The functionality of Indian diplomatic pragmatism in Afghan political equation

India and Afghanistan are two oldest friends, and their friendly relationship touches the Bronze Age Civilization, lasting from 3300 BCE to 1300 BCE. According to the historians, the Southeast Asian civilization under the auspices of Seleucid Empire came under attack by Alexander the great, who was able to conquer the region for a short time. The Seleucid Empire, which is known today as Afghanistan, gave up much of its controlled area to the Indian Mauryan Empire as part of an alliance treaty.  The Mauryans, who controlled the area south of the Hindu Kush, brought Buddhist religion to Afghanistan, and began to promote it. The Mauyans Empire eroded almost 60 year later, when Ashoka’s leadership collapsed. Afghanistan was partly Buddhist, spikily until 500 AC, which ended up with surrender to ancient Islamic forces, and Afghanistan was declared as a Muslim state.

Most importantly, Hindus and Muslims have been living side by side until today no matter, who has ruled the country, the nationalists, Seculars, Socialists, communists or Islamists. India and Afghanistan enjoyed almost good relations, but the relationship crumbled, when the British Empire invaded India in 1608.  Subsequently, the British-India Empire overrun Afghanistan in 18 39, which put the Indo-Afghan relationship under strain, and followed with Anglo-Afghan war. In 1919, when Afghanistan got its independence from British-Indian Empire, the relationship began to improve moderately. Delhi-Kabul relationship significantly improved, when India was declared as independent state in 1947. The Indo-Afghan bilateral relations was meaningfully flourished, when Sardar Dauod Khan renamed Afghanistan as Republic of Afghanistan, and he avowed himself as the president of the country in 1973. In addition, a number of high-level official visits took place between New Delhi and Kabul, to strengthen bilateral cooperation.

Nevertheless Indian diplomacy, interred in the most noteworthy phase, which is called pragmatic diplomacy. Delhi enjoyed very good relations with president Dauod, while promoting its ties with Afghan communist factions, who were counterbalancing Dauod’s presidency, while working as Hybrid Armed Actors with his government and against his leadership. India was the first country, which officially recognized PDPA presidency under Noor M. Tarakis’ leadership in1978. The country (India) is known for pragmatic diplomacy of which main elements are the preservation of National interests, comprehensiveness and confidence building, thru applicable communication in different situations.

 Delhi was one of the closest partner of Soviet Union and Soviet Union back Kabul regime, but the country provided CIA led campaign with Arms during the 80s to neutralize PDPA. One of CIA’s former contractor noticed that the Indians are only interested in lucrative business. He added the Indian knew the arms, which are sold to CIA would be applied to kill their Soviet and Afghan counterparts, but still Delhi agreed with Washington in order to make money.  Delhi endeavored to promote simultaneous relationships with the ruling parties and the insurrections in Afghanistan.  There are some unofficial reports that RAW operatives several times met the commanders and heads of insurrections in Afghanistan, following the collapse of PDPA in 1992, India had established good contacts with Jamyat Islami, which is part of International Muslim Brotherhood in Afghanistan.

Indian foreign office and RAW officials were able to meet Prof. Rabbani under the auspices of KGB in Moscow in 1991, while prof. Rabbani was on official visit in Moscow. Since then Delhi enjoyed significant relations with Jamyat Islami and its successor the Northern Alliance. From 1992 until 1996, Delhi backed Kabul regime in order to minimize Pakistan’s clout in the country. Meanwhile Islamabad sponsored Hizibe Islami another part of Muslim Brotherhood in Afghanistan led by Eng. Gulbudin Hakmatyar. Both India and Pakistan have striven to disqualify each other’s role in the country even in the form of proxy warfare.

From 1992-1996, India was able to marginalize Islamabad’s part in Afghanistan, however Pakistan did its best to bring Kabul under its Yoke. In 194, Islamabad brought a strategic shift in the country’s policy towards Afghanistan, following the origination of Taliban Movement as an alternative to expand Islamabad’s advantage in the Afghan political and security equation.

From 1996-2001, Islamabad kept anti-Delhi regime in power in its neighborhood and Delhi leverage eroded at most. Nonetheless, throughout Taliban rule, India sponsored antiestablishment forces to broaden Delhi’s role in the country. In the event of 9/11, India joined the anti-Taliban campaign. Since then, the country is the first biggest funding state in the region, and the fifth largest economic contributor globally. India has established very close ties with Kabul, offering economic and military aids to Afghanistan roughly 3 billion dollars. The country’s intelligence and counter intelligence networks closely work with their Afghan counterparts in order to curtail ISI part in Afghanistan.

