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Home » Archives » 2019 » April 2019 » INDIAN INVOLVEMENT IN AFGHANISTAN



By: Mehtab Ali Bhatti



India and Pakistan got independence from the Great Britain in 1947, whereas Afghanistan was an independent state since the 18th century – it had never been a colony of any power. Although the relations between British India and Afghanistan, historically, had been good, after the creation of Pakistan, direct geographic link between India and Afghanistan was cut down, which shaped Afghan hostility towards Pakistan. Basically, there are two major reasons of strained relations between Afghanistan and Pakistan: (1) Afghanistan’s claim over the latter’s province of Khyber Pakhtunkhuwa (KP); and (2) Afghanistan does not recognize the Durand Line. During the Afghan War in 1979, India supported pro-Soviet regime, that is, the Northern Alliance due to its friendly relations with the USSR. On the other hand, Mujahideen, who ultimately drove out the Soviet forces from Afghanistan, were mainly supported by Washington, Riyadh and Islamabad. In the 1990s, Afghan Mujahideen formed their government by ousting Najibullah Ahmadzai. With this move, India was evidently marginalized and it closed its embassy there. It, however, moved closer to the Northern Alliance and supported them with conventional weapons as well as soft assistance against the Taliban.

The event of attacks on Twin Towers of the World Trade Center on September 11, 2001, not only walloped the world politics but it also provided India with a rare opportunity to emerge as a formidable regional power in South Asia. India made extensive, strenuous efforts to regain its influence as well as the leverage it had in Afghanistan before 1996. India opened its embassy in Afghanistan’s capital Kabul in 2001 and distinguished Afghan leaders like Dr Abdullah Abdullah and Yunas Qanooni went to India for fostering close ties between the two countries. Further, the then Foreign Minister of India, Pranab Mukherjee, visited Kabul in 2007 where he openly stated: “Indian–Afghan bilateral relations are fast developing into a partnership which is very special to us. We are glad to be able to contribute to the reconstruction and rebuilding of Afghanistan.”

Developing ties with Central Asian states via Afghanistan is one of the crucial agenda of New Delhi, i.e. economic marketing. India has left no stone unturned to make Afghanistan dependent on its support. In Oct 2011, Indian and Afghan governments signed Strategic Partnership Agreement for better defence and diplomatic ties.

However, the growing bonhomie between its eastern and western neighbours is worrying for Pakistan.

In the global War on Terror, Islamabad did not gain anything; it lost a lot, though. After Bush’s famous bellicosity, “You’re either with us or against us in the fight against terror,” Islamabad abandoned supporting the Taliban – a decision that brought death and destruction to Pakistan in the form of suicide attacks around the country, especially big cities, and camps and convoys of armed forces. Pakistan suffered a colossal financial loss of $120 billion besides losing more than 75,000 lives.

New Delhi’s multitudinous projects in Kabul, e.g. growing military-to-military relations, opening of four consulates, and so on, are alarming developments for Pakistan. Islamabad has expressed its reservations over the potential implications of the new consulates, especially the covert operations in Balochistan that are orchestrated from there. Strategic partnership between India and Afghanistan threatens the interests, territorial integrity and security of Pakistan.

Why Afghanistan is important to India?

Afghanistan’s geo-strategic position is crucial to India – politically, economically and strategically – in terms of gains and due to the presence of major powers in Kabul.

i. India’s economic policies and interests in Afghanistan

India has privileged economic interests in Afghanistan as it is using the country as a transit to Central Asia for trade activities. Moreover, it is trying to tackle China’s expanding influence in the energy and economic realms by dictating Afghanistan. India has Initiated Chabahar Port project with Afghanistan and Iran in order to get connected with the Middle East and CARs where Indian goods will be exported. Another reason for growing Indian presence in Afghanistan is the control on oil and gas pipelines that pass through the Afghan territory to reach Pakistan. Afghanistan is also a favourable trade destination for India. According to 2017 statistics, their bilateral trade was $700 million annually that soared to $1 billion in 2018. Both countries aim to have a bilateral trade volume of $2 billion by 2020.

ii. Strategic interests and soft policy

India’s strategic interests and objectives are vividly clear: it wants to rope in Afghanistan to gain economic leverage and political support for tackling Pakistani interests. Maximum presence in Afghanistan’s economic and security sectors ensures a greater Indian influence there. India always wants to see only a pro-India government in Afghanistan, like that of Hamid Karzai.

According to Joseph S. Nye, “Through soft power you can achieve what you want, instead of reinforcement or coercion. It escalates from one country’s cultural attraction, political thoughts and ideas, and its policies eternally when other country sees it lawful then there are ample chances of soft power enhancement.” So, how India is increasing its soft influence in South Asia, Asia Pacific, and is spreading trade and transit routes towards Central Asia, the Middle East and Europe? India has invested more than $2 billion on socioeconomic projects, has provided huge support to construct a new parliamentary complex for Afghan government at a cost of $115 million and has also gifted 400 buses to Afghan government.

iii. India’s power projection tools

a. Indian Lobby

Indian presence in Afghanistan through various projects and diplomatic reasons to work together has changed the foreign policy posture of Afghanistan in favour of India. Many years of struggle have got India its purpose in Afghanistan in the form of Indian lobby by which Indian diplomats can interfere in internal politics and decision-making processes of the Afghan government.

