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Indias Foreign Policy Toward Afghanistan Politics Essay

India’s foreign policy towards Afghanistan requires a immediate and urgent revision to meet up to the emerging situation in Afghanistan. In the recent past, India’s fortunes in Afghanistan and its posture has suffered a reversal. During the London conference India’s genuine concerns in Afghanistan were lowered down in priority by the governments in charge of shaping the agenda. India must head off from a passive and soft approach by making an unrelenting commitment of resources towards positive actions and initiatives in Afghanistan. Afghanistan holds a crucial place in India’s larger interests and therefore there is a need to have an independent and sustainable policy towards the country.

The Af-Pak region is the present nucleus of the instability problem and the issues of the Pashtun community is its focus. India’s relationship with Afghanistan since independence has largely been affected by their relations with the Pashtuns. India’s support of the Northern Alliance during Russian invasion and presently in form of the current government has created misperceptions and disenchantment among sections of the Pashtuns against India. India needs to consider this as a serious issue while deciding the course to take in Afghanistan. [13] 

India’s has a wide array of interests in Afghanistan. Use of Afghanistan as a base for activities against India by hostile states and non-state actors cannot be permitted. India must use all its capabilities to maintain stability in the region and promote prosperity in the subcontinent. Considering its close relations as seen in history, the interests of the Afghan people must remain the paramount concern of India. It is quite clear that even Afghans, who show a preference for the conservative Taliban over the democratic Karzai government, would not like a return of the inhuman form of ‘Sharia’ law or the brutality experienced during the Taliban years.

India’s foremost challenges in Afghanistan include moulding US perspective on India’s vision for the country, providing security to its citizens and regaining the Pashtun sentiments. Close to 4000 Indians are working in various Afghanistan developmental projects. Casualties to Indians in Afghanistan have risen in the recent past.  Although desirable, the creation of a formal group of regional powers appears distant at the moment. The United States believes that there is no consensus of opinion about the path to be taken in Afghanistan among China, Iran, Russia, Pakistan and India. As such Russia and China, being the worthwhile regional opponents in the region, and Iran, being the real time opponent as on date are unlikely to be given the initiative by the United States. Moreover, the Russian Federation ambassador to India, Mr. Kadakin recently commented that Russia desired greater role for India in Afghanistan and that they want Afghanistan to be a peaceful democracy. [14] Therefore, the only regional countries that can be seen to dominate debates about Afghanistan in the US-led coalition can be India and Pakistan. Hence, the US pressure on India to consider Pakistan an ally and offer it concessions is likely to increase. This facet was aptly brought out during the recent state visit of the US president Barack Obama to India in Nov 2010. [15] 

Taliban poses as a distinct dilemma for India. Despite the former being an indigenous Afghan force, their special relationship with Pakistan and the link with ISI are evidence enough of their being attached to the neighbouring country. But still, the Afghan Taliban- Pakistan nexus can at best be considered opportunistic as the Taliban have often done double dealing with Pakistan. Indian thinking correctly recognises that Taliban should not be categorised as good or bad on basis of their inclination to violence only. The Taliban are neither a great political entity. The Taliban soldiers include poor unemployed youth, underpaid peasants, sidelined tribes and criminal gangs. Although Pakistan would like to affect the intensity of conflict, multiple factions within Taliban pose the hurdle. Therefore India needs to differentiate its policy depending on the influence, control, allegiance and composition of the different factions. [16] 

India favours a totally internal political solution to Afghanistan’s conflict.  Whether to reconcile or reintegrate was the significant debate that came out at the London conference in Apr 2010. Reintegration would mean to wean away the foot soldiers whereas reconciliation is an option for power-sharing along with the Taliban leadership. There certainly exists a divergence in views on this subject within the coalition and regional powers. Both Pakistan and UK have favoured reconciliation, though the reasons are different. On the other hand United States and France initially favoured only reintegration, but are now curious as to the framework of reconciliation.  After the visit of President Karzai to the United States in May 2010, it seemed likely that the US would support the reintegration process although it remains doubtful of the scope of this reconciliation process that was being proposed by the Afghan president. India on its part must trust the thinking of the Karzai government for if the strategy backfired, the Karzai government stands to lose the most.

