India’s growing influence in Afghanistan
June 10, 2011
Indian Prime Minster Manmohan Singh made his first official visit to Afghanistan, early last month after 6 years. He last visited Afghanistan in 2005, marking first visit by any Indian Prime Minister in 30 years. A day before his visit, India announced another $ 500 million development assistance to Afghanistan raising the total assistance by India to Afghanistan to $ 2 billion, making it the largest regional donor.
What is behind this largesse and what are the Indian motives for doling out this huge amount? Pakistan, during last decade, has stumbled from one crisis to another; it was caught in the vortex of security and economic decline, debilitating its capacity for preserving, projecting and promoting foreign policy initiatives, to remain a factor to be reckoned with, particularly in the regional context. India, on the other hand, has made rapid strides both in political domain and economic growth, helping it acquire a high international profile and stature. India has entered into strategic partnership with the US, France, Russia and China. It is Dialogue Partner with ASEAN, and member of ARF and APEC.
India has assiduously cultivated Pakistan’s traditional friends like Saudi Arabia, Turkey, Iran and Afghanistan with greater political interaction and economic partnership. To emphasize its special relationship, India has demonstrated great respect and deference to their leaders. Presidents of Iran (Rafsanjani and Khatemi), Turkey (Abdullah Gul), Afghanistan (Karzai) and King Abdullah of Saudi Arabia have been invited as Chief Guest on India’s Republic Day. King Abdullah’s visit in 2006 was for the first time that a Saudi monarch had visited India in 50 years.
India has its own strong strategic reasons to foster friendship with Kabul. Afghanistan is gateway to the energy rich Central Asian States. As an observer in Shanghai Cooperation Organization (SCO), India has pursued closer relations with regional member states for energy cooperation. Besides signing TAPI Gas Pipeline project, India has provided $ 17 million for modernization of hydro power plant in Tajikistan. It has also set up an Indian military airbase in Farkhor, the first Indian airbase overseas.
Politically, Indian ambition is to be recognized as a major regional leader with legitimate interests and role in the post-NATO withdrawal period in Afghanistan and has US open support in “recognition of Indian enhanced position as regional leader”.
India, since Manmohan’s last visit in 2005, has established a strong presence in Afghanistan. The $ 1.5 billion development assistance has been in capacity building and infrastructure sector. Presently, there are 5,000 Indian construction workers and security personnel in Afghanistan. Major projects are 218 km Zarunj –Delaram Highway, Salma Dam and Afghan parliament building to be completed by the Indian.
Manmohan visit was followed by a three day-visit to Delhi by Afghan Defence Minister Abul Rahim Wardak where he signed an agreement providing for training of Afghan security forces by India. AK Antony, Defence Minister of India, confirmed “conveying the government of India’s willingness to work with Afghan government in building the capabilities of Afghan security forces.”
To translate these investments into enhanced political influence and high profile role, India has opened diplomatic offices in Herat, Mazar Sharif, Jalalabad and Kandhar.
The imaginative and creative diplomatic move Manmohan Singh made was dubbed by one Indian analyst as a leap of faith. The new policy is based on real politik and reckoning of growing sentiments for national reconciliation with Taliban; India has cast away earlier opposition on Taliban and publicly supported Afghan reconciliation.
“Afghanistan has embarked on a process of national reconciliation; we wish you well in this enterprise. It is up to you as people’s representatives, to make decisions about your country’s future without outside interference or coercion”, Manmohan told the Afghan parliamentarians. This represents a decisive shift in India’s policy on Afghanistan.
Since the defeat of the Taliban and ascendancy of Karazi as Afghanistan’s president, India has assiduously worked to increase its influence and image, both overtly and covertly, in Kabul, and has spared no effort, legitimate or otherwise, to keep Pakistan under pressure. Through the connivance and encouragement of Northern Alliance functionaries, it has planted stories of Pakistan’s interference in Afghan affairs and of terrorist activities against Karzai regime. It also held ISI responsible for suicide bombing on Indian embassy in Kabul on July 2008 that killed 58, including Indian defence attaché.
India’s basic objective in Afghanistan remains to counter Pakistan political influence and economic opportunities in Kabul by pursuing policies that will deny or limit Pakistan’s influence and options. It is not without reason that Pakistan regards six Indian diplomatic missions in Afghanistan primarily as surveillance post on Pakistan and to create trouble in Balochistan.
The end game in Afghanistan is drawing to close. Pakistan must watch and monitor the developments and ensure that its core interest and concerns are secured. Peace and security in Afghanistan cannot be achieved without friendship with Islamabad. US-based Pakistan policy working group in a recent report has rightly observed that “transformation of Pakistan-Afghanistan ties can only take place in an overall context of improved Pak-India relations”. The road to Kabul goes through Islamabad, the earlier Washington and Delhi recognize it the better.