructure has benefited the common people in Afghanistan creating considerable good will among the populace. Historically, India has enjoyed good relationship with Afghan populace. India needs to develop stronger linkages with those political forces in Afghanistan who are opposed to Talibani precepts and concepts. It is believed that large percentage (some estimates indicate 90 %) do not want Taliban to come back. Such groups would include all ethnic communities the Pashtuns, the Tajiks, the Uzbeks and the Hazaras and it is with such groups that India needs to engage further and expand its cooperation. Therefore soft options should continue even while hard options are not taken off the table.

Further, despite the setbacks due to ISI-inspired attacks on Indian interests in Kabul the Indian efforts in supporting institutions of governance and capacity building need to be re-invigorated; most of the training of Afghan civil officials could be done in India to obviate security concerns. Development assistance and aid could be further enhanced beyond the current levels and third parties involved if enhanced security cannot be ensured for the Indian personnel.

Ongoing Indo- US dialogue on developments in Afghanistan and its implications on Indian core strategic interests needs more active engagement with the US; presently the US deferring to Pakistan’s sensitivities on the issue refrains from involving India to address the political, military, economic and societal situation in Afghanistan. Convincing the US about India’s concerns and sensitivities would be a major diplomatic challenge. Here India must play a pro active role in concert with its interests as a major regional player rather than allow only US to shape the discourse.

Dialogue with militants

Opening of dialogue with Afghan militants particularly those nationalist elements that are concerned with nation building in Afghanistan not so much as Islamic ideology would become imperative. Even a Taliban spokesman had claimed last year that his organisation did not want India out of Afghanistan but attacked the country for supporting the Hamid Karzai government and western forces. According to him “If the Taliban return to power, we would like to maintain normal relations with countries including India. It's possible for the Taliban and India to reconcile with each other”5. This is merely a declaration but talking to some of the Taliban groups need not be ruled out. In our own country we have been talking to all kind of insurgent groups off and on.

There are reports of old Northern Alliance constituents who were at one time close to India being behind Karzai's efforts to patch up or reach some kind of accommodation with the Taliban/ Hekmatyar group. From Indian perspective the most important issue is to deny Pakistan a hold on Afghanistan that could not only reinforce its proxy war against India but also fuel Islamic radicalism in the country as discussed earlier. With this being India’s principal aim then establishing contact with Taliban groups and establishing leverages which ensure that emerging political discourse does not move towards an Islamic caliphate but a participatory democratic model (suited to Afghan conditions) with all its expected flaws; and that would be in India’s interest.

India’s remains very cautious about the unfolding reconciliation and integration strategy outlined at London Conference. Our Foreign Secretary remarked in March 2010 that, “We believe it is imperative for the international community, in its new initiatives on security, reintegration, and reconciliation in Afghanistan, to approach these issues carefully – and with caution. We believe that any reintegration process should include only those who abjure violence, give up armed struggle and terrorism and are willing to abide by the values of democracy, pluralism and human rights. There is every risk, otherwise, that the Taliban could resurrect them as they have done in the past even when we think they have been defeated or we are rid of their hardcore elements”6.

During his visit to Afghanistan in May 2011, PM Manmohan Singh declared his support for President Karzai’s reconciliation programme; he also stressed that it should be Afghan-led. It is another matter that the US, Pakistan and even some of the other Coalition nations have been talking individually to Taliban. Pakistan’s motivations in this regard are well-known.

Developing Regional Consensus

India must take a pro active stance in developing regional consensus to build on gains made so far as it has high stakes in Afghan stability. In the emerging discourse India, Russia, Iran and central Asian countries have been increasingly sidelined especially since the London Conference of 2010. Common agenda for the region would be the issues of extremism and terrorism, narcotics and its trafficking and trade and transit corridors. Pakistan would have to be brought on board and its security concerns addressed to a degree that does not create security challenges for others. A balance would have to be found between the competing strategic interests of the regional stakeholders for the common good of the region. A friendly and neutral government in Kabul which is bereft of ideology that promotes jihad would be welcome to all neighbours. The Bonn Conference scheduled for early December 2011 would be the ideal platform to work towards a regional consensus. In any case a Taliban/ or Taliban dominated government in Kabul would hardly be a panacea for all the ills of Afghanistan as peace and stability may still remain elusive.

In its strategic dialogue with the US, India needs to continually stress to the US the need for a regional approach which has been articulated as an objective to be achieved in the Af-Pak strategy; a Pakistan-centric solution is unlikely to bring in long-term stability in Af-Pak belt. Putting all eggs in Pakistani basket is more likely to prove costly for the US and its allies with concomitant negative outcome for Afghanistan’s neighbourhood and international community.

China in such a scenario is also likely to be affected party particularly if Pakistan is also reeling under growing radical forces. Recent incidents in Xianjiang are pointer towards the rise of radicalism and terrorism there with linkages to Pakistan. It would be prudent to initiate regional dialogue perhaps under SCO to forge common strategy to deal with the situation. China is a key player in any future regional coalition seeking to secure and rebuild Afghanistan, particularly after U.S. troops pull out. China reportedly sees revival of Afghan economy as an important parameter for Afghan stability.