Most notably, Delhi has learned from its past mistakes (1996-2001) that the country throughout Taliban era heavily invested on Northern Alliance. As a result, Delhi’s role was significantly sidelined. Therefore, India instantaneously promotes relationship with Taliban, while providing Kabul with billions of dollars in economic aid and military support. Some undeclared reports describe, Indian foreign office and RAW officials were able to meet heads of Taliban in Moscow, Tehran and Dubai to discuss Delhi’s engagement in the post American Afghanistan. To study Delhi’s involvement in the last 20 decades, India’s activities from 2003-2018 came under the scrutiny of Taliban and other Terrorist networks. According to the data collected by ICM&SATP, a bunch of assaults took place against the Indian installations and personnel across Afghanistan.


May 6, 2018: Six Indian staff members and one Afghan employee of KEC Company responsible for installing an electricity substation were abducted by Taliban militants in Bagh-e-Shamal village of the Pul-e-Khumri City (District) the capital of Baghlan Province. Baghlan governor Abdulhai Nemati confirmed that the Taliban group moved them to the Dand-e-Shahabuddin area of Pul-e-Khumri City.

January 15, 2018: A rocket landed in the premises of Indian embassy in Kabul, Afghanistan has created a panic causing a minor damage to a structure belongs to the embassy; however no casualties in the incident were reported. The Charged’ Affaires informed that all staff members of the Indian embassy in Kabul are safe and no casualties has been caused in the incident, said a tweet released by the spokesperson of the MEA Raveesh Kumar. As of now, no terror outfit has claimed the responsibility, but Taliban and the Haqqani Network had carried out such attacks in the past.


June 6, 2017: Insurgent groups again targeted Indian interests in Kabul, with a rocket landing on the tennis court of Indian envoy Manpreet Vohra’s house. Sources in New Delhi said no injury had been reported in the rocket attack on ‘India House’, which occurred around 11.15 a. m. hours local time (12.15 IST) even as the authorities in the Afghan capital. Apart from the Indian Ambassador, other mission personnel also stay in the compound of the heavily guarded ‘India House’, which is close to several embassies and NATO’s ‘Resolute Support’ headquarters. The rocket attack coincided with the ‘Kabul Process’ meet in which representatives of nearly 25 countries, including India, participated. This is the first of its kind international meeting being held at the initiative of the Afghan President aimed at ending the prolonged conflict in Afghanistan.


June 20, 2016: Two Indians were killed in a blast in Afghanistan capital city Kabul, confirmed the MEA. “We have learnt that 2 Indian nationals, Ganesh Thapa & Govind Singh from Dehradun died tragically in the blast in Kabul today morning,” MEA official spokesperson Vikas Swarup said in a tweet. Three separate blasts claimed 26 lives, including those of 2 suicide bombers and 14 Nepalese nationals, and injured more than 50 others in Afghanistan. According to details, in the first attack, a Taliban suicide bomber hit a minibus carrying Nepalese guards in Kabul along the main road to the eastern city of Jalalabad. The Taliban also claimed a second smaller blast in south Kabul. The third blast took place in a market in Kasham District of Badakhshan province. Islamic State (IS) and Taliban claimed responsibility for the attacks.

June 9, 2016: Suspected militants abducted an Indian female aid worker, identified as Judith D’ Souza from Afghanistan’s capital Kabul, Indian and Afghan officials said. She was working as a senior technical advisor on gender with the Aga Khan Developmental Network in Kabul, sources in New Delhi said.

January 13, 2016: Three Afghan Policemen were killed and two others were injured when a suicide bomber blew himself up 200 meters away from the Indian consulate in Jalalabad. Afghan SFs later exchanged fire with gunmen barricaded in a house near the Pakistan consulate nearby. All Indians are reported to be safe.

January 8, 2016: An explosives-laden vehicle was found near the Indian consulate in Herat and one person was arrested in this regard.

January 5, 2016: A huge blast was reported near the Indian consulate in Jalalabad city in Nangarhar Province of Afghanistan. No casualty has been reported.

January 3, 2016: Militants attempted to storm the Indian diplomatic mission in Mazar-i-Sharif. The standoff had ended in the night of January 4 after all the four attackers who entered the building opposite the Indian Consulate were killed. One policeman also lost his life and nine others including three civilians were wounded in the incident.


