India in Afghanistan and Islamabad’s dilemma

In my several interactions with experts and analysts on SAARC affairs, I have been able to zero in on at least two reasons, as why India has a direct interest in Afghanistan.

First, India have had to contend itself with several security challenges that stemmed from the Taliban regime in Afghanistan during the 1990s. Pakistan had raised and supported countless militant groups including Harkat-ul-Jihad-al-Islami, Harkat-ul-Ansar/Harkat-ul-Mujahideen and Lashkar-e-Taiba among others that operate in India. All these groups, and most of their peers, were trained in Afghanistan, with a varying quantum of propinquity to the Taliban, an extension of Al-Qaeda. Hence, India is justifiably adamant that Afghanistan shouldn’t become a safe haven for terrorists and militants again.

Second, New Delhi has interests to retain Afghanistan as a friendly neighbour, from where it has capacity to monitor Pakistan and even, when possible, cultivate assets for influencing the activities inside Pakistan’s geographical limits. While New Delhi harbours keen interests to promote significant cooperation with Kabul, Islamabad is busy in trying to deny New Delhi these opportunities.

During the 1979-1989 anti-Soviet jihad in Afghanistan, India’s role in the country was largely constrained. Later, during the Taliban regime, working with Russia, Tajikistan and Iran, India extended pertinent (though not fully detailed) resources to Northern Alliance, the sole meaningful challenge to Taliban in Afghanistan. Besides, India operated a 25-bed hospital at Farkhor, Ayni, Tajikistan, for over a year. The Alliance’s military commander, Shah Massoud, is said to have died in the hospital after being attacked by Qaeda fidayeen on 9 September, 2001. New Delhi also, via Dushanbe, supplied high altitude warfare arsenal, worth about US $ 8 million, to the Alliance. It also deployed several “defence advisers”, including a brigadier rank officer, to Tajikistan to advise the Alliance on their operation against Taliban.

India, since the second half of the 2000s, have extended its development activities on Afghan soil by providing manpower, technical knowhow and other assistance on irrigation, industrial, road and hydroelectric projects. India’s ability to sustain its presence, attests the importance that New Delhi has attached sovereign importance to its relations with Kabul.

India’s contribution to humanitarian and infrastructural activities in Afghanistan, has left Pakistan deeply worried. Having failed to convince the international quarters, especially Washington, that New Delhi’s interest in Afghanistan is more military than civil, Islamabad, via its militant friends, has worked behind the scenes to execute terror attacks outside the Indian embassy in Kabul and other places where Indian technocrats and engineers are working at a feverish pace to rebuild a war-torn country.

What has caused more worries to Islamabad is that New Delhi is now exerting its presence in the southern part of Afghanistan which abuts Pakistan. It is also aware that the positive public opinion of the Afghans towards Indians and the robust Kabul-New Delhi ties, is a threat to Pakistan, whose interests in Afghanistan are solely military. Pak troops fighting the Taliban in Afghanistan are a demoralised lot. Under insistence from the US, they now have to train their guns on their one-time compatriots i.e. the Talibans and the Qaedas.

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