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”.
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.
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.
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.
India’s Unclear Neighbourhood Policy: How to Overcome ?
India has witnessed multiple trends with regards to its relations with its neighbours at a time vaccine diplomacy is gaining prominence and Beijing increasing the pace towards becoming an Asian superpower, whereby making these reasons valid for New Delhi to have a clear foreign policy with respect to its neighbourhood.
The Covid Pandemic has led to increased uncertainty in the global order where it comes to power dynamics, role of international organisations. New Delhi has tried to leave no stone unturned when it comes to dealing with its immediate neighbours. It has distributed medical aid and vaccines to smaller countries to enhance its image abroad at a time it has witnessed conflicts with China and a change in government in Myanmar. These developments make it imperative for New Delhi to increase its focus on regionalism and further international engagement where this opportunity could be used tactically amidst a pandemic by using economic and healthcare aid.
According to Dr. Arvind Gupta, New Delhi has to deal with threats coming from multiple fronts and different tactics where it is essential for New Delhi to save energy using soft means rather than coercive measures.. India under Vaccine Maitri has supplied many of COVAXIN doses to Nepal, Bangladesh and Sri Lanka where many have appreciated this move. The urgency of ensuring humanitarian aid during these periods of unprecedented uncertainty are essential in PM Modi’s Security and Growth For All ( SAGAR) initiative, which focusses on initiating inclusive growth as well as cooperation in the Indian Ocean Region.
This pandemic witnessed various threats coming in India’s neighbourhood through multiple dimensions which include maritime, land, cyber as well as air threats where adversaries are using these to put pressure on New Delhi to settle land as well as marine disputes as per their terms. These encirclement strategies have made it necessary for India to open up various options such as holding maritime joint exercises with like-minded countries, developing partnerships, providing economic as well as healthcare support to weaker countries plus having a clear insight about changing global dynamics and acting as per them.
This piece will discuss about various changing tactics, pros and cons which India has with respect to developing its national security vis-à-vis its neighbourhood, why should it prioritise its neighbourhood at the first place?
India’s Neighbourhood is filled with many complexities and a lot of suspicion amongst countries, some viewing India because of its size and geography plus economic clout as a bully where it is wanting to dominate in the region putting others aside. This led to New Delhi play an increased role in nudging ties first with its neighbours with whom it had multiple conflicts as well as misunderstandings leading to the latter viewing Beijing as a good alternative in order to keep India under check.
Ever since PM Modi has taken charge at 7 RCR, India’s Neighbourhood First Policy has been followed increasingly to develop relations, to enhance understandings and ensure mutual cooperation as well as benefit with its neighbours. The relations with Islamabad have not seen so much improvement as compared to other leaders in the past. Even though former Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif was invited for PM Modi’s 1st Swearing In ceremony in 2014, terrorist activities have never stopped which could be seen through Pathankot, Uri and Pulwama terror attacks which killed many of the Indian soldiers. Even though surgical strikes were conducted on terror camps in retaliation to these bombardments, Islamabad has not changed its heart at all about its security or regional demands. New strategies and friendships are being developed where Beijing has played a major role in controlling power dynamics.
The Belt and Road initiative, first time mentioned during President Xi’s 2013 speech in Kazakhstan, then officially in 2015, lays emphasis of achieving a Chinese Dream of bringing countries under one umbrella, ensuring their security, providing them with infrastructure projects such as ports, railways, pipelines, highways etc. The main bottleneck is the China Pakistan Economic Corridor when it comes to India’s security threats, passing through disputed boundaries of Gilgit and Baltistan in Pakistan Occupied Kashmir till Gwadar. Other projects have been initiated in Chittagong, Hambantota, Gwadar , Kyapkyou. These projects form a String Of Pearls in the Indo Pacific where New Delhi is being balanced against through economic plus development incentives being given to the member countries under the project. That’s why in the recent past, New Delhi is asserting its influence in the region, looking at new dimensional threats where Beijing’s threats in the maritime domain in the islands in East as well as South China seas are not being seen favourably in many countries such as ASEAN, US, Australia and Japan which is giving India an opportunity to look towards countries with a common threat. Amidst this great power struggle between Washington and Beijing, New Delhi is stuck between a rock and hard place i.e., having a clear and strong foreign policy with its neighbours.
In this region, India has a sole threat which is mainly Beijing where the latter has achieved prowess technologically and militarily where New Delhi lags behind the latter twenty fold. So, there is a need for improvising military technology, increase economic activities with countries, reduce dependence on foreign aid, ensure self-reliance.
South Asia is backward when it comes to economic development, human development and is a home to majority of the world’s population which lives below poverty line. The colonial rule has left a never-ending impact on divisions based on communal, linguistic and ethnic grounds. Even, in terms of infrastructure and connectivity, New Delhi lags behind Beijing significantly in the neighbourhood because the latter is at an edge when it comes to bringing countries under the same umbrella. Due to these, many initiatives have been taken up by New Delhi on developing infrastructure, providing humanitarian aid to needy countries.