December 21, 2015: Afghanistan’s intelligence service, the NDS, prevented a suicide-bomb assault on India’s consulate in the city of Jalalabad, along the border with Pakistan.The strike was to have taken place as PM Narendra Modi visits Kabul on December 25, sources said. Indian intelligence sources said NDS had identified the attacker as Qari Nasir, a religious studies student from Tagab District in province of Kapisa. In statements given to Afghan authorities, Nasir is alleged to have said he was trained in a camp across the border in Pakistan, and received final instructions at a Taliban facility in Peshawar (Pakistan).

May 13, 2015: There were four Indians among 14 persons killed in an attack carried out by militants at Park Palace guest house in Kabul’s Kolola Pushta area. Agencies believe India’s Ambassador to Afghanistan Amar Sinha was the prime target of the attack. “It was known that the Indian envoy would be visiting the guesthouse on Wednesday evening… it appears the Taliban had accordingly planned the siege,” an unnamed senior intelligence officer stated.

February 22, 2015: Indian agencies have scripted a major success in securing the release of the abducted Christian priest, Father Alexis Premkumar Antonysamy from the captivity of the Taliban in Helmand, Afghanistan and the priest has now safely landed in India. Sources said officials had been monitoring the case, coordinating with Afghanistan officials and the Governor’s office in Herat. Top official sources said that the rescue was the result of a major operation by Indian intelligence and security agencies posted in that region.


September 14, 2014: A new Taliban group, Suicide Group of the Islamic Movement of Afghanistan, claimed that they had murdered Indian author Sushmita Banerjee in the Kharana area of Paktita Province in Afghanistan on September 4.

August 15, 2014: Three Indian nationals abducted by the Taliban in Afghanistan were rescued during a special military operation in Babos area of eastern Logar Province by Afghan troops though at least one more Indian continues to be held by the militants.

August 15, 2014: Indian MEA Spokesman Syed Akbaruddin confirmed in a tweet that three Indians abducted recently had been released from captivity. He further said that another Indian identified as Prem Kumar was “still in captivity”. It could not immediately be ascertained whether Kumar and the three other Indians were abducted at the same time. It was also not clear whether any more persons had been abducted.

August 13, 2014: the Taliban captured the three Indians, all engineers by profession, while they were travelling from Logar to Kabul, Afghanistan.

July 23, 2014: Two Indians were among five foreign guards killed by a Taliban suicide bomber riding a motorbike in an attack on Kabul Airport, the Indian MEA confirmed. MEA Spokesman Syed Akbaruddin said the two Indians, identified as Ponnappan V Kuttappan and Parambhat Ravindran from Kerala state were employed as security guards with an American security firm named Dyna Corporation in Kabul.

June 26, 2014: India has stressed that it will not “endorse” treating the Afghan government on par with elements of the Taliban, even as it reiterated that terrorism and not ethnicity is the greatest threat to peace in an Afghanistan on the verge of a historic transition. Ambassador Bhagwant Singh Bishnoi, the acting Permanent Representative of India to the UN said that India believes the reconciliation process must remain “Afghan-led, Afghan-owned and Afghan-controlled” while respecting the “agreed red lines”. He also noted that the entire NAM member states had recently endorsed the “Afghan-controlled” process of reconciliation.

June 25, 2014: US State Department Spokesperson Marie Harf said that there is credible evidence that LeT was responsible for the terror attack on the Indian Consulate (May 23, 2014) in Afghanistan’s Herat Province.

June 15, 2014: IB termed the withdrawal of NATO and allied forces from Afghanistan as one of the biggest challenges to India’s counter-terrorism measures in its presentation to Union Minister of Home Affairs, Rajnath Singh.

June 11, 2014: According to intelligence sources, five warnings from the CIA helped authorities defeat the May 23 strike on the Indian Consulate in Herat Province of Afghanistan. The last operational input from the CIA was delivered to India’s intelligence services two hours after the assault began, and identified the assault team as operatives of the Pakistan-based LeT.

June 5, 2014: According to local Afghan Government officials, over 100 LeT militants have been deployed in Nuristan who are trying to set up training camps in Kamdish District. Provincial Governor, Hafiz Abdul Qayum confirmed the presence of LeT militants in Nuristan and said the group has also killed 11 Afghan Taliban militants for failing to disrupt the elections.

June 4, 2014: Afghan authorities arrested a man for his alleged involvement in the kidnapping of Indian aid worker Alexis Prem Kumar from Herat Province.

