India-Afghanistan Relation and its Impact on Pakistan


On October 4, 2011, New Delhi and Kabul have signed a historic Agreement on Strategic Partnership (ASP) which will further strengthen the relations between the two neighbors. India is the fifth highest donor in Afghanistan with $2billion of aid and also engaged in various development projects in Afghanistan and the recent visit by Afghan President Hamid Karzai also marks the collaboration of expanding the training of Afghan National Security Forces (ANSF). However, far from being India’s so-called direct foray into the military sphere, the agreement will help build local capacities for providing security, particularly of the police. Bereft of reciprocity, the trade and economic agreements are a reiteration of India’s commitment to Afghanistan’s economic progress and its development as a land bridge between South Asia and Central Asia.

The growing partnership between New Delhi and Kabul has ensured some anxious moments with in Pakistan who doubts Indian presence in Afghanistan as a threat to them. As the ASP was signed between New Delhi and Kabul, there was an immediate reaction from Islamababad that in such an agreement “the fundamental principle of ensuring the stability in the region must be taken in the account”. This shows that how anxious Islamababad is over the growing Indian presence in Afghanistan. A report by Shanthie Mariet D'Souza published in the Business Standard recently underscores that Indian presence in Afghanistan with its economic and development strategy is widely appreciated by the Afghan people as well as by the international community. India’s engagement in Afghanistan has been painted by many western analysts as a zero-sum game vis-à-vis Pakistan.

Some simplistic and narrow analyses have also linked the signing of the ASP to the worsening of US-Pakistan relations following the attack on the US embassy in Kabul, and of Afghan-Pakistan relations following the assassination of former President Rabbani and the suspension of the peace process with the Taliban thereafter. What has missed the eye is that the ASP was long in the making to address the Afghans’ long-standing demands. On the other hand, Islamababad did refrain from commenting on the Indo- Afghan partnership but the Pakistani defense analyst Ayesha Siddiqa says that “despite not commenting on this issue, the fact is that Pakistan does not like what has happened as they are crying for so long that Indian presence in Afghanistan would hurt Pakistan interests”.

The relations between India and Afghanistan strengthen after the visit by Prime Minister Dr. Manmohan Singh on May 12th this year to the Kabul which was after the gap of six years send the message that, unlike the West, New Delhi has no 'exit strategy' from Afghanistan and will stay here to bring peace and stability in the country as well as in the region. Yet, despite being the largest regional donor in Afghanistan, and the fifth largest internationally, India finds it increasingly difficult to operate in Afghanistan. There have been two suicide bombings of its embassy in Kabul, the first of which killed two senior Indian diplomats, two security personnel and 50 Afghans. A terror plot targeting the Indian consulate in Jalalabad was foiled. Since 2001, 20 Indian nationals have been killed. But New Delhi is also aware of the fact that until all the groups engaged in stopping the violence the path of development and progress will not be achieved. New Delhi is also aware of the fact that the role of Pakistan is also very crucial in bringing stability in the region but is also aware of the fact that any peace process will succeed only when the violence is completely shut.

At the London Conference on Afghanistan in January 2010, India's External Affairs Minister S. M. Krishna told Britain's then foreign secretary, David Miliband, that Delhi did not recognise 'good' Taliban, just as there were no 'good' terrorists. Yet, India's policy towards the 'reintegration' of lower-level Afghan Taliban fighters was already undergoing a significant change. The then Indian Foreign Secretary Nirupama Rao first hinted at this when she said at the IISS in London that 'any integration process in Afghanistan should be Afghan-led, and should include ... those who abjure violence, give up armed struggle and terrorism and are willing to abide by the values of democracy, pluralism and human rights as enshrined in the Afghan Constitution.’

Meanwhile, Delhi's contribution towards Afghan reconstruction has not exempted it from the problems associated with operating inside the country. The country's four landmark projects are the Delaram-Zaranj road, transmission lines providing Uzbek electricity to Kabul, the hydroelectric Salma Dam and a new parliament building in Kabul - the latter two of which are still under way. The $500m newly committed aid by India will be used for development and infrastructure projects in agriculture and mining. Through its provision of education, medical treatment and small-business support, India has projected considerable soft power in Afghanistan. It provides 2,000 scholarships to Afghans annually for schooling and training in India, including for 500 Afghan civil servants. More than 100 Indian-supported but Afghan-owned small development projects are being implemented. Indian medical missions in Kabul, Jalalabad, Kandahar, Herat and Mazar-e-Sharif provided free treatment for more than 350,000 Afghans in 2009-10. Its foreign-aid programme in Afghanistan is India's biggest.

Much distrust exists between Islamabad and Delhi over their respective activities in Afghanistan. Islamabad perceives New Delhi's presence and influence as a deliberate attempt to encircle Pakistan and prevent it from attaining the strategic depth it needs in Afghanistan to avoid two 'hot fronts' (or borders with rivals). Pakistan's government often accuses India's embassy and four consulates in Afghanistan of carrying out clandestine operations against Pakistan in its tribal areas and restive province of Baluchistan. Pakistan has claimed, for example, that India arms and funds Baluchi rebels and the Pakistani Tehrik-e-Taliban (TTP), which India denies. Pakistan resents the goodwill of Afghans towards Indians. For its part, Delhi sees Pakistan as attempting to force it from Afghanistan. The Indian government charges that 'elements' in Pakistan - essentially its Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI) directorate - planned the 2008 and 2009 terror attacks on the Indian embassy in Kabul (which Islamabad denies) and says that the Pakistan-based Haqqani terror network was responsible for carrying them out.

The relation between India and Afghanistan is entering into the new horizon and it will be interesting to see how Pakistan will respond to this new growing relationship. The coming days will be the testing times for India and Afghanistan as United States is preparing to leave Afghanistan which will enable Pakistan to use its clout in Afghanistan for their strategic interests.

Author Note
Mohsin Tausif, Researcher, Sociey for the Study of Peace and Conflict, New Delhi