There have been numerous efforts made by India with respect to reaching out to the Neighbours in 2020 through setting up of the SAARC Covid Fund where many Neighbourhood countries such as Nepal, Bangladesh and Sri Lanka gave contributions to ensure cooperation, joint scientific research, sharing information, healthcare kits where the countries contributed USD $ 18 million jointly towards this fund where New Delhi made an initial offer of USD $ 10 million.
New Delhi has even mustered ties with the Association of Southeast Asian countries during the pandemic under its Act East Policy where proper connectivity through the Northeast could be useful in easing movement of goods but currently, the infrastructure in Northeast needs more improvement where issues such as unemployment, poor connectivity are prevalent whereby disconnecting it from rest of the other states. This region could play an important role in linking Bangladesh, Myanmar to New Delhi along with the proposed India-Thailand –Myanmar Trilateral Corridor. Focus has also been laid to develop inland waterways, rail links and pipelines to ease connections between countries, making trade free and more efficient.
India is focussing on developing the Sittwe and Paletwa ports in Myanmar under the Kaladan Development Corridor, at the cost of INR 517.9 Crore in order to provide an alternative e route beneficial for the Northeast for getting shipping access
These above developments and power display by a strong adversary, give good reasons for New Delhi to adopt collective security mechanisms through QUAD, SIMBEX and JIMEX with a common perception of having safe and open waters through abiding to the UNCLOS which China isn’t showing too much interest in, seen through surveillance units, artificial islands being set up on disputed territories which countries likewise India are facing in context to territorial sovereignty and integrity. These developments make it important for India to look at strategic threats by coming together with countries based on similar interest’s vis-à-vis Chinese threat.
There is a need for India to develop and harness its strength through connectivity and its self reliance initiative ( Aatmanirbharta ) so that there is no dependence on any foreign power at times of need . Proper coordination between policy makers and government officials could make decision making even easier, which is not there completely because of ideological differences, different ideas which makes it important for the political leadership to coordinate with the military jointly during times of threats on borders. Self-reliance could only come through preparedness and strategy.
India is in big trouble as UK stands for Kashmiris
A London-based law firm has filed an application with British police seeking the arrest of India’s army chief and a senior Indian government official over their alleged roles in war crimes in Indian-administered Kashmir.
Law firm Stoke White said it submitted extensive evidence to the Metropolitan Police’s War Crimes Unit on Tuesday, documenting how Indian forces headed by General Manoj Mukund Naravane and Home Affairs Minister Amit Shah were responsible for the torture, kidnapping and killing of activists, journalists and civilians – particularly Muslim – in the region.
“There is strong reason to believe that Indian authorities are conducting war crimes and other violence against civilians in Jammu and Kashmir,” the report states, referring to the territory in the Himalayan region.
Based on more than 2,000 testimonies taken between 2020 and 2021, the report also accused eight unnamed senior Indian military officials of direct involvement in war crimes and torture in Kashmir.
The law firm’s investigation suggested that the abuse has worsened during the coronavirus pandemic. It also included details about the arrest of Khurram Parvez, the region’s most prominent rights activist, by India’s counterterrorism authorities last year.
“This report is dedicated to the families who have lost loved ones without a trace, and who experience daily threats when trying to attain justice,” Khalil Dewan, author of the report and head of the SWI unit, said in a statement.
“The time has now come for victims to seek justice through other avenues, via a firmer application of international law.”
The request to London police was made under the principle of “universal jurisdiction”, which gives countries the authority to prosecute individuals accused of crimes against humanity committed anywhere in the world.
The international law firm in London said it believes its application is the first time that legal action has been initiated abroad against Indian authorities over alleged war crimes in Kashmir.
Hakan Camuz, director of international law at Stoke White, said he hoped the report would convince British police to open an investigation and ultimately arrest the officials when they set foot in the UK.
Some of the Indian officials have financial assets and other links to Britain.
“We are asking the UK government to do their duty and investigate and arrest them for what they did based on the evidence we supplied to them. We want them to be held accountable,” Camuz said.
The police application was made on behalf of the family of Pakistani prisoner Zia Mustafa, who, Camuz said, was the victim of extrajudicial killing by Indian authorities in 2021, and on behalf of human rights campaigner Muhammad Ahsan Untoo, who was allegedly tortured before his arrest last week.
Tens of thousands of civilians, rebels and government forces have been killed in the past two decades in Kashmir, which is divided between India and Pakistan and claimed by both in its entirety.
Muslim Kashmiris mostly support rebels who want to unite the region, either under Pakistani rule or as an independent country.
