Indo-Afghan Relations

AUG 19

Mains   > International relations   >   India and Neighbours   >   India-Afghanistan

WHY IN NEWS?

  • The Taliban takeover of Afghanistan has significant ramifications for South Asia and leaves India’s foreign-policy and security interests at considerable risk.

ABOUT AFGHANISTAN:

  • Afghanistan is a landlocked mountainous country located within South Asia and Central Asia.
  • The region centered at Afghanistan is considered the "crossroads of Asia", and the country has had the nickname Heart of Asia
  • The geography in Afghanistan is mostly mountainous and rugged
  • It is dominated by the Hindu Kush range, the western extension of the Himalayas that stretches to eastern Tibet via the Pamir Mountains and Karakoram Mountains in Afghanistan's far north-east.
  • Afghanistan is bounded by seven different countries: Pakistan (longest boundary), India (through PoK), Tajikistan, Turkmenistan, Iran, China (shortest border) and Uzbekistan
  • It was ancient focal point of the Silk Road and migration. It is an important geostrategic location, connecting East and West Asia or the Middle East.
  • The land has been a target of various invaders, as well as a source from which local powers invaded neighbouring regions to form their own empires.
  • Ahmad Shah Durrani created the Durrani Empire in 1747, which is considered the beginning of modern Afghanistan
  • Due to its strategic location this country from the ancient time till now became a war zone.
  • For example late 19th century Afghanistan became buffer state in the “Great Game” between British India and Russian Empire, Soviet war in Afghanistan, U.S invasion of 2001 and recent emergence of Taliban.
  • Afghanistan has an estimated population of 4.6 million composed mostly of ethnic Pashtuns, Tajiks, Hazaras, and Uzbeks.

WHY AFGHANISTAN IS IMPORTANT FOR INDIA?

  • Security:
    • A stable Afghanistan is crucial for regional and domestic security and stability for India.
    • India has been the victim of state-sponsored terrorism emanating from Pakistan supported terrorist group operating in the region (ex: Haqqani network)
  • Natural resources:
    • Afghanistan has an estimated 1 trillion USD of untapped resources according to a report by US Geological Survey.
    • Supplies of minerals such as iron, copper and gold are scattered across provinces.
    • There are also rare earth minerals and, perhaps most importantly, what could be one of the world's biggest deposits of lithium - an essential but scarce component in rechargeable batteries and other technologies vital to tackling the climate crisis.
  • Connectivity:
    • The most important role of Afghanistan is always considered as India’s gateway to Central Asia.
    • For instance, connectivity with Afghanistan and further with Central Asia have been primarily the reasons for India’s engagement with Iran to develop Chabahar port.
  • Energy ambitions:
    • To address India’s energy needs to sustain its economic growth, pipelines from Iran and Central Asia would be extremely important.
    • India sees Afghanistan as an essential component of the TAPI (Turkmenistan-Afghanistan-Pakistan-India) pipeline.
    • An unstable Afghanistan would hurt the construction of this pipeline and the subsequent flow of gas
  • Strategic vacuum:
    • Defeating the Taliban and nation-building were part of the neoconservative ideology (promotion of democracy and interventionism in international affairs) of the US >> which has evidently failed.
    • US retreat from Afghanistan had created a vacuum in security and strategic aspects
    • US can abandon the Afghan government and exit the theatre, but India cannot.
    • India has to protect its investments, prevent Afghanistan from becoming another safe haven for anti-India terrorist groups, and also check Pakistan deepening its influence in Kabul.
  • India’s investment in Afghan:
    • India has many critical investments in human and physical infrastructure in Afghanistan
    • Since 2001 India has spent a USD 3 Billion in the country.

COOPERATION:

  • History:
    • India has historically enjoyed good ties with Afghanistan, which go back to the 1950 Treaty of Friendship.
    • During the Soviet-Afghan war (1979-89), India was the only South Asian nation to recognise the Soviet-backed Democratic Republic of Afghanistan
    • Indian interests and influence suffered when the Taliban, backed by Pakistan, captured Kabul in 1996.
    • But India was back in action as soon as the Taliban were ousted from power after the US invasion in 2001.
    • India has made huge investments and commitments ever since, which run into over USD 3 billion, and cultivated strong economic and defence ties with the Afghan government.
  • Bilateral trade:
    • Despite the lack of direct land access, India is the second-largest destination for Afghan exports
    • About 35 trucks used to come to the Wagah-Attari border every day from Afghanistan via Pakistan.
  • Developmental Assistance
    • In the last two decades, India had become one of Afghanistan’s most significant donors (fifth-largest aid donor), providing scholarships to Afghan students, offering food assistance, and helping restore the country’s war-ravaged power grid
    • Infrastructure projects:
      • Afghan Parliament:
        • The most significant contribution to rebuilding of Afghanistan was the Parliament built at a cost of $90 million. The building was opened in 2015
      • Salma Dam:
        • It is the 42-MW hydropower and irrigation Dam in Herat Province
        • It was completed by India in 2016, and known as India-Afghanistan Friendship Dam.
      • Zaranj Delaram Highway:
        • The 218-Km highway built by the Border Roads Organisation is located close to the Afghanistan-Iran border.
        • The highway is of strategic importance to India as it connects Delaram to the northeast of Zaranj with all major regions such as Kandahar, Ghazni, Kabul and Mazar-i-Sharif, and Herat.
        • It provides India alternative access into landlocked Afghanistan from Iran’s Chabahar port as Pakistan denies overland access for trade
      • Power and telecom infrastructure:
        • India also built the 220kV DC transmission line from Pul-e-Khumri, the capital of Baghlan province, which supplies electricity to the national capital Kabul.
        • India also restored several telecommunications lines and infrastructure in many provinces.
      • Healthcare projects:
        • India also restored the Indira Gandhi Institute for Child Health built with India’s help in 1985.
        • ‘Indian Medical Missions’ holds free consultations camps in several areas.
        • Also, India built healthcare centres in border provinces of Badakhshan, Kandahar, Kunar etc.
      • Other contributions:
        • According to MEA, New Delhi had gifted 400 buses and 200 mini-buses, 105 utility vehicles for municipalities, 285 military vehicles for the Afghan National Army and 10 ambulances for government hospitals in five cities.
    • Training to public servants:
      • MoU between UPSC and Independent Administrative Reforms and Civil Services Commission, Afghanistan. It aims to facilitate sharing of experience and expertise of both the parties in the area of recruitment.
  • Investments:
    • An Indian consortium led by state-owned Steel Authority of India Ltd (SAIL) has won the mining rights for three out of four iron ore blocks in the Hajigak region of Afghanistan.
    • This is one of the biggest investments in the country's mining sector.
  • Defence:
    • India delivered Russia-made Mi-25 attack helicopters to Afghanistan
    • India has also discussed potential sales of its Light Combat Helicopter and has ambitions to export the much-maligned Tejas combat aircraft
    • India provides training to soldiers and cadets of the Afghan National Army in Indian military academies
    • In 2014 India signed an agreement with Afghanistan and Russia. According to this agreement Russia will provide all military equipments needed by Afghanistan and India will pay for it
  • Political cooperation:
    • In 2005, India proposed Afghanistan’s membership in the South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation (SAARC).
    • Afghanistan-India Strategic Partnership Agreement (SPA) was signed in 2011
      • It provides for assistance to help rebuild Afghanistan’s infrastructure and institutions, education and technical assistance to re-build indigenous Afghan capacity in different areas, encouraging investment in Afghanistan’s natural resources etc.
    • Three memorandums of understanding were signed between the Bureau of Indian Standards (BIS) and the Afghan National Standardisation Authority for strengthening cooperation in the fields of rural development, education, and standardization
  • Connectivity:
    • India-Afghanistan Air-Freight Corridor
      • It inaugurated in 2017 and this has given uplift to Afghan exports to India and has also directly benefited the farmers, small traders and exporters in Afghanistan.
    • Turkmenistan-Afghanistan-Pakistan-India (TAPI) pipeline.
  • Diaspora:
    • Nearly 1710 Indians are estimated to be present in Afghanistan (August 2020).
    • Most of the Indians are engaged as professionals in Banks, IT firms, construction companies, hospitals, NGOs etc.
  • Cultural ties:
    • Government of India grants ICCR scholarships to 1000 Afghans every year to pursue under graduate courses in various Indian universities in major cities across India.
    • India and Afghan has deep cultural ties that exist through links in fields such as music, food, and language, as well as Bollywood and cricket.

