Afghan Journal

Lifting the veil on conflict, culture and politics

The price of greater Indian involvement in Afghanistan

January 19, 2010


U.S. Defense Secretary Robert Gates is heading to India, and one of the things Washington is looking at is how can regional players such as India do more in Afghanistan. “As we are doing more, of course we are looking at others to do more,” a U.S. official said, ahead of the trip referring to the troop surge.

But this is easier said than done, and in the case of India, a bit of a minefield. While America may expect more from India, Pakistan has had enough of its bitter rival’s already expanded role in Afghanistan since the fall of the Taliban in 2001. Indeed, Afghanistan is the new battleground on par with Kashmir, with many in Pakistan saying Indian involvement in Afghanistan was more than altruistic and aimed at destabilising Pakistan from the rear.  Many in India, on the other hand, point the finger at Pakistan for two deadly bomb attacks on its embassy in Kabul.

Against such a difficult backdrop, what can New Delhi possibly do without complicating things further?

Several proposals are afoot but the one that the Afghans are pushing for and which is equally likely to stir things up further is an expanded training programme of the Afghan National Army by the Indian army. A small number of Afghan army officers have been coming to Indian defence institutions, such as New Delhi’s National Defence College, for training under a programme that India has been running for years for several countries.

But this is a nation at war at the moment, and as retired Indian major general Ashok Mehta points out in this article for the Wall Street Journal, the Afghan army chief General Bismillah Khan is keen on sending combat units for training in India’s counterinsurgency schools.  The Indian army has been battling insurgencies for six decades in terrain as diverse as the hills of Nagaland in the northeast to Kashmir in the north.  None of these have been snuffed out, save for the Sikh revolt in the Punjab in the 1980s, and you could argue about the success of their campaign.  But they have held firm, developed tactics along the way, and rarely ever seemed to be losing ground against insurgents even at the height of the Kashmir revolt. Their experience is obviously something the Afghans would like to draw on.

But isn’t this going to antagonise Pakistan further? Running courses for a few officers is one thing, but training a whole combat unit is another. A deepening military relationship between Afghanistan and India would be an uncomfortable prospect for any security planner in Pakistan. Imagine, for a moment, the Pakistani army training strike formations of the Bangladesh army.

Perhaps a bit more palatable to Pakistan would be training of the Afghan National Police, also seen as a key element in the fight to restore peace in the country. Again the Indians have amassed a vast degree of experience, inherited from British colonial masters in the area of policing.

“We have the best institution for training the civilian police, and the paramilitary to some extent … if you want a civilian police with a little bit of strength to the elbow,” India’s national Security Adviser M.K.Narayanan told the Times of London, adding that India had spent a quite a lot of time discussing with the Americans in recent weeks an expanded role in Afghanistan.


India’s expanded role in Afghanistan has been on the table since the insurgency strenghtened and the possible dates of withdrawl of american forces were given.

The expanding US Indian defence ties and its status as the main ally in the region,has given an opportunity to both countries to use each other in Afghanistan for their own interests.

US needs a strong regional partner to keep the afghan goverment from falling under the rebel onslaught once it leaves. India will gain a military foothold on the borders of central asia with huge geopolitical implications for the entire region.

How this affects its equation with Pakistan is clear from the rection of the statements coming from Pakistan analysts and leaders.

Pakistan will ‘not tolerate’ Indian military presence on its western border,given the history of their conflicts over kashmir and former east pakistan(Bangladesh).

The most practical solution is a serious involvement of the occupying powers in Afghanistan towards a kashmir resolution that satisfies all three parties.

Once the main hurdle of mistrust between India and pakistan has been resolved, Afghanistan issue becomes less a battle ground and more a security issue for the region.

That issue should have a regional solution involving Afghanistan,Pakistan,Iran and India could then be included in the group.

To bulldoze Indian troops in Afghanistan and ignoring Kashmir resolutuion will only ignite a bigger regional conflict.

Posted by asher | Report as abusive

The US needs to realize that Pakistan is THE problem, Afghanistan is only a manifestation.

The solution is not to kid glove them but to confront them. US needs to start active efforts to de-nuclearize Pakistan. The jihadi Pakistan army is foolishly emboldened because of its nuclear capability.

And with the active support that Pakistan gives to the Islamic terrorists operating in India, another Mumbai type attack is inevitable. India is not that sophisticated at homeland security which lowers the bar of their patience. If US does not confront Pakistan now, India will do it out of self defense. Then it will be a lot more messy and possibly a conflagration that could lead to WW III (no hyperbole intended).

Pakistan is a deadly cobra, it should be defanged. Its a tough problem but wont be solved by pretending it doesn’t exist.