June 3, 2014: A LeT hit squad was assigned to take hostages and lay siege on the Indian Consulate in Herat Province of Afghanistan, to coincide with the oath ceremony of PM Narendra Modi, security sources in the Indian establishment have now concluded after studying the pattern of attack and taking stock of the recovery from the operatives killed.

June 2-3, 2014: unknown gunmen in Afghanistan’s Herat Province abducted An Indian aid worker. The Indian aid worker, Alexis Prem Kumar who was abducted from Herat in Afghanistan by unidentified gunmen, remained in captivity for the second day with local authorities yet to get any “conclusive” clues in the case.

May 23-27, 2014: Gunmen armed with machine guns and RPGs attacked the Indian Consulate in Herat Province in Afghanistan. ITBP personnel and Afghan SFs in an encounter that lasted 10 hours killed all the four attackers. Afghanistan President Hamid Karzai said that “According to information given to us by a Western intelligence agency, the perpetrators of the Herat attack belonged to the LeT. This was mentioned in writing in the report shared with us”. Afghanistan’s Ambassador ShaidaAbdali said that LeT militants wanted to take Indian officials hostage at the Herat consulate of Afghanistan, just before the swearing-in ceremony of Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi.


September 14, 2013: A new Taliban group, Suicide Group of the Islamic Movement of Afghanistan, claimed that they had murdered Indian author Sushmita Banerjee in the Kharana area of Paktita Province in Afghanistan on September 4.

September 4, 2013: Indian author Sushmita Banerjee (49) was shot dead by the Taliban militants in the Kharana area of Paktita Province in Afghanistan.

August 3, 2013: In a suicide attack intended to target the Indian Consulate at Jalalabad, the capital of the Nangarhar Province of Afghanistan, nine Afghans, including at least eight children, were killed, and another 24 were wounded. The three attackers were also killed. All Indian officials in the Consulate were safe. Nangarhar Province Police Chief General Sharifullah Amin confirmed that the consulate was the intended target of the blast.


May 10, 2011: Afghanistan National Intelligence Agency spokesperson Lutfullah Mashal said that Inter-Services ISI hired two persons, identified as Sher Zamin and Khan Zamin, to kill the Indian Consul General of Jalalabad province.


December 16, 2010: Indian embassy in Kabul and four consulates in Afghanistan have been put on high alert following intelligence inputs that the Taliban militants may be preparing for a strike at Indian establishments.

October 11, 2010: Two Indian nationals were killed in a missile attack launched by the Taliban militants on an Indian NGO’s office in Kunar province of Afghanistan. Qari Omar Haqqani, a spokesperson for the Afghan Taliban, told reporters from an undisclosed location that the militants had attacked the office of the Indian NGO with missiles in which three people, including two Indian workers, were killed. The nationality of the third person who died in the attack is yet to be ascertained.

February 26, 2010: The Taliban militants on carried out coordinated suicide attacks at two hotels in Kabul, the capital city of Afghanistan, killing at least nine Indians, including two Major-rank Army officers. At least 10 others, including five Indian Army officers, were injured in the strike that killed eight others, including locals and nationals from other countries. The bombers, believed to be three in number, struck at the guest houses, particularly at Park Residence, rented out by the Indian Embassy for its staffers and those linked to India’s developmental work in Afghanistan.


October 8, 2009: Targeting the Indian embassy in Kabul for the second time, a Taliban suicide bomber blew up an explosives-laden car outside the mission, killing 17 persons and injuring over 80, including three Indo-Tibetan Border Police (ITBP) soldiers. The embassy staff, however, was unhurt. The Taliban claimed responsibility for the attack and identified the bomber as Khalid, Al Jazeera TV channel said.

February 9, 2009: Simon Paramanathan, an Indian from Villupuram in Tamil Nadu held captive by militants in Afghanistan for nearly four months is dead, his family and the Ministry of External Affairs (MEA) said in New Delhi. Simon, employed in the Italian food chain Ciano International, was abducted in October 2008. The company had been negotiating with the captors belonging to an unnamed militant outfit, which had sought a ransom of USD 200000. However, the negotiations “to work out a reasonable ransom” reportedly failed to break the deadlock. An MEA official said in New Delhi that Afghanistan authorities informed that Simon died while in the custody of his abductors.