CHALLENGES:

  • India doesn’t have a coherent Afghanistan policy at the moment
    • It is justified by a section as an exercise in strategic patience
    • But such inaction is paving way for China and other region players to gain more advantage in Afghan.
  • Issues emanating from Taliban takeover:
    • Taliban sponsored terror activities
      • A new Taliban government will likely foster safe havens for anti-Indian terrorist organizations and other groups that could sow chaos in Indian-administered Kashmir.
      • Despite the Taliban’s public assurances, Afghanistan could once again emerge as a regional terrorist haven.
      • When they previously held power, the Taliban gave free rein to a host of anti-Indian terrorist organizations within Afghanistan, most notably Jaish-e-Mohammed (JeM) and Lashkar-e-Taiba
      • In 1999, the Taliban government allowed the hijackers of an Indian Airlines flight from Kathmandu, to escape with impunity.
    • Threat to India aided infrastructure:
      • Based on its past experience with a Taliban government, India’s developmental infrastructure faces serious threats in Afghan.
    • Trade blockage:
      • With the Taliban seizing control in Afghanistan, the import of dry fruits, onions, and apples has stopped from the war-ravaged country to India via the integrated check post (ICP) at the Attrai border
    • Humanitarian crisis
      • The swift fall of Afghanistan to Taliban fighters has triggered a humanitarian crisis, with thousands trying to flee the country
      • During their 1996-2001 rule, guided by Islamic sharia law, the Taliban imposed heavy restrictions on women’s and child’s rights; and failed to protect the interest of minorities >> with the re-emergence of Taliban such concerns are at the fore front again.
  • Pakistan  factor:
    • Being the Taliban’s chief patron, Pakistan is the most important player in the Afghan conflict
    • As the U.S. military presence in Afghanistan for almost two decades had kept Washington reliant on Rawalpindi for operational and other support >> Pakistan not only treated the U.S. as its geopolitical partner but also smartly mobilised this factor against India
    • New Delhi rightly fears a Taliban-dominated regime in Kabul might allow Pakistan to dictate Afghanistan’s India policy.
  • India's reluctance to engage with Taliban
    • The Taliban draw support from a wide variety of regional powers, including Russia, China and Iran
    • But India never directly made ties with Taliban
    • Countries like US and China have direct and high-level engagement with the Taliban >> this enables them to convey their individual interests to its leadership >> India is the only major power which is still unable to do so >> India continues to have a “wait and watch” approach.
  • China factor:
    • U.S withdrawal will leave Beijing vulnerable to  spill over effects of terrorism particularly in the restive Xinjiang province
    • Hence China has remained invested in all major regional Afghan-centric negotiations.
    • China’s willingness to work with the Taliban could expand its footprint in the region.
  • Issues in utilizing untapped resources of Afghanistan:
    • Security challenges, a lack of infrastructure and severe droughts have prevented the extraction of most valuable minerals in the past. That's unlikely to change soon under Taliban control.
  • Drug trafficking:
    • Afghanistan is highly prone to drug trafficking >> which have spill over effects to Indian states such Punjab etc.

WAY FORWARD:

  • Engaging with regional players:
    • Cooperation with Pakistan:
      • India should restart dialogue with Pakistan, which in turn is necessary for lasting peace in Afghanistan.
    • Bonhomie with China:
      • India should talk with China, with the objective of finding a political settlement and lasting stability in Afghanistan.
  • Utilizing soft power:
    • India should continue with its soft power diplomacy and engagement methods (that involve winning hearts and minds) to strengthen cultural and political relations with Afghanistan, even under Taliban.
    • India’s contribution to the development of cricket in Afghanistan is such an example. Also, it would do India good if it augments its soft-power with the hard power of military capability.
  • An independent policy for Afghanistan:
    • India should formulate an independent policy free from western pressure >> which could yield us better result
  • Strengthening SAARC
    • SAARC can be used as platform to address the controversial issues and display collective and cooperative measures between both the countries
  • Engaging with Taliban:
    • India’s Afghan policy must be based on a clear-cut understanding of India’s strategic goals in the region, and the regional and global strategic environment.
    • Though it is a bit late, yet India has taken the right decision by engaging the amenable section of the Afghan Taliban.

PRACTICE QUESTION:

Q. What does the Taliban takeover of Afghanistan means for India's relations with the country and for its broader neighbourhood?