India's Approach to Afghanistan and its Prospects

Published September 20th, 2021 - 11:10 GMT
Since 2010, New Delhi has doubled its level of relations with Kabul with more than 50 agreements and memoranda were signed between the two countries, and also the strategic agreement of October 2011
Students shout slogans against the Taliban takeover of Afghanistan as they take part in a demonstration held in Kolkata on August 18, 2021 to show solidarity with the people of Afghanistan. (Photo by DIBYANGSHU SARKAR / AFP)
Since 2010, New Delhi has doubled its level of relations with Kabul with more than 50 agreements and memoranda were signed between the two countries, and also the strategic agreement of October 2011

By Farzad Ramezani Bonesh

India gained its independence in 1947, but by the division of India, Pakistan tore India and Afghanistan apart. However, in 1950 a treaty of friendship between the two countries was concluded. Since 2010, New Delhi has doubled its level of relations with Kabul with more than 50 agreements and memoranda were signed between the two countries, and also the strategic agreement of October 2011 (including the general principles of political and security cooperation, economic and trade cooperation, education) emphasized the importance of relations.


Strategic competition and partnerships

Today, India, as a potential ally of the United States, and Pakistan, as China's strategic partner in the Eurasian region, play an irreplaceable role in competing in Afghanistan. Over the past decade, US and Indian interests have grown, and they have pledged to deepen their defense ties.

New Delhi expects India to be recognized in the long run as a major regional power and a growing global power. India fears that following the withdrawal of the United States, China will become the top player in Afghanistan with "one belt and one road" project. The Taliban's coming to power also undermined the success of Indian policy in Afghanistan and Central Asia in Pakistan's favor.

India also seeks to strike a balance between other powers and play a key international role. Afghanistan's role is very important for New Delhi in increasing India's trade with Central Asia and Eurasia, maintaining the north-south international transport corridor, countering China's influence in Pakistan's Gwadar, and so on. This means that India does not want to see its defeat against China and the China-Pakistan economic corridor by losing the Chabahar port project as a bridge between India, Iran, Afghanistan and Central Asia (Pakistan's Gwadar port rival).

In fact, holding consultations and talks in the field of common interests on Afghanistan can accelerate India-Iran relations.  New Delhi assessments of the regional balance of power could also lead India to deeper strategic cooperation with Tehran.  On the sidelines of the Shanghai Summit, India and Iran exchanged views on the formation of an inclusive government with the participation of all ethnic in Afghanistan. New Delhi and Moscow also see a window into coordinating their positions on Afghanistan.

Continuation of India's soft power in Afghanistan

The cultural and racial similarities between India and Afghanistan have continued for three thousand years of continuous historical relationship. India's policy towards Afghanistan and the use of soft power have remained unchanged. Over the past two decades, India has strengthened its cultural influence and soft power in Afghanistan through training Afghan diplomats, bankers, police, aviation personnel, helping to develop schools, awarding hundreds of scholarships, assisting in the development of a radio and television station, and the presence of Indian music and cinema in Afghanistan.  The Taliban can now reduce India's soft power, but India can still prevent the Taliban from inflicting a major blow on India's interests in Afghanistan by and health support, the presence of Indian NGOs, the resumption of projects, and so on.

India Economy and Investments in Afghanistan

New Delhi's foreign policy has changed since its independence. During this period, by the increase in the weight of economic goals and the increasing importance of geopolitical and security goals in foreign policy, New Delhi has paid more attention to its strategic position, resources and areas of economic cooperation with Afghanistan. Since the fall of the Taliban in 2001, India has provided more than $ 3 billion in aid and investment in roads, communicating networks, dams, etc. in Afghanistan.

This made India practically Afghanistan's largest foreign investor. In fact, India’s concerns about the fate of billions of dollars in investment and hundreds of large and small projects due to the face of the Taliban presence in Kabu have grown.

Beijing has invested heavily in the port of Gwadar in Pakistan. But India supports the North-South Corridor, which connects Chabahar in Iran to Russia and reduces transit time between Europe and Central Asian markets. Meanwhile, Shir Mohammad Abbas Stanekzai, one of the Taliban’s leaders has told that the group wants to continue Afghanistan's political, economic and cultural ties with India.

Although the Taliban has stated that it wants India to continue its development projects in Afghanistan. New Delhi has previously proposed a quadripartite working group of India, Uzbekistan, Iran and Afghanistan to discuss joint use of the Chabahar port. But the Taliban refused. Even now, New Delhi has little hope of a positive Taliban approach to India's economic presence in Afghanistan.

India and avoiding the threat of the Taliban, ISIS and Muslim extremists

In the 1990s, India did not recognize the Taliban, considered it a serious threat to its security and national interests, and sought to counter the Taliban in regional coordination with Iran and Russia. In fact, from New Delhi's point of view, the rise of the Taliban with Pakistan's direct support will lead to the establishment of a puppet government in Afghanistan, the spread of Talibanism to Kashmir and Pakistani puppet groups, and a war with India in Kashmir. In addition, the presence of Indians among ISIS terrorists has been confirmed, which poses a significant threat to India.

Taliban rising to power in Afghanistan is a fatal blow to India's regional interests. But recently, the Indian ambassador to Qatar met with the deputy head of the Taliban's political bureau to discuss security in the region. The Taliban have assured that India's concerns will be addressed positively. In fact, it is important to carry out counter-terrorism operations against ISIS and the Taliban's commitment to the promises it has made to run the country differently

India, like many other countries, is concerned about Afghanistan becoming a 'terrorist hub' and the possibility of the birth and reproduction of international terrorists and their extradition to India, and the growth of extremist Islamists. In fact, New Delhi officials are still concerned about the growing role of the Pakistani ISI, the strengthening of the role of the Haqqani network, the growing ties between the Taliban and the Kashmiri militia, Lashkar-e-Taiba, al-Qaeda in the Indian subcontinent and the ISIS.

With the Taliban’s gaining power, extremist movements in the Indian part of Kashmir have called the Taliban victory "extraordinary and historic" and expect the Afghan group to help the Kashmir insurgents.

This could have negative security consequences for the more than 200 million Muslim populations of India, Kashmir, the possible growth of Islamophobia, the increased risk of bloody conflicts and internal fundamentalism in India.


Although, Prime Minister Narendra Modi has negative view to the recognizing the new regime in Kabul, (given the government's "inclusiveness") and Pakistan's assistance to the Taliban with drones, air support and special forces to counter national resistance front in Panjshir, but in fact India seems to be pursuing a policy of pragmatism and finding a solution between its conflicting national and geopolitical interests.

Meanwhile, New Delhi has so far been cautious in its approach to the Taliban. India will choose its approach to the Taliban from idealism and realism in order to maintain its interests in Afghanistan. India also seeks strict and common norms to combat any terrorism on Afghan soil, to prevent the financing of terrorism and cross-border terrorism.

Modi has warned that continued "instability and fundamentalism" in Afghanistan would lead to the spread of terrorist and extremist ideologies around the world. On the other hand, India attributes the continuing instability in Afghanistan to the rampant flow of drugs, illicit weapons of human trafficking and a serious humanitarian crisis. India is concerned about a serious humanitarian crisis in Afghanistan, while blaming the resurgence of terrorism in Afghanistan on Taliban policies.

In India's view, the Haqqani network and Pakistan will have significant influence over the Taliban government. Under these circumstances, India can wait for the formation of an inclusive government or cooperation with other actors (Such as Iran, Russia, Saudi Arabia, Tajikistan, European Union, USA, etc.)  to put pressure on the Taliban and moderate its behavior.

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