India’s foreign policy in Afghanistan


 By C. Rohan

In 1971, after the creation of Bangladesh, India emerged as the leading stakeholder in South Asian affairs. This stake hold further strengthened with India’s first nuclear test in 1974. India was at the peak of its hierarchy of power in South Asian politics. But this remained for a short time. In 1979, the intervention of USSR changed the geometry of the region. The cold war between USA and USSR came into the South Asian region. Due to this India’s power diminished in the region. USSR’s retreat from Afghanistan in 1989 and end of the cold war in 1991 between the superpowers brought (what?) India’s hopes in the region. India’s increased active participation in international politics and its growing positive relationship with U.S made it a responsible actor not only in South Asian affairs but also in world affairs. After September 2001, the attack on U.S and U.S’ military intervention again raised question of India’s stakeholdership. But this time India managed compared to the 1979 intervention. In sum, India’s foreign policy in Afghanistan is travelling from debacle to revival.

India’s foreign policy was at the stage of debacle because of three reasons. First its policy of non-alignment; second the cold war between U.S and USSR and third India’s friendship treaty with USSR in 1971. India’s policy of Non-Alignment did not permit to interfere in other countries’ internal affairs. India was in dilemma between its foreign policy of non-alignment and its friendship treaty with USSR. India preferred to remain mum on intervention. This action was against India’s commitment to third world solidarity and also its policy of non-alignment. Instead of taking decisive action and sticking to the notion of non-alignment movement, India preferred to go along with USSR.  This action later harmed India’s long term national interests. First, the intervention of USSR proved a fiasco for itself which resulted into disintegration of USSR. With that, India remained without friend in international politics as against US-Pakistan strong relationship. Second, US – Pakistan relations became closer. US used Pakistan against USSR in Afghanistan by giving financial assistance and equipping it with arms. This assistance has continuously been used by Pakistan to promote terrorism and making itself advanced in weapons to counter India. In a way, India was on the losing side of history. India remained a victim while formulating its foreign policy in Afghanistan.

The last two decades were a mark of immense change in international politics and in India’s approach towards Afghanistan and outside as well. The international environment and the domestic environment have changed dramatically after the disintegration of the Soviet Union and the changes in India’s economic policy respectively. Today the military power has been replaced by economic and technological power. Domestic politics has also changed from one party politics to multi-party politics. These changes made multi actor participation possible in India’s foreign policy, in contrast to one actor participation. (Nehru and Congress Party) These changes give wider approaches to domestic as well as international challenges. Old ideologies are getting competition from new ideologies in India’s foreign policy. These challenges coincide with India’s status as an emerging power. Issues like non-proliferation, relations with other countries especially major powers and role in international organisations are influenced by more than one ideology now.

Primarily, there are two important reasons because of which India’s foreign policy in Afghanistan is in the process of revival. Firstly, India managed to encircle Pakistan by strengthening the relationship with Afghanistan. India’s increasing engagement in Afghanistan along with US and Pakistan’s increasing hostile relations with U.S cannot be looked into isolation. India and Afghanistan signed a strategic partnership last year, which among other things promises more Indian help in building up Afghan security forces. More than 100 Afghan officers are already attending Indian military colleges, with the number set to rise. In financial terms, India is already one of the biggest players in Afghanistan. It has spent some two billion US dollar worth of aid over the last decade to build roads, power stations and even the Afghan parliament. India has played an active role in the development of Afghanistan based on the understanding that social and economic development in Afghanistan is crucial to regional stability. India’s pledged assistance to Afghanistan stands at a little under U.S. $2 billion, making it the fifth largest bilateral donor in Afghanistan. This is all the more impressive considering the fact that India is not known on the world stage as a traditional donor. All the projects are undertaken in partnership with the Afghan government, in consonance with the Afghanistan National Development Strategy. These initiatives are a matter of concern for Pakistan, who wants to be a big stakeholder in Afghanistan.

Secondly, India has made significant shift in its foreign policy in making global commitment to promote democracy along with the US. India joined the ‘Community of Democracies’ (CD) as a founding member along with more than 100 other countries. India also joined the UN Democracy Fund announced by the UN Secretary General in July 2005 and committed financial resources to the promotion and protection of democracy at the global level. In August 2005, Prime Minister Manmohan Singh at the Foundation Stone Laying Ceremony of the Afghan Parliament said, “The real test of a functioning democracy does not lie within the pages of the Constitution. That will lie in the august House where the elected representatives of the Wolesi Jirga and Meshrano Jirga will sit and debate the issues of the day. Our initiative to join you in building the Afghan Parliament marks the beginning of a new and strengthened friendship between our two countries and peoples. It reflects our commitment to work with all of you for a democratic, stable and prosperous Afghanistan.” India has managed this time to work with US for the development in Afghanistan. In 2001, while addressing the Joint Session of the Parliament of Afghanistan, PM of India emphasised the strong relations between Afghanistan and India. He said, “I have come to Afghanistan to renew these ties of friendship, solidarity and fraternity. This is the only agenda that I have come with. This is the only agenda that the people of India have in Afghanistan.” The consequences of this effort made a compulsion on Taliban to recognize Indian engagement in its country. Taliban appreciated India while saying “No doubt that India is a significant country in the region, but it is also worth mentioning that they have full information about Afghanistan because they know each other very well in the long history,” India is aware of the Afghan aspirations, creeds and love for freedom. It is totally illogical they should plunge their nation into a calamity just for the American pleasure.”

This statement has prons and cons, but there is no doubt that India is on the verge of the revival of its foreign policy in Afghanistan. India should stick with its way and methods to engage with Afghanistan without external pressure. If India produces its own model of engagement in Afghanistan, India’s stakeholdership will remain even when the US will withdraw its force from Afghan soil. At that time India will influence the world with its Afghan model. India can show without using its force how one can contribute to country’s development. In the course of action India will success to deter Pakistan also.

The author is in M. Phil program of Political Science at Center for Security Studies, School of International Studies, Central University of Gujarat.

The above views expressed by the author are his own. It has nothing to do with the Editorial policy of the organisation.

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