b. Development aid

India doled out around $3 billion as humanitarian aid and for reconstruction to Afghanistan between 2002 and 2017. It is the fifth largest country, after the US, the UK, Japan and Germany, to extend financial aid to the war-torn country. During a meeting with President Ashraf Ghani a few months ago, Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi promised to give $1 billion for development in Afghanistan.

c. RAW

India’s Research and Analysis Wing (RAW) and other spy agencies have sown the seeds of rebellion in Balochistan province of Pakistan. Border Road Organization (BRO) and Sarobi Centre are headed by senior Indian army officers where they train terrorists for unorthodox missions against Pakistan. In Kandahar, there are two bases, Nawah and Lashkargah, where Balochistan Liberation Army (BLA) and other dissidents are trained to target Pakistan Army – according to some reports more than 500 dissidents are trained there for explosions, bomb blasts and weapon-use. In 2009, Afghan official Ehsanullah Aryanzai said, “For destablizing Pakistan, India is using Afghan territory. Afghanistan’s intelligence agencies and political leaders have no wit or argument to stop them because of un-mechanized authoritative government.” In addition, Indian intelligence officer Kalbhushan Jhadav was arrested from Balochistan in March 2016.

Perspectives of extra-regional powers

Since the 19th century, Afghanistan has remained the central battlefield of the “Great Game” among world powers due to its geostrategic importance. Afghanistan is gateway to South Asia, Central Asia and the Middle East and is also blessed with abounding mineral resources.

The United States

In 2001, the US invaded Afghanistan accusing the Taliban regime of harbouring Al-Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden, the alleged mastermind of the 9/11. Bush administration asked Taliban to hand over Osama but Taliban said that they would give Osama to a third party so as to ensure fair trial. But this offer irked the Americans who, in turn, imposed a one-sided war by launching air strikes and ground attacks. Of late, in August 2017, Trump administration stipulated that “America’s enemies must never know our plans, I will not say, when we are going to attack, but attack we will.”

Currently, the US objectives in Afghanistan are lucid and transparent: It wants to obliterate the root causes of terrorism to save the whole world in general, and the US and Europe in particular. It further claims to bring stability in Afghanistan through democratic mechanism with stable stance of Afghan government. In the process of bringing the so-called stability, the US considers India as a judicious and concrete partner that can play a momentous role in the reconstruction of Afghanistan and can also serve as a policeman to counter China and safeguard the US interests.


Until recently, China did not involve militarily in Afghanistan in spite of NATO requests. Its policy towards Afghanistan has remained distinctive, after the withdrawal of a large number of American forces, China has increased its soft power and influence to promote stability and political settlement in Afghanistan. China’s involvement is increasing due to its economic projects and Pakistan, an all-weather friend. In its momentous project Belt and Road Initiative (BRI), China has invested in copper mining projects with $2.89 billion estimate. Both countries’ bilateral trade has risen by $1.5 billion, according to 2017 figures.

Implications for Pakistan

Since beginning, India and Pakistan have been rival states and it has fuelled instability in the region. But New Delhi’s enormous influence in Kabul has further periled the two countries. After 9/11, Indian policy towards Afghanistan remained dynamically diplomatic and throughout assertive to marginalize Pakistan. However, Pakistan’s foreign policy has been developed to counter threats from Afghanistan and India. India’s presence in Kabul is not for a short term; it is for longer term as former Indian Prime Minister Dr Manmohan Singh said, on May 12, 2011, during his visit to Kabul: “Unlike the West, India has no ‘exit strategy’ from Afghanistan.” Pakistan has openly declared New Delhi’s growing influence and establishment of new consulates in Kabul a security threat to it.

What should Pakistan do?

  • Pakistan should bring persistency in its policymaking and decision-making processes.
  • Pakistan must be a self-surviving state, and not a client or a satellite of extra-regional powers.
  • Pakistan must neither accept nor allow American influence in its internal affairs.
  • There should be unity and harmony among the political parties of the country.
  • Pakistan must provide to the UN and other international organizations evidence of Indian involvement in Pakistan’s instability, like Kalbhushan Jhadav case – a RAW agent who has been instrumental to creating turmoil in Pakistan, particularly in Balochistan.
  • Pakistan must begin negotiations with the Taliban leadership for bringing peace in the region.
  • Pakistan should sign strategic cooperation agreement with China, as it will counter American and Indian strategic agreements in Afghanistan.
  • Last but not least, Pakistan should sternly knock the UN’s door for resolution of the Kashmir issue.

Concluding remarks

India’s growing influence in Afghanistan has imperilled Pakistan’s territorial integrity and security. The country is now fighting a two-front war; on its western as well as eastern borders. Indian policy towards Afghanistan in the name of reconstruction further aggravates the situation. That is why Pakistan has supported US efforts to find a negotiated settlement to the long-standing Afghan issue. However, peace in Afghanistan is possible only if regional and extra-regional powers, e.g. the US, Iran, India, China and Russia, play a concrete role. Nonetheless, without Pakistan, peace in Afghanistan will remain a distant dream. Afghanistan being a sovereign state must not allow other elements to use its soil for proxy wars. Current Afghan government should engage with neighbouring countries for economic, political and possible securitization. It is indispensable for Pakistan to play the role of a mediator and a rational actor. It can make the most of peace in Afghanistan if stability knocks at the doors of the country.

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