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Old Thursday, November 08, 2007
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Default India–afghanistan Relations: Post-9/11



“Ever since India’s independence, we have grown closer to each other, for a variety of reasons. The long memory of our past was there, and the moment it was possible to renew them, we renewed them. And then came mutual interest, which is a powerful factor”.

Indian Prime Minister, Jawaharlal Nehru1


Because of its geo-strategic location, neighbouring Iran, Pakistan, and the Central Asian States (after the disintegration of the Soviet Union), Afghanistan has remained the focus of Indian regional policy. India has enjoyed cordial relations with Afghanistan since 1947; these were strengthened by the signing of the “Friendship Treaty” in 1950. India signed various agreements and protocols with pro-Soviet regimes in Afghanistan to promote co-operation and to enhance Indian influence. The Soviet invasion of Afghanistan in 1979 provided another opportunity for India to further strengthen its relations with Afghanistan. During this period (1979-99), India increased its investments in developmental activities in Afghanistan by co-operating in industrial, irrigation, and hydro-electric projects.

The rise of the Afghan Mujahideen against the Soviet invasion (mainly supported by Pakistan and the US); the withdrawal of Soviet troops; the disintegration of the Soviet Union in 1991; and the formation of a government by the Mujahideen after overthrowing the pro-Soviet regime of Najibullah in Afghanistan in April 1992: these were the events that led to the first instance of diplomatic isolation and lessening of Indian influence in Afghanistan, as India had cordial relations with the ousted pro-Soviet government of Najibullah. However, later in 1992, when Burhanuddin Rabbani established a pre-dominantly non-Pashtun government, India again became active in Afghanistan and provided humanitarian and technical assistance to the Afghan government.

The rise of Taliban in Afghanistan and the removal of the Rabbani government in September 1996 again marginalized Indian influence in Afghanistan. India did not recognize the Taliban government because of its tilt towards Pakistan, and closed its embassy in September 1996. During this period, the non-Pashtun groups opposing the Taliban regime formed the Northern Alliance2 and controlled areas in the north of Afghanistan, bordering the Central Asian States of Tajikistan and Uzbekistan. As part of its efforts to maintain its influence in Afghanistan and counter Pakistan’s support to the Taliban government, India established links with the Northern Alliance. India strengthened the defence of the Northern Alliance by providing high-altitude warfare equipment worth $ 10 million through its Research and Analysis Wing (RAW) and Indian defence advisers provided technical advice to the Northern Alliance.3 Moreover, India had established a hospital in Farkhor on the Afghan–Tajik border and Indian doctors provided medical assistance to the Alliance.4 Also, India operated against the Taliban from bases inside Tajikistan and Uzbekistan.5 While discussing relations between India and Afghanistan during the Taliban period, Mr M. H. Ansari, India’s former Ambassador to Afghanistan, observed, “A relationship with the Taliban was not attempted … as a result of the treatment meted out to the Afghan Hindus and Sikhs. Much more serious in Indian eyes were the Taliban pronouncements on Kashmir, the training of Kashmiris, Pakistanis, and foreign militants in camps in Afghanistan … these touched the core of India’s vital interests and compelled New Delhi to strengthen its support and assistance to the predominantly non-Pashtun Rabbani forces”.6 Thus, throughout the Taliban rule in Afghanistan (1996-2001), Indian efforts were aimed at marginalizing the influence of the Taliban and encouraging groups with links to India. India also exploited the anti-Taliban approach of Russia and Iran to forge closer relations with those countries and to develop its links with Central Asian States. As defined by Mr J. N. Dixit in his book, “India, in co-operation with all like-minded countries, should resist the coercive propagation of any kind of religious, social, or ethnic extremism which can profoundly de-stabilise Afghanistan’s Asian neighbours … An early solution to the Afghanistan crisis is critical for realising the enormous opportunities for energy and economic co-operation in the Eurasian region”.7

The terrorist attacks in the US on 11 September 2001 and the resultant US campaign for international war against terrorism and “Operation Enduring Freedom” launched by the US in Afghanistan against the Taliban regime in November 2001, provided India an opportunity to pursue its foreign policy goals of attaining a hegemonic position in the region and emerging as a global power. Therefore, post-9/11, India intensified its efforts to re-establish its influence in Afghanistan, which had been marginalized with the establishment of Taliban-led government in 1996. The main focus of this study is to examine the developing Indo–Afghan relations in the post-9/11 period and also to discuss the emerging role of India in Afghanistan.

