What Afghanistan’s vote