Posted by JR | Report as abusive

I don’t mind how India increases involvement, as long as Indian troops never set foot in Afghanistan. Afghanistan is a quagmire and India getting militarily involved is insane. And yet over the past there were at least 2 articles in the Guardian by Indian writers arguing for an Indian military presence in Afghanistan. Luckily there is no way Pakistan will countenance that and the US will not Pakistan in that respect.
I don’t think India should worry about antagonising Pakistan. Pakistan has shown no concern over India’s wories, so why should India. The fact is India has a chance to build friends and support in Afghanistan and should not waste it by oversensitivity to Pakistani concerns.

Posted by Mekeritrig | Report as abusive

India’s involvement may not be altruistic but it would serve the cause of democracy in Afghanistan.Pakistan had been an ardent supporter of Taliban regime and it considers Afghanistan as its traditional backyard. India which had a minimal role before the fall of Taliban has since seized the opportunity and has contributed tremendously to the strengthening of democracy in Afghanistan. India’s work in Afghanistan is one of the most fruitful efforts in reconstructing Afghanistan. Hence the US should encourage India rather than looking it as an impediment.

Posted by Sathish | Report as abusive

Just to add to this debate, the last time India deployed troops abroad was in Sri Lanka in the 1980s, and it wasn’t a happy experience. Not that we are talking of boots on the ground at the moment.

Posted by Sanjeev Miglani | Report as abusive

India at the moment cannot streatch militarily, when the army in india are unable to get their act together to curb infiltration from just one side of the border. With the threat from chinese border, pakistan border alive, how can India afford to send troops to afghanistan in a scale which can combat pakistani and taliban forces ? Even if that happens what about security at home ?

Posted by Anitha | Report as abusive

Regardless of whether Pakistan is antagonistic to Indian involvement or not, India cannot afford to lose its foothold in Afghanistan. Any step to scale down its operations in Afghanistan will be a step in the wrong direction. India shares the concern with US about the expanding role of China in central Asia.Pakistan is a strong ally of China and both have been trying to curb the influence of India. Any vacuum left by India would be occupied by China which does not share the democratic concerns of India and the West. Hence a weakened Indian role in Afghanistan would ultimately benefit the Chinese, who have larger geopolitical interest in the region.
There are domestic concerns within India about deploying troops and hence at present India is not a part of the US led war against terrorism. Hence the question of overstretching doesn’t arise.Also this is not like what happened in Sri Lanka where the Indian troops were caught in trouble between the Lankan army and LTTE. It played the role of a mediator then. In the case of Afghanistan, Indian role is passive in nature. It only aids and do not arbitrates. Hence there should not be any concern domestically.

Posted by Sathish | Report as abusive

There is slight iota of doubt , that any decreasing role of India in Afghanistan would only benefit Pakistan and its larger ally China in central Asian region. India should come out with a a very clear policy towards Afghanistan in all respects – civilian, diplomatic, defence, etc. This will not only help India but US also to position India in central Asia vis-a-vis China , and help India in consolidating both its soft power and geopolitical influence.

Posted by Achal | Report as abusive

India should not try to make Afghanistan a new battlefield. Afghanistan should be left to the Afghanis. If India continues to play the politico-military role in Afghanistan, which is being ruled by non-Pashtun elements (Hamid Karzai is just a show piece), it would certainly work for driving a wedge in the major ethnic communities of Afghanistan. Hence, who would pay the cost. Of course, Afghanis. So, India had had enough and should not make Afghanistan a playground of its hegemonic designs. Hindus can never be sincere to the Muslims. They are trying to take political advantages. Pakistan has been and is still second home for the Afghanis. Even today, about 10% of Afghan population is living in Pakistan… Over 5 million Afghan Mohajireen. May Allah bless Afghanistan, Aammeen.

Posted by Ehsan Khan | Report as abusive

Should the extent of India’s involvement in Afghanistan be determined by Pakistani interests or is it a matter of Indian and Afghan interests? One is forced to ask this question because all discussion seems to center around Pakistani concerns and fears. The fact is that this became a topic after Gen McChrystal’s report a few months ago. That report really catered to US interests in Afghanistan. India Afghanistan relationship should be based on mutual interests and benefits, not on third party considerations.

This mornings newspaper carries results of a domestic poll conducted in Afghanistan in Dec 09. It reflects that Indian assistance and role is appreciated the most (71%) followed by Germany (59%), USA (51%). Iran (50%); significantly appreciation of the role Taliban is (3%) is more than that of Pakistan (2%).

Perhaps there is a message there which needs to be spelt out.