A number of models are presently being looked into as far as a regional approach is concerned. The 6 plus 2 mechanism was attempted during the civil war, unfortunately without any real progress. Similarly the SCO contact group model has remained on paper despite resolution during the Moscow meeting of SCO in 2009 and Declaration at Astana after this year’s SCO Summit. These are statements of intent but need to be implemented which may not happen in the near future. This year’s SCO summit’s Astana declaration of neutral Afghanistan should rhyme very well with all the regional stakeholders. However, the key role for such a consensus has to be taken by the UN. The Geneva Accords and the Bonn Agreement are examples to be emulated by the UN. As mentioned earlier the coming Bonn conference on Afghanistan in December 2011is an opportunity for the regional stakeholders and international community to reach an accord on the neutral status of Afghanistan and move towards providing guarantees of sovereignty and non-interference in Afghan affairs. Bringing in international forces under the umbrella of the UN would be another viable option but this would not be an easy task given the competing geo-strategic interest of the major players in the region especially of the veto-wielding members of the UN Security Council.

Protecting the Home Turf; Enhancing Capabilities

Effective steps to protect the country from a backlash of creeping Talibanisation in Pakistan and radicalization of their society and their spill over to India are important. Own military and internal capabilities (both paramilitary and police forces besides intelligence and surveillance capabilities) need to be enhanced to meet the challenge of Pakistan military’s nexus with the terror groups and new strategies put in place to prevent Mumbai type attacks. As part of pro active stance strikes against terror camps may become inescapable in the developing scenarios even though diplomacy and non-military means would remain a preferred alternative. Some degree of back channel or direct contact with Pakistan must be maintained as also with China to enhance our leverages. Dismantling of terror infrastructure in Pakistan needs to be continually stressed in all bilateral, regional and international forums.


Recent developments in Afghanistan after Obama administration took over 2009 have gravitated towards instituting a ‘surge and exit’ strategy. The overall thrust of the Obama regime has been to pursue ‘a well-resourced and integrated military-civilian strategy that was intended to pave the way for gradual transition to Afghan leadership’. Apparently, the transition to Afghan leadership has already begun and is expected to be completed by the end of 2014. However, many questions arise as to whether Afghan leadership would be up to the task to assume responsibilities by then. What would be the nature of the Afghan regime given the many fractious tendencies? How would the Taliban which have gained ascendancy in the recent past be reconciled? Would there be a regional consensus on Afghanistan? How would the competing political interests of some of the regional powers be reconciled? Reconstruction, rehabilitation, development and improving the lot of common Afghan people would require a massive infusion of international funds and commitments. The coming Bonn Conference in December 2011 could play important part in adopting common approaches and resolving issues associated with the Afghan imbroglio. India along with the regional and international players would have an important role to play.

Pakistan military establishment is convinced that western forces lack commitment and resolve for a sustained fight and therefore it is waiting to claim its strategic depth in Afghanistan after their eventual withdrawal. The US has not involved its coalition partners much in the ongoing Af-Pak strategy debates leave aside the regional stakeholders. Some perfunctory calls have been made to regional players in the shape of an Afghan Contact group and some averments at the international conferences but no substantial cooperation has been sought so far from the regional players.

Over reliance on Pakistan to pull the US and NATO’s chestnuts out of the Afghan fire have resulted in the Americans throwing good money after the money gone bad in terms of military and other aid given to Pakistan. Further, Pakistan itself is reeling under multiple terror attacks as a blowback from its failed policies of supporting jihadi terror groups. While Pakistan establishment thinks that it can control Taliban after the departure of western coalition Taliban is more likely to act autonomously throwing more challenges to Pakistan, region and the international community. In 2008 US Vice President Joe Bidden, after a visit to Pakistan had remarked that “If Afghanistan fails, Pakistan could follow, because extremists will set their sights on the bigger prize to the east.” 7Both Afghanistan and Pakistan remain very high on the Failed State Index based on about a dozen criteria. State failure would have concomitant negative repercussions for the region and especially for India.

Regional consensus with Iran, Russia, talking to China as also opening backchannels to Pakistan and establishing contacts with important domestic players in Afghanistan is imperative. Guarding against increasing radicalization in Pakistan would another important step. India should also become pro active in defining its core strategic interests in Afghanistan i.e. it should never be allowed to become a haven of terrorists which would embark on a regional or global jihad.

References/End Notes :

  1. Moed Yusuf et all in “Pakistan, the united States and End game in Afghanistan; Perceptions of Pakistan’s Foreign Policy Elite” July 25, 2011, United institute of Peace brief available at
  2. Ibid
  3. Tufail Ahmed and Y.Carmon “Two Clashing Scenarios for Afghanistan following the US and coalition withdrawal in 2014 and beyond that to 2024” 30 August 2011 available at The Middle East Media Research Institute website at
  4. For instance see Sumit Ganguly, “Let India Train the Afghan Army”, The Wall Street Journal, February 16, 2010
  5. “Taliban say they can reconcile with India”, The Times of India, March 26, 2010
  6. Address by India’s Foreign Secretary Nirupama Rao at Woodrow Wilson Centre on, “Two Democracies: Defining the essence of India-US Partnership”, March 15, 2010 available at
  7. Joe Bidden’s remarks available at

Published Date : 16th September, 2011

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