India’s biggest challenge preventing engagement with the Taliban is the fact that anti-India terrorist groups like the Lashkar-e-Taiba are associated with them. India needs to differentiate between various Taliban groups in terms of their extent of linkages with these terrorist groups. The Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP), one faction of the Taliban, is wary about Lashkar’s proximity to Pakistani ISI and this has led to numerous clashes between these two groups. The Lashkar-e-Taiba seemingly operate more in the Af-Pak region and enjoy a close relationship with other Taliban factions from that area. [17] 

In order to revise India’s policy in Afghanistan it is suggested that the new strategy that consists of maintaining continuity where measures have yielded significant dividends while breaking new ground in other areas . The elemental shifts that can help include pursuing a development centric strategy, engagement of all provincial level leaders as well as diversifying focus to small scale developmental projects. India must look at Afghanistan as a group of regions each with unique grievances and dynamics and certainly not as an collection of confused ethnicities. India also must engage provincial level officials of the government as well as medium level commanders of Taliban at province level. The projects taken by India should be driven by the Afghan economic priorities and contain a mix of large-scale infrastructure projects as well as micro-level projects which are entirely driven by the needs of the local populace.

India should continue making a substantial investment towards its public diplomacy efforts. It should also continue its efforts in the field of education through increased scholarship schemes for Afghan students, increase cultural diplomacy through mass public media and movies, and improve Afghanistan’s sports system by offering training in body building, football and cricket. India has to continue its emphasis on development of Afghanistan by infrastructure projects for electrification, water supply and transmission lines. India should also strive to improve governance reforms by sharing of best possible practices. Internally, the vital task for the Indian government is to educate the common man about the importance Afghanistan offers for India and send reassurances about the security of Indians living there.

India must moot for a forum of joint organization that has a genuine interest in the independent political economy of Afghanistan. The North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO), Shanghai Cooperation Organization (SCO) and the South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation (SAARC) can be utilised to reduce duplication and wastage of resources for the same..

India also needs to formulate a coherent political policy in Afghanistan. The prime objective of India’s policy towards Pakistan should be one in which Afghanistan and Pakistan deal as sovereign states with each other and do not foster a patron-client relationship. The Karzai government needs to be supported in their reconciliation efforts by India, a credible regional mediator like Turkey can be brought in and the US-led coalition must be supported. Iran has to be considered as a strategic interlocutor on Afghanistan by India. However, any political planning with Iran on Afghanistan in a multilateral arena will have to be done remembering international sensitivities about Iran. Also, the Central Asian Republics like Tajikistan, Uzbekistan and Kyrgyzstan share an ethnic and historic commonality with Afghanistan and these relations must be given priority. India and Russia have so far had a similar opinion about preventing narcotics smuggling out of Afghanistan not allowing the Taliban to displace the Karzai government. However, a considerable divergence exists over the support to the NATO troops and their presence in Afghanistan. Strategically for India, a neutral attitude towards NATO and American presence in Afghanistan would render better results.

Medical and Defense diplomacy can be the other important pillars of Indian strategy while dealing with Afghanistan. Making healthcare units inside Afghanistan through funding and establishing Afghan-run health clinics with staff trained in India would prove beneficial. India also needs to help Afghanistan develop an indigenous pharmaceutical base. Increasing military interaction with Afghanistan should be another strategic priority for India. Training Afghan military personnel in Afghanistan or India, as it suits them must be planned out. The Indian armed forces rich experience specially in counter-insurgency can be of great help to the Afghan National Army. The Indian policymakers face a certain dilemma on their Afghan policy. The stakes are high for India as they have never been before. With rapidly changing situations, the Indian diplomacy faces a tricky tight rope that it needs to walk in the months to come. It may be a difficult task, but one that needs to be taken if we aim to realize the shared destiny of the Afghan and Indian people.

Indian foreign policy finds itself at a vital juncture in Afghanistan. A rethink of strategy is paramount both to defend India’s interests in the region as well as to continue delivering the benefits of development to the Afghans. India’s policy of dealing with Afghanistan would decide the outcome of the South Asian stability, its standing among its neighbours as well as show the world how India can create an impact on the world. By helping Afghanistan in gaining confidence and stability, India would show the world that it has the power to affect crucial changes in world order.


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