Kashmiris and international rights groups have long accused Indian troops of carrying out systematic abuse and arrests of those who oppose rule from New Delhi.
Rights groups have also criticized the conduct of armed groups, accusing them of carrying out human rights violations against civilians.
In 2018, the United Nations human rights chief called for an independent international investigation into reports of rights violations in Kashmir, alleging “chronic impunity for violations committed by security forces”.
India’s government has denied the alleged rights violations and maintains such claims are separatist propaganda meant to demonize Indian troops in the region. It seems, India is in big trouble and may not be able to escape this time. A tough time for Modi-led extremist government and his discriminatory policies. The world opinion about India has been changed completely, and it has been realized that there is no longer a democratic and secular India. India has been hijacked by extremist political parties and heading toward further bias policies. Minorities may suffer further, unless the world exert pressure to rectify the deteriorating human rights records in India.
S. Jaishankar’s ‘The India Way’, Is it a new vision of foreign policy?
S. Jaishankar has had an illustrious Foreign Service career holding some of the highest and most prestigious positions such as ambassador to China and the US and as foreign secretary of India. Since 2019 he has served as India’s foreign minister. S. Jaishankar also has a Ph.D. in international relations from JNU and his academic background is reflected in this book.
His main argument is simplistic, yet the issues involved are complex. Jaishankar argues that the world is changing fundamentally, and the international environment is experiencing major shifts in power as well as processes. China is rising and western hegemony is declining. We are moving away from a unipolar system dominated by the US to a multipolar system. Globalization is waning and nationalism and polarization is on the rise (p. 29). The old order is going away but we cannot yet glimpse what the future will look like. This is the uncertain world that Dr. Jaishankar sees.
Dr. Jaishankar also argues that India too has changed, it is more capable and more assertive. The liberalization program that began in 1991 has made the Indian economy vibrant and globally competitive and it is well on track to becoming the third biggest economy in the world, after China and the US. The war of 1971 that liberated Bangladesh, the liberalization of the economy after 1991, the nuclear tests in 1998 and the nuclear understanding with the US in 2005, Jaishankar argues are landmarks in India’s strategic evolution (p. 4). So given that both India and the system have changed, Jaishankar concludes, so should India’s foreign policy.
But his prescription for India’s foreign policy, in the grand scheme of things, is the same as before – India should remain nonaligned and not join the US in its efforts to contain China. India will try to play with both sides it seems in order to exploit the superpowers and maximize its own interests (p. 9). But he fails to highlight how India can find common ground with China other than to say the two nations must resolve things diplomatically. He also seems to think that the US has infinite tolerance for India’s coyness. In his imagination the US will keep making concessions and India will keep playing hard to get.
Jaishankar has a profound contradiction in his thinking. He argues that the future will be determined by what happens between the US and China. In a way he is postulating a bipolar future to global politics. But he then claims that the world is becoming multipolar and this he claims will increase the contests for regional hegemony. The world cannot be both bipolar and multipolar at the same time.
There is also a blind spot in Jaishankar’s book. He is apparently unaware of the rise of Hindu nationalism and the demand for a Hindu state that is agitating and polarizing India’s domestic politics. The systematic marginalization and oppression of Muslim minorities at home and the growing awareness overseas of the dangers of Hindutva extremism do not exist in the world that he lives in. He misses all this even as he goes on to invoke the Mahabharata and argue how Krishna’s wisdom and the not so ethical choices during the war between Pandavas and Kauravas should be a guide for how India deals with this uncertain world – by balancing ethics with realism (p. 63). Methinks his little digression in discussing the ancient Hindu epic is more to signal his ideological predilections than to add any insights to understanding the world or India’s place in it.
One aspect of his work that I found interesting is his awareness of the importance of democracy and pluralism. He states that India’s democracy garners respect and gives India a greater opportunity to be liked and admired by other nations in the world (p. 8). Yet recently when he was asked about the decline of India’s democratic credentials, his response was very defensive, and he showed visible signs of irritation. It is possible that he realizes India is losing ground internationally but is unwilling to acknowledge that his political party is responsible for the deterioration of India’s democracy.
This is also apparent when he talks about the importance of India improving its relations with its immediate neighbors. He calls the strategy as neighborhood first approach (pp. 9-10). What he does not explain is how an Islamophobic India will maintain good relations with Muslim majority neighbors like Bangladesh, Maldives, and Pakistan.
The book is interesting, it has its limitations and both, what is addressed and what is left out, are clearly political choices and provide insights into how New Delhi thinks about foreign policy. So, coming to the question with which we started, does India have a new foreign policy vision? The answer is no. Dr. Jaishankar is right, there is indeed an India way, but it is the same old way, and it entails remaining nonaligned with some minor attitudinal adjustments.
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