Indo–Afghan Relations: Post-9/11

Post-9/11, the US campaign for international war against terrorism and the US operation against the Taliban regime in November 2001 was a blessing in disguise for India, as it provided it with an opportunity to re-establish its influence in Afghanistan. Mr Jaswant Singh, then Indian External Affairs Minister, during his visit to the US in October 2001, stressed that the international community should support the Northern Alliance in Afghanistan. For example, during his television interview in Washington on 2 October 2001, Mr Singh said, “India has never recognized the Taliban as a legitimate regime. We have continued to recognize the government of Afghanistan as represented by President Rabbani. They have formed the Northern Alliance … it should be the effort of the international community now to strengthen the legitimate government of Afghanistan”.8 The Indian Special Envoy for Afghanistan, Satinder Lambah, visited Kabul in November 2001, and opened a liaison office in Kabul. Later, in December 2001, Mr Jaswant Singh reopened the Indian Embassy in Kabul. Similarly, various officials of the Northern Alliance visited India in December 2001, including Yunus Qanooni, Dr Abdullah Abdullah, and General Mohammad Fahim. Also, after the Bonn Conference in December 2001 that established an interim government in Afghanistan with Mr Hamid Karzai9 as interim president and predominantly manned by representatives of the Northern Alliance, as part of its support to the new setup, India announced $100 million reconstruction aid to Afghanistan.10 Since then, India has been involved in the majority of the training programmes, humanitarian, health, rural, and infrastructure development projects in Afghanistan. Indian External Affairs Minister, Pranab Mukherjee, during his two-day visit to Afghanistan on 23-24 January 2007, commenting on the nature of Indo–Afghan relations during a news conference said, “Indian–Afghan bilateral relations are fast developing into a partnership which is very special to us … we are glad to be able to contribute to the reconstruction and rebuilding of Afghanistan”. 11

Post-9/11 Indian efforts in Afghanistan to re-establish its influence have been broadly focused on three aspects: a major role in the reconstruction process and economic development; building linkages with the Central Asian States; and attempting to marginalize Pakistan’s influence in Afghanistan. These are discussed below.

Major Role in Reconstruction and Economic Development

India is among the major contributors to Afghanistan’s reconstruction process and is helping in diverse areas, including infrastructure; communications; education; healthcare; social welfare; training of officials, including diplomats and policemen; economic development; and institution-building. There are approximately 3500 to 4000 Indian nationals working in various private and public sector reconstruction projects in Afghanistan.12 During the past five years, since 2001, the total Indian development assistance has increased to $750 million,13 invested in various sectors, including hydro-electricity projects, road construction, agriculture, industry, telecommunications, education, and health.

One of the major projects of India, as part of its efforts to build the infrastructure in Afghanistan, is the 280 kilometre strategic road in Afghanistan from the town of Delaram in Herat province on the Kandahar–Herat highway to Zaranj town on the Afghanistan–Iran border. India has provided $80 million, as part of its reconstruction assistance, for the project the construction of which began in 2005 and is to be completed within three years.14 The Indian Army’s Border Road Organization (BRO) is involved in the construction of the road. When completed, the road link with Iran will give access to sea-ports to Afghanistan and facilitate trade with India and the Persian Gulf countries. Currently, Afghanistan’s only access to the sea is through the Karachi port in Pakistan.

India is also involved in the reconstruction of the Salma Dam power project in Herat province of Afghanistan. The Indian government had sanctioned Rs 351.87 crore for this purpose in November 2004.15 However, the total estimated cost of the project is Rs 478 crore.16 The Karzai government had requested India to provide funds for the project. It will generate 42 mw of power and involves the erection of 110kv power transmission lines from Salma Dam to Herat city. The project will be completed in 2009,17 and will help in providing electricity to the western provinces of Afghanistan. The Indian government has assigned the project to the Water and Power Consultancy Services (India) Ltd (WAPCOS). Besides this, India is involved in the construction of a 220kv double circuit transmission line from Pul-e-Khumri to Kabul, and a 220/110/20kv substation in Kabul, which involves the construction of 600 transmission towers and the estimated cost of which is Rs 478 crore. It will supply electricity to Kabul from the Timriz power project in Uzbekistan and is scheduled to be completed by February 2009. India has also supplied equipment for the transmission lines, costing around Rs 39.2 crore, in Faryab province, northern Afghanistan.18

