India’s chameleon Afghan policy


India Afghan bonhomie has seen many ups and downs. India’s friendship with Afghanistan is ostensibly actuated by altruism. But, deep down, it is upshot of antipathy to the Taliban and Pakistan that India regards as Taliban’s mentor.

Through diplomatic maneuvering and machinations, India did its best to isolate Pakistan from Pakistan. It is eerie that India has no common border with Afghanistan, yet it has always tried tooth and nail to create a foothold in Afghan affairs.

Like India, the United States, too, had been constantly changing its foreign policy towards Afghanistan.

Initially, US air force used to rush quickly to rescue the Afghan forces it trained. But, they then began to ignore their SOS calls. The situation took such a grim turn that the Taliban used to “breakfast” with 20 to 40 casualties of the Afghan forces each day. The US ignored faults with the Afghan army. They knew that the actual strength of the Afghan army was never more than 200, 00, but the government inflated them to 300,000. The figures were inflated to devour funds and ration surreptitiously. There was no coordination plan or a battle strategy to defeat the taliban foot soldiers numbering about 25,000 to 30,000. The Afghan troops owned their allegiance to the governors or political figures in their homeland rather than to their senior commanders. Once the governors capitulated, the Afghan troops lost will to fight. Some retired officers, including Major General (Retd) SP Sinha  of Indian army even allege that it is well nigh impossible that the Afghan forces surrendered without  US connivance. Sinha alleges that the US “instructed” the Afghan forces to surrender. The USA did so to drag China in Afghan imbroglio. The US wants to bleed China in “the graveyard of empires”.

“Strategic depth”

Following East Pakistan debacle (1971), `Pakistan developed a doctrine of “strategic depth.” The idea is `to have a secure refuge in the case of a future war with India. The porous border offers a route by which Pakistani leaders, troops and other assets, including its nuclear weapons, could retreat to the northwest in the case of an Indian invasion’ (William Dalrymple,  The A Deadly Triangle: Afghanistan, Pakistan, and India. Brookings Essay). India believes the myth that it is cornerstone of Pakistan’s military strategy to keep the Taliban under its sway. That is how Pakistan’s “strategic depth” could be maintained in case of a military conflict with India regards the Taliban of all shades as Pakistani stooges.  India’s antipathy to the Taliban is obvious from the fact that India never recognised the Taliban’s short-lived government of 1996.

When the Northern Alliance took over reins of the Afghan government, after collapse of the Taliban government, India quickly recognised it.  India, then, boasted that the “strategic depth” that Pakistan had yearned for so long, had evaporated overnight.

In the wake of Taliban’s ouster, India began to bolster its cooperation with successive Afghan governments. India provided Afghanistan US $ 650 to 750 million in “humanitarian” and economic aid. India became the largest regional-aid donor be it observed that India was the only South Asian country to recognise the Soviet-backed “democratic Republic of Afghanistan in the 1980s.

India’s projects in Afghanistan

In the guise of infrastructural projects, India kept trying to deepen it ingress in various sections of Afghan government.  It initiated mining project while recruiting Afghan to carry out sabotage inside Pakistan. The scale of India’s investment in Afghanistan’s development is stupendous. It built over 200 public and private schools, sponsored over 1,000 scholarships, besides building may bridges roads and small dams.

Strategic partnership

In 2011, India signed a strategic –partnership agreement with Afghanistan to further boosts mutual relations. The second Strategic Partnership Council meeting was held in New Delhi on September 11, 2017.  Making use of the fresh US$ 1 billion development assistance announced by Government of India and Afghanistan launched a ‘New Development Partnership’.  India identified projects where Afghanistan needed India’s assistance.  India agreed to implement important new projects such as the Shahtoot Dam and drinking water project for Kabul that would also facilitate irrigation; water supply for Charikar City; road connectivity to Band-e-Amir in Bamyan Province that would promote tourism; low cost housing for returning Afghan refugees in Nangarhar Province to assist in their resettlement; a gypsum board manufacturing plant in Kabul to promote value added local industry development and  import substitution; a polyclinic in Mazar-e-Sharif among others.

Besides, India outlined 116 High Impact Community Development Projects in 34 provinces of Afghanistan.  These projects related to a broad range of areas including  education, health, agriculture, irrigation, drinking water, renewable energy, flood control, micro-hydro power, sports and administrative infrastructure.

India also announced that on-going assistance programmes for education, capacity building, skills and human resource development of Afghanistan, would continue for a further period of five years from 2017 to 2022.

Since its inauguration in 2017, India-Afghanistan Air-Freight Corridor has witnessed close to a 1000 flights, carrying goods valued at over US$ 216 million.  This initiative provided a boost to Afghan exports to India and has benefited Afghan farmers and small traders and exporters. India and Afghanistan now aim to expand the Corridor to other cities in both the countries.

Another important initiative which strengthened bilateral trade was the operationalization of the Chabahar Port in December 2017, followed by commercial agreement to manage port operations in February 2018. The Port has so far handled over 5,000 containers ferrying over 110,000 tons of wheat and over 2,000 tons of pulses sent by India as assistance to Afghanistan via Chabahar. These were delivered to various parts of Afghanistan and average transportation time (excluding processing time) involved was less than two weeks. In 2019, Afghanistan shipped around 700 tons of agricultural and mineral products to India through the Chabahar Port.

On an average, more than 3,500 Afghan nationals underwent training/education in India every year. More than 15,000 Afghan students pursued education in India on self-financing basis. India’s assistance in human resource development helped to create a large pool of trained manpower

India helped Afghanistan rebuild power infrastructure including the 220KV DC-transmission line from Pul-e-Khumri, capital of Baghlan province to the north of Kabul, for increasing power supply capacity. Telecommunications infrastructure in many Afghan provinces were also been restored by Indian contractors and workers.

India has also gifted Afghanistan 400 buses and 200 mini-buses for bolstering urban transportation. This is in addition to 105 utility vehicles of municipal operations and 285 military vehicles for the Afghan army. India also donated military helicopters and other aircraft to the country.

Indian assets now in Taliban’s hands

Most of the above-mentioned assets have been captured by the Taliban, which regained control over Afghanistan for India; however, the possibility of losing a key strategic ally in South Asia may surpass the concerns related to its $3 billion investment in Afghanistan.

A peek into India’s mind

India, on the one hand, plumes itself for having cooperated in Afghanistan’s development. On the other hand, it tries to vilify the Taliban’s image by alleging that Pakistani militant groups have infiltrated the Taliban’s rank and file. India’s

External Affairs Minister S. Jaishanker made many veiled attacks on the Taliban and Pakistan in his speech before the United Nations’ Security Council. External Affairs Minister points to delay in designating terrorist individuals, entities.

Without directly identifying Pakistan, Jaishanker also referred to states that are “clearly guilty of aiding and supporting terrorism, and willfully provide financial assistance and safe havens” to them.

“Counter Terrorism is a priority area for India during this term and [it] looks forward to contributing to the meeting that seeks not only to identify emerging trends but to also laying the groundwork for common priorities that would shape the future multilateral action in the domain of Counter Terrorism,” sources said, explaining the context of the speech.

India was offered to chair three important committees including the Taliban sanctions committee, the counter-terrorism committee and the Libya sanctions committee during its tenure at the UNSC.

Antipathy toward the Taliban

By accepting the Taliban-sanctions committee’s chairmanship, India made it clear that it would continue to play mischiefs against the Taliban. India’s hostility to the Taliban is conspicuous from the FIRs filed against persons expressing jubilation at the Taliban’s victory.

Samajwadi Party MP Shafiqur Rehman Barq was booked for sedition for defending the Taliban’s takeover of Afghanistan and equating it with India’s own freedom struggle. He was charged under Indian Penal Code section 124A (sedition) following a complaint from BJP leader Rajesh Singhal .

The MP has been also booked under sections 153A (promoting enmity between different groups on grounds of religion, race, place of birth, residence, language) and 295A (deliberate and malicious acts, intended to outrage religious feelings of any class by insulting its religion or religious beliefs), Mishra said. Shafiq had called the Taliban a force that did not allow Russia or the United States to establish themselves in Afghanistan, “and now they want to run their own country”. The MP had said that when India was under British Rule, the entire country fought for independence.

“They want to be free. This is their personal matter. How can we interfere?” the SP legislator had said on developments in Afghanistan. Endorsing the Taliban takeover, Barq had said the Afghans want to run their own country in the manner they wanted.” The remarks drew sharp criticism from Uttar Pradesh Chief Minister Yogi Adityanath.  In the state legislative council, the chief minister on Tuesday slammed the opposition MP.  The chief minister said, ‘He was shamelessly supporting the Taliban. It means supporting their barbaric act. We are a parliamentary democracy. Where are we heading? We are supporting people who are a blot on humanity’.

India’s meddling in Afghanistan: Remember India has no border with Afghanistan. Yet it created its own brand of mujahideen belonging to Northern Alliance. India not only provided multi-faceted aid to the Alliance but even trained Northern Alliance fighters.  Indian ambassador Bharath Raj Muthu Kumar, with the consent of then foreign minister Jaswant Singh, secretly coordinated military and medical assistance to the Alliance.

 The support involved helicopters, ordnance, mortars, small armaments, refurbished Kalashnikovs seized in Kashmir, combat and winter clothes, packaged food, medicines, and funds. These supplies were delivered circuitously with the help of other countries (Aeini and Farkhor air bases in Tajikistan) or through Massoud’s brother in London, Wali Massoud India opened four consulates at Kandahar, Jalalabad, Herat and Mazar-e-Sharif, besides its embassy at Kabul. India pampered   Ahmad Shah Massoud as its protégé for use on the Afghan chess-board as and when circumstances so allowed. India is still using these consulates to stoke up secessionist movements in Balochistan and volatile tribal belt. India established a Free Balochistan office in New Delhi under Naila Baloch. The inauguration was attended by many Indian government/intelligence officers.

Concluding remarks

The way India hastily vacated its conslates in Afghanistan portends that  India would take such steps that would offend the nascent Taliban 2.0 government.

Amjed Jaaved
Amjed Jaaved
Mr. Amjed Jaaved has been contributing free-lance for over five decades. His contributions stand published in the leading dailies at home and abroad (Nepal. Bangladesh, et. al.). He is author of seven e-books including Terrorism, Jihad, Nukes and other Issues in Focus (ISBN: 9781301505944). He holds degrees in economics, business administration, and law.


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