December 24, 2008: A 38-year-old man from Tamil Nadu working with a food store attached to Italian soldiers deployed in Afghanistan, has been kidnapped by Afghan militants in Herath province, police said, according to Rediff. A group calling itself Mujahideen on October 13, 2008 kidnapped Simon, who hails from Kalakurichi Village in Villupuram District, police said. Simon was working with an Italian food store supplying food to its soldiers in Afghanistan. He was kidnapped along with two other company employees while they were delivering food at the International Security Assistance Force camp in Bagram air base, the sources said.

July 7, 2008: A suicide attack on the Indian Embassy in Kabul killed 66 persons. The killed included two senior diplomats, Political Counsellor V. Venkateswara Rao and Defence Adviser Brigadier Ravi Datt Mehta, and Indo-Tibetan Border Police (ITBP) staffers Ajai Pathaniya and Roop Singh.

June 5, 2008: An ITBP trooper was killed and four others injured in an attack by the Taliban in the south-west Province of Nimroz.

April 12, 2008: Two Indian nationals, M.P. Singh and C. Govindaswamy, personnel of the Indian Army’s Border Roads Organisation (BRO), were killed and seven persons, including five BRO personnel, sustained injuries in a suicide-bomb attack in the Nimroz Province.

January 3, 2008: In the first-ever suicide attack on Indians in the country, two ITBP soldiers were killed and five others injured in the Razai village of Nimroz Province.


December 15, 2007: Two bombs were lobbed into the Indian consulate in Jalalabad, capital of the Nangarhar province in Afghanistan. There was however, no casualty or damage.


May 7, 2006: An explosion occurred near the Indian Consulate in the fourth police district of the western Herat Province. There were no casualties.

April 28, 2006: An Indian telecommunications engineer working for a Bahrain based firm in the Zabul Province, K Suryanarayana was abducted and subsequently beheaded after two days.

February 7, 2006: the Taliban in the western province of Farah killed Bharat Kumar, an engineer working with a Turkish company, in a bomb attack.


November 19, 2005: Maniappan Kutty, a driver working with the BRO’s project of building the Zaranj-Delaram highway, was abducted and his decapitated body was found on a road between Zaranj, capital of Nimroz, and an area called Ghor Ghori, four days later.


December 9, 2003: Two Indian engineers – P Murali and G Vardharai working on a road project in Zabul province were abducted. Afghan tribal leaders released them on December 24 after intense negotiations with the Taliban militia, which was demanding the release of 50 imprisoned militants in return for the Indian engineers.

November 8, 2003: An Indian telecommunications engineer working for the Afghan Wireless Company was shot dead.

 Conclusion: the study implies since the beginning of 2019 the number and scope of assaults against Indians have been dramatically eroded, whereas the number of attacks against the Afghan governmental and civilian installations have been tripled. The recent developments indicate a deep involvement of Indian inter-service intelligence (RAW) in clandestine talks with Taliban. There are some unapproved reports, narrating that Indian intelligence networks offered Taliban millions of dollars in cash to halt their assaults on Indians in Afghanistan.

India plays the same card played during late 80s and beginning of 90s, whereby Delhi promoted diplomatic relations with communist led government and meantime the country-upheld cooperation with anti-communist rule. As of now, there are scores of options on the table namely interim government, broad-based government and even the forceful return of Taliban to the power.

India considers all alternatives to extend its multidimensional engagement in Afghanistan. India sends delegations on official visit to Afghanistan, and at the same time, the country’s foreign office and intelligence bureaucrats are engaged in secret talks with Taliban to counterweight Islamabad extensive advantage if Kabul government led by Ashraf Ghani collapses. To end with, Indian pragmatic diplomacy has really functioned in Afghanistan; therefore, a whole heap of credit goes to the institutions, which stimulate Delhi’s policies relating to Afghanistan.

Ajmal Sohail
Ajmal Sohail
Ajmal Sohail is a graduate in terrorism and extremism studies from both Leiden University in the Netherlands and Maryland University in the United States; he works in the meantime as an intelligence analyst and Counter-terrorism expert. He does remain well connected with the political players in his country, both those physically in Afghanistan and those working from outside, allowing him to gain insights into the extremely complex geopolitical situation in Afghanistan and in the South Asia region. He is the co-founder and co-president of the Counter Narco-Terrorism Alliance Germany, directing its intelligence and counter-terrorism portfolios. His analysis is regularly featured in various international news outlets, print and television and he even runs his own sources to get the most classified Intel. His analysis and other content can be accessed at his personal website: