India in Afghanistan: Engagement without Strategy


Tihar Jail
Oct 2, 2009
India in Afghanistan: Engagement without Strategy

India's policy towards Afghanistan after 9/11 has rested on three prongs – greater economic engagement, support for the Karzai government, and thwarting the Taliban's return to power in Kabul. The Indian objective is to prevent Afghanistan from emerging as a theatre for radical Islam and a launch pad for terrorism against India. However, India has failed to convert the third prong of its strategy into reality. The London conference, held last year, made the return of the Taliban – good and bad – a reality. After years of a spiteful relationship, Karzai has warmed up to Islamabad to seek its help to facilitate negotiations with the Taliban.

India's strategy to prevent the Taliban from returning to the centre stage of Afghan affairs had relied on America's ability to militarily enforce stability and on the Karzai government's capacity to provide effective governance. However, India underestimated Pakistan's capacity to play the role of a spoiler. With the Taliban return to power appearing inevitable, India has introduced an important nuance in its position. In the words of Foreign Minister S.M. Krishna "the process (of reintegration of the Taliban) should be Afghan-led, inclusive and transparent, and any external interference in the reintegration process would be detrimental both for its success and for the future of a democratic, stable, pluralistic and prosperous Afghanistan." The truth of the matter is that Pakistan remains central to the success of the process of reconciliation and reintegration. In the words of Pakistan's Prime Minister Yousuf Raza Gilani, "nothing will happen without us, because we are part of the solution." American helplessness and frustration are evident from the increasing number of drone attacks to alter the strategic equations in Afghanistan. Writing in the New York Times, Bruce Riedel noted that there are serious limitations that America faces in Afghanistan and "we cannot make Pakistan stop being naughty."

The economic crunch and increasing casualties have made a long term Western presence in Afghanistan untenable. The United States has linked its exit strategy to a relatively stable Afghanistan that does not pose a serious threat to its interests. At the same time, it refuses to recognise the organic link between the Taliban and al-Qaeda and continues to remain focussed "on disrupting, dismantling and defeating al-Qaeda in Afghanistan and Pakistan"¦"

Groups that can make a significant difference to the escalating violence in Afghanistan are the Haqqani group based in North Waziristan, the Quetta shura, and now the Karachi shura (as speculated in the media) – all controlled by Pakistan's intelligence agency. There is very little influence that India has over these groups which are now poised to play a major role in Afghanistan. India realises that any workable strategy in Afghanistan would involve Pakistan. Like the US, it prefers those Taliban who abjure violence and accept the Afghan constitution. Under these circumstances, what India needs is a new strategy that protects its interests in Afghanistan.

The US has described its exit strategy as 'aspirational goals' which are not cast in stone since it realises that there are difficulties in operationalising the strategy that was put together at the Lisbon NATO summit in December and which was reiterated in Obama's speech of December 16. India has argued that any troops pull out must be situation-based rather than calendar-based. Moreover, a 42 per cent increase in Afghan security forces by October 2012 to facilitate the exit strategy is not plausible give the shortage of 700 trainers.

India faces immense challenges in Afghanistan. It is engaged in developmental work in Pashtun dominated areas, yet it is seen as a friend of the erstwhile Northern Alliance and cannot count many friends among the Pashtun leaders. Karzai's controversial election, corruption charges against his government, and his attempt to sideline detractors, have all made his government unpopular at home and invited scathing criticism from abroad. India's support for Karzai only accentuates the Pashtun mistrust, though India is left with no choice but to support an elected government.

India's economic engagement in Afghanistan has earned immense goodwill at the popular level. However, India lacks a political strategy to cater for the return of the Taliban. It is apprehensive about making further investments as it is not sure of the political configuration that may emerge in the future. It is plausible that the Taliban may not replicate their old regime, but there is a possibility of political instability that may offset India's economic presence. However, given the geo-strategic flux, India needs to chart a policy that minimises its losses in Afghanistan.

India needs to take proactive steps to mobilise other countries of the region that have similar concerns regarding the reconciliation and reintegration of hardcore Taliban elements. There are several options that can be attempted in cooperation with countries of the region. One way would be to prevent the Pakistan-backed radical groups from assuming a dominant position in Afghanistan. The other option would be to reduce the Afghan government's dependence on Pakistan for trade and transit, which would enable Kabul to be more independent and less subject to Pakistani arm twisting. India needs to take the lead in engaging countries that border Afghanistan. Pakistan should also be engaged to minimise mistrust and suspicion. India has already signed on to the TAPI pipeline project along with Pakistan and Afghanistan, and consultations must be directed at facilitating future energy cooperation. India needs to seriously pursue the development of Chabahar port. There are reports that Indian companies are bidding for Hagijak mines in Bamiyan province and they would need an outlet to get these minerals. To ensure stability in Afghanistan, the countries of the region need to ensure that Afghanistan's ethnic minorities find adequate representation in a future government.

Other countries of the region are preparing for the post transition phase as is evident from the first visit of Russian President to Afghanistan. Iran for the first time attended the NATO dominated international contact group meeting in Rome in October 2010. Like India, Iran would have an interest in ensuring that the future government in Kabul does not become an extension of the security establishment in Rawalpindi and should be truly an Afghan initiative. There is a need to engage China and Tajikistan which are unlikely to be comfortable with the return of Taliban. Countries of the region have followed separate policies in Afghanistan and this has tilted the balance in favour of Pakistan. India should therefore step up its engagement of these countries. This is likely to bear more fruits than formal multilateral forums that tend to take a geographical criterion rather than a commonality of interests.


The Chairman
Apr 17, 2009
India's basic aim in Afghanistan is to help the international community to build an independent and sovereign Afghanistan without any influence peddling by any Nation. To this end, it is assisting in the economic regeneration and infrastructure construction.

The return of the Taliban would mean that it would be status quo ante. In other words, whatever that has been done since the chaotic era of the Taliban govt, would come to nought. Excepting Pakistan, the international community is not in favour of the return of the Taliban. What is lost in the Taliban question calculus is that there is no Unified Taliban. They are as divisive as a kaleidoscope. Therefore, who is the Taliban? There are rifts.

The open letter to Taliban fighters and other Afghan insurgents is written in the Pashto language under the logo and title of the "Islamic Emirates of Afghanistan." Haqqani's message describes Mullah Omar as an illiterate person and claims that his erroneous decisions might cause the collapse of the Taliban (Payman Daily [Kabul], June 14). As stated in Haqqani's letter, it is time for the neo-Taliban to change the head of the Taliban leadership council. Haqqani claims to have consulted many Taliban commanders who were in agreement that this is the right time to bring about changes in the leadership (a full facsimile of the letter is published at

These rifts will widen once the ISAF leaves since it will become a leadership battle and Afghanistan will again return to the chaos that it was.

It maybe of interest to note that the UN resolution on Afghanistan for deployment of the military is renewed every year. Once the resolution is not adopted, the military in Afghanistan would become illegal. The very fact that China and Russia has not vetoed the Resolution so far, proves that all realise that without the military presence, Afghanistan would become chaotic and a threat to the world, to include spawning of international terrorism.

Hence, India's aim in Afghanistan is basically in consonance with the international perceptions and aims.

It would be an incorrect premise that if the Taliban takes control, it will be to Pakistan's advantage. Even when the last Taliban govt was there, it made it clear to Pakistan that it did not recognise the Durand Line. This is a very loaded assertion. It means that Pakhtunistan is still the dream of Pashtuns and that would be very dangerous and unfortunate for Pakistan, more so after losing East Pakistan. It could start a domino effect in Pakistan and it would become footnote of history of the subcontinent and as extinct as the dodo. That apart, there is a steady rise of fundamentalist forces in Pakistan. Coupled with chaotic governance of Afghanistan under the Taliban, fervent and radical fundamentalism could spread to Pakistan and give encouragement to the Pakistan Taliban and other fundamentalists to overthrow Pakistan. In the ensuing chaos between these radicals and the Pak military and Govt, there would be mayhem and maybe total destruction of Pakistan without any external assistance. Pakistan, thus riding a Tiger!

The turbulence in the Islamic world is that each individual thinks he is some sort of a Khalifa and they plot for the downfall of each other. There is hardly any unanimity of thought and purpose. For instance, in Pakistan, the Sunnis gun down Shias or Sufis, all because of a power struggle and as a power statement, even though they have the same Prophet and the same holy directions. The interpretation is manmade and basically to seize the leadership. So, is the case with the Talibans and the fundamentalists who are not under any unified command and instead are faction and power strife ridden.

It is an utopia to feel that Afghanistan can be solved peacefully or that if the ISAF goes, there will be stability in Afghanistan. It will just the beginning of total chaos and many a country will be pulled into the votex of chaos and destruction.

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