India is also involved in developing the mining sector in Afghanistan. The Afghan Minister for Mines, Mir Mohammad Sadiq, during his visit to India in February 2005 had requested India’s help in developing the inventory, exploration, and utilization of mineral resources in Afghanistan. He said that Afghanistan has about 300 minerals, including coal, copper, zinc, and gold.19

India is investing in a big way to enhance trade and economic co-operation with Afghanistan. During the visit of the Afghan President, Hamid Karzai, to India in March 2003, India and Afghanistan signed the Preferential Trade Agreement, according to which 38 items that Afghanistan exports to India have been given 100 per cent tariff concessions.20 During the visit to Afghanistan of the Indian Prime Minister, Manmohan Singh, in August 2005, India and Afghanistan signed two Memoranda of Understandings (MoU) and an Agreement for Co-operation. They are: the Agreement on Co-operation in the Field of Healthcare and Medicinal Sciences, MoU on Small Developmental Projects; and MoU on Co-operation in the Field of Agricultural Research and Education. As part of efforts to promote integrated rural development, Mr Manmohan Singh announced the adoption of 100 villages in Afghanistan. Afghan President Karzai again visited India in April 2006. Three MoUs were signed: on Co-operation in the Field of Standardization; on Co-operation in the Field of Rural Development, and on Co-operation in the Field of Education.

According to a study by the Associated Chambers of Commerce and Industry of India (Assocham) in April 2006, bilateral trade between India and Afghanistan is expected to increase up to $700 million by 2010 from the level of $500 million in 2006. As regards co-operation in other fields, India has provided three aircraft to Afghanistan’s airline, Ariana; 300 military vehicles to the Afghan Army; more than 400 buses for public transport; and training to policemen and Afghan diplomats. It has established Indian Medical Missions; constructed cold-storage warehouses in Kandahar; opened/ rehabilitated schools; and granted scholarships to Afghan students.

Linkage with Central Asian States

The Central Asian region with its rich resources of energy (oil and gas), enormous mineral resources, and a large consumer market is of geo-strategic importance to India. An Indian analyst, Meena Singh Roy, has observed in one of her articles, “India as an extended neighbour of CARs has major geostrategic and economic interests in this region. The future prospects for co-operation between Central Asia and India in the field of energy security seem to be very important. Peace and stability in CARs and Afghanistan seems to be the most crucial factor for India’s security”.21 After the disintegration of the Soviet Union in 1991 and emergence of the Central Asian Republics22 as sovereign states, India established diplomatic relations with them and was interested in promoting economic and cultural co-operation. It was also concerned about Pakistan’s influence in the Central Asian region. However, India needed the Afghanistan link to maintain its contacts with the Central Asian states. With the rise of the Taliban in Afghanistan and the marginalization of Indian influence, India faced difficulties in maintaining its influence in the Central Asian region. However, because of its links with the Northern Alliance, it did maintain some links with Tajikistan and Uzbekistan. As mentioned above, during Taliban regime, India had established a hospital in Farkhor on the Afghan–Tajik border and provided assistance to the Northern Alliance. Also, since 2004, India has been involved in the building of the Salma dam power project in Herat province; this project will bring electricity supplies from Uzbekistan. Post-9/11, India’s interest in Afghanistan is based on the fact that Afghanistan could be developed as a bridge between India and Central Asia. The Afghan President, Hamid Karzai, during his visit to India in April 2006 invited Indian companies to invest in Afghanistan. He said, “We will be very happy for Indian companies in Afghanistan to produce their goods and to have Afghanistan as a hub or launching pad for those products in Central Asia”.23