Very interesting discussion here. In my personal view this problem had been created in 1947 with partition and the only way it can be solved is by the re-integration of the sub-continent, through a fast track SAARC union, with Myanmar in it if possible. India is the biggest player and the biggest looser in the region if it does not make this happen. Can the Hindu elite share ruling power with Muslims, that is the big question that broke things down in 1947 and is still haunting the region. Now things are spiraling down to ever more complications, but there is no alternative but to go back where it all started, albeit through a different vehicle like SAARC union. British strategic shortsight and Russian treachery also played in handing over Xinjiang and Tibet to PRC and finally the breaking of the subcontinent created this cauldron of trouble. Xinjiang and Tibet has been lost forever. Pakistan has been pushed to a corner to have no choice but to deal with the devil that is China, so it is India and only India’s responsibility to change that reality and bring wayward Pakistan back to homeward bound, this must sink in Indian leadership and only then through unilateral moves from the Indian side we may see some change. Blaming Pakistan for India’s travails will not help one bit, if India wants to secure its own and its regions future then it must take matters in its own hand, not by force, but with tact, diplomacy and charm offensive. And the global powers such as the US and EU must make it their priority as well, to stabilize the region. This will be much cheaper than sending half of US Army in Afghanistan, which only further complicates the situation on the ground.

Posted by axindi | Report as abusive


It is not proper to mention this term as ” India’s Expanded Role” , in fact this should be known as : revival of centuries old relationship with Afghanistan. India’s role in Afghanistan is that of development , building schools, hospitals, parliament building etc , where Pakistan has been helping the terror groups and religions fanatics in Afghanistan for decades .

Pakistan has been exposed as Terrorist state and has become a nuisance before international community . All these talks of India’s expanded role in Afghanistan suffers from gross inferiority complex. A survey done by BBC and other reputed media organisations, revealed that a large majority of Afghan people not only approve but highly commend Indian role in Afghanistan. When people of Afghanistan approve Indian role, why must it bother Pakis ?

Pakistan is sponsor of global jehad and terrorism , presence of nuclear weapons in Pakistan pose great threat to survival of humanity . The international community should not be misled by false Pakistani propoganda , instead must concentrate its efforts to secure them .

Posted by Manish | Report as abusive

@Manish, Sanjiv,

Manish it is sad, but in 60 years, Pakistan has done nothing but maintain and honed its skill at causing agitation and becoming a parasitic international migraine.

Still, after Partition, Pakistani’s do not have a real and true sense of national identity, outside of being known as a bastion-ed fort for extremist Islam.

It seems Pakistani’s are terrified, or extremely jealous of being outclassed by India, with the exception of momentary wins in Cricket, even though India is doing goodwill work in Afghanistan.

Pakistan does not want India to make any friends through honesty and good works, simply because those types of friendship are not founded on enmity, war, fighting or common hatred of enemies, but a deeper friendship of understanding, trust, honesty, shared common values and a desire for regional brotherhood.

The Afghans have not received one iota of any redeeming gifts from Pakistan, except opportunistic meddling by the ISI and the Pak Army, who have helped create the Taliban and Al-Qaeda, to some extent.

To me, this question of even questioning India’s presence in Afghanistan is merely coddling and appeasing loud mouth pieces in Pakistan who cannot handle progress or competition by its neighbours.

I said many times earlier in my posts, over the last year that Obama, now that he is in power, like a cunning and sharp lawyer with big fangs, he will create the situation with Pakistan, that Pakistan will become incrementally more and more cornered and time goes and will be forced to fight the militant groups that they created.

Afghanistan is Pakistan’s old bone yard or recruiting ground for terrorists, since 1947. It was in 1947 that Pakistani establishment hired the Waziri Pashtun Tribesmen to rape, conquer and plunder Kashmir and take Delhi and Punjab, so as to seize them as Islamically conquered territories. Unfortunately, the greedy criminal tribesman got too caught up busy looting and raping and lost sight of their original mission for which they were hired and luckily for India, did not achieve their task.

All future aid and loans must be tied to Pakistani’s showing the world that they are measurably and transparently smashing the madrassa system, reforming their education, so as to make it modern and available to all their peoples and the constitution must be amended to make all peoples equal as human beings under the law in Pakistan.

Above all, the world must put a stop to all terror camps in Pakistan, not even one should be allowed to exist.

Posted by G-W | Report as abusive

Putting forward intelligence operations in Afghanistan has become a profession for Pakistan. It has become a decease for it. This country doesn’t have any sense of confidence. It is terrified of imaginary competitions and war with India, and Afghanistan. It is always scared lest, an anti-Pakistani policy government might be in power in Afghanistan which would just bring it to justice for what it did in the past. That has been the reason for why Parvis M. has always tried to ward off the (Tajik) dominated Northern Alliance not to get in power. May god bless Afghans and leads Pakistanis. Aamen.

Posted by scholarr | Report as abusive

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