India-Afghan Relationship: An Analysis & Its Impact over Pakistan

India and Afghanistan have a strong relationship based on historical and cultural links. The relationship between the two countries can be traced back to the Indus valley civilisation. The relationship is not limited to the governments in New Delhi and Kabul, and has its foundations in the historical contacts and exchanges between the people. In recent past, Indo-Afghan relations have been further strengthened by the Strategic Partnership Agreement signed between the two countries in 2011. The Strategic Partnership Agreement (SPA) between the two sides, inter alia, 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, providing duty free access to the Indian market for Afghanistan’s exports support for an Afghan-led, Afghan-owned, broad-based and inclusive process of peace and reconciliation, and advocating the need for a sustained and long-term commitment to Afghanistan by the international community.

As Afghanistan was undergoing three simultaneous political, security and economic transitions in 2015, India had allayed its fears about its future by making a long-term commitment to the security and development of Afghanistan.

For India, Afghanistan has immense strategic potential. Geo-strategically India-Afghanistan partnership has considerable value as a counter to the Pakistan threat. Strengthening the security dimension of India-Afghanistan ties is extremely important for India as it is in New Delhi’s interest to help Kabul preserve its strategic autonomy at a time when Pakistan has made it clear that it would like the Haqqani network and the Taliban to be at the centre of the post-American political dispensation in Kabul. India is keenly interested in cultivating a significant partnership with Afghanistan. Due to strategic and security concerns the Indo-Afghanistan cordial relations are in favour of both the nations.

India has given economic and material help for the well-being of Afghanistan. India has made huge investments in Afghanistan ranging from infrastructure to human resource development. Strategically Afghanistan is important for India’s dream of accessing the Central Asian market, for which it is developing the Chabahar port in Iran.It is a gateway to the energy-rich Central Asian states such as Turkmenistan and Kazakhstan. India hopes its investment in the Iranian port at Chabahar will allow it to gain trading access to Afghanistan, bypassing Pakistan. Pakistan currently allows Afghanistan transit rights for its exports to India, but does not allow goods to move from India to Afghanistan.

India has enormous security stakes in the stability of Afghanistan. As an emerging power it cannot remain confined to South Asia. Afghanistan’s internal conditions affect the stability of the region. India’s presence in Afghanistan is to address its security concerns and help construct the regional security architecture. The rise of the IS in the Middle East and its close contacts with the Taliban raise issues of internal security for India. Since the American invasion, the Taliban and its affiliates have shifted their base towards the southern regions and Pakistan. This has increased implications for the security and safety for both Pakistan and the Indian territory. While India’s presence in Afghanistan has a Pakistan-specific utility, it is also about India’s emergent ability to influence its extended strategic neighborhood. India is interested in retaining Afghanistan as a friendly state from which it has the capacity to monitor Pakistan and even, wherever possible, cultivate assets to influence activities in Pakistan. India is keenly interested in forging a significant partnership with Afghanistan.

Even though reducing Pakistan’s influence is still a core issue in and essential to India’s regional approach, this should not be reduced to and only seen in the light of Indo-Pak rivalry. It is no surprise then that Pakistan sees India’s growing influence in Afghanistan as a threat. After India opened its consulates in Herat, Mazar-e-Sharif, Jalalabad, and Kandahar, Pakistan charged that these consulates provide cover for Indian intelligence agencies to run covert operations against Pakistan, as well as foment separatism in Pakistan’s Balochistan province. “Pakistan’s fears of encirclement by India have been compounded” by the new Indian air base in Farkhor, Tajikistan. This is the first Indian military airbase overseas and is convenient for transportation of men and material to and from Afghanistan. It is also a move towards protecting India’s potential energy interests in the region.

While the West ponders over the prospects of bringing peace to Afghanistan, it needs to examine its policy in the light of the sub-continental conflict rooted in the Pakistan-India rivalry. Buying the loyalty of the Taliban or accepting a Pakistani-brokered deal in Kabul will only pave the way to another, perhaps even more dangerous, conflict involving terrorist groups and nuclear-armed neighbours. By pursuing a strategy that might end up giving Pakistan the leading role in the state structures in Afghanistan, the West might just be sowing the seeds of future regional turmoil. With the Taliban pushing hard for the establishment of an Islamic Emirate rather than a Constitution, and the talks presided over by the ISI officials and China, India is doubtful of the way the talks have been going so far. India, being a neighbour, has reasons to worry about the talks and both the countries sharing interests in trade and economy need to have a say in the ongoing talks.

The Taliban, can also be a threat for India as a friend of the enemy is an enemy to us. But Pakistan sees a friendly Afghanistan, in which religious extremism continues to flourish, as essential to keep the pressure on India in Kashmir.

Over the years, Afghanistan became a hot-bed of terrorism, aggression of superpowers and internal political turmoil causing instability in the entire South Asian region. India played a role of neutralising these impacts with its diplomacy, development programmes, peace promotion. But now the international community is accepting the Taliban as a legitimate representative of the Afghans although actually it is a terror group. This may damage India’s strategic and economic interests in Afghanistan. Geo-strategically the India-Afghanistan partnership has considerable value as a counter to the Pakistan threat. The 60-nation London Conference on Afghanistan in January 2010 advocating talks with the Taliban jolted India, as New Delhi viewed with alarm its rapidly shrinking strategic space for diplomatic manoeuvring. The peace talks between Afghanistan and the Taliban was initiated at Murree. The format of the talks was: 2 (Afghanistan, Taliban) + 1 (Pakistan) + 2 (US, China), with the US, China as observers and Pakistan as a guarantor and guide. Afghanistan is preparing for another round of talks with Pakistan as the facilitator.

To conclude, it can be said that India Afghan relation is a counter attack on the stability of Pakistan, Pak-China friendship via CPEC, etc. India is opposing the construction of the CPEC rather than deciding to join it. Apparently India is opposing the CPEC by offering the logic that the Corridor will be passing through Gilgit-Baltistan region of Pakistan, which is a disputed area being part of the former princely State of Jammu & Kashmir.

Modi’s anti Pakistan declared policy, India was struggling to isolate Pakistan at regional and world levels. However, as India got disappointed to observe that due to the construction of the CPEC, Pakistan was getting popular at the regional and world levels and India’s efforts of isolating Pakistan were failing, it started opposing the CPEC out of frustration.

India does not want China to enhance its trade and investment in other countries through the connectivity to be facilitated by the CPEC. Since India considers itself as a competitor to China at regional and world levels, it does not want China to further advance economically and in economic diplomacy based on CPEC-related connectivity. Hence, by opposing the construction of the CPEC and by sponsoring terrorist acts in Balochistan India wants to discourage China to give up pursuing the CPEC project.

In response to CPEC, India inaugurated a dedicated air freight corridor to give boost to bilateral trade and give the landlocked central Asian country greater access to Indian markets. China said that air corridor between India and Afghanistan bypassing Pakistan is an attempt by New Delhi to counterbalance China’s ambitious economic corridor via PoK and shows its “stubborn geopolitical thinking.

India’s controversial role in Afghanistan is not in the interest of regional stability and not acceptable to Pakistan.

The author can be reached at sahilshabir@rocketmail.com