In this context, India is investing in building roads and infrastructure linking Afghanistan with the Central Asian States. Apart from the Salma Dam project, Indian oil companies are active in Kazakhstan and Uzbekistan. India is also involved in developing the Turkmenistan–Afghanistan–Pakistan–India (TAPI) gas pipeline project, besides the Iran–Pakistan–India (IPI) gas pipeline. In May 2006, the Indian Cabinet approved India’s participation in the 1300 km TAP gas pipeline project being funded by the Asian Development Bank. Moreover, in March 2007, India completed the refurbishment of a military base at Ayni in Tajikistan: the process began in 2002 and has been completed at a cost of US$10 million.24 Apart from Russia, US, and Germany, India is the fourth country to have a base in Central Asia. Initially, India was planning to deploy MiG-29 fighters; however, according to recent reports, it will deploy Mi-I7V1 helicopters.25 The base is of strategic importance to India. As observed by an Indian analyst, Sudha Ramachandran, “A base at Ayni allows India rapid response to any emerging threat from the volatile Afghanistan–Pakistan arc …It also gives New Delhi a limited but significant capability to inject special forces into hostile theatres as and when the situation demands … in the event of military confrontation with Pakistan, India would be able to strike Pakistan’s rear from Tajik soil … Ayni has to do with India’s growing interests in Central Asia as well”.26

Marginalizing Pakistan’s Influence

During the Taliban regime in Afghanistan, Pakistan gained influence and support in Afghanistan, whereas India was marginalized because of its support to the ousted Rabbani government and the Northern Alliance. Post-9/11, the US campaign for war against terrorism provided India an opportunity to isolate Pakistan and to persuade the international community to declare Pakistan a “terrorist state”. India immediately offered full co-operation and air-base facilities for the US military operations in Afghanistan and waged a campaign against Pakistan. The then Indian Home Minister, L. K. Advani, in a statement on 16 September 2001 said, “The world cannot disregard the fact that over a decade, Pakistan and now Taliban have been promoting terrorism. They have been giving refuge and asylum to all those indulging in terrorist violence”.27 Also, Mr Jaswant Singh, during an interview in Washington in October 2001, said that the international community must recognize that, “perpetuation of Taliban regime is to perpetuate terrorism …the Taliban is a product of the machinery of Pakistan. Pakistan has continued to aid it, finance it, equip it, and continues to do so”.28 He also stressed that, “the only epicentre for the spread of terrorism in that region, including in Central Asia and Iran and in India, not simply in Jammu and Kashmir, but also other parts, the focus of terrorism has become Afghanistan and Pakistan”.29 India did not succeed in its efforts to persuade the international community to categorically declare Pakistan a terrorist state; however, India campaigned for the support of the Northern Alliance to prevent the formation of an Afghan government by pro-Pakistan elements. As observed by the Indian analyst, Ramtanu Maitra, “The Taliban–Pakistan nexus was wholly unacceptable to India, and the US invasion of Afghanistan to oust the Taliban in the winter of 2001 was most cordially welcomed by New Delhi. India also welcomed the United States efforts o break the Taliban–Pakistan alliance and install a non-fundamentalist Karzai…”30 Still, India has failed to marginalize Pakistan’s influence in Afghanistan as Pakistan has extended support to the Karzai government and is co-operating in reconstruction and capacity-building of institutions in Afghanistan, since the renewal of bilateral relations in 2002. Also, Pakistan has committed to provide $250 million for reconstruction in Afghanistan.

However, despite Pakistan’s repeated denials, India and the Karzai government have been accusing Pakistan of sponsoring cross-border infiltration along the border with India and Afghanistan, and of harbouring terrorists on its soil. On the other hand, Pakistan has expressed concern regarding the opening of four Indian consulates, besides the embassy, in Afghanistan, particularly in Kandahar and Jalalabad, along Pakistan’s border with Afghanistan. Pakistan suspects that, through these consulates, India is involved in clandestine activities aimed at destabilizing Pakistan.


India’s Afghan policy should be analysed in the context of the principles and perceptions of the overall Indian foreign policy. Important Hindu scriptures and the works of Hindu political thinkers have influenced the process of foreign policy formulation in India. One such important political thinker was Kautilya, whose concept of political circles of neighbours has influenced India’s regional policy. According to Kautiliyan philosophy, neighbours are regarded as enemies and an enemy’s immediate neighbour as a friend.31 Therefore, as part of this philosophy, taking advantage of the differences between Afghanistan and Pakistan regarding the Durand line, India was able to established cordial relations with Afghanistan in 1947. Post-9/11, the US operation in Afghanistan against the Taliban government and the presence of a friendly government in Afghanistan have certainly provided an important opportunity to India to re-establish and consolidate its influence in that country and in the Central Asian Republics. In this connection, Indian efforts have been to infiltrate all sectors in Afghanistan, to make them dependent on Indian support, thus making Afghanistan a launching pad for its influence in the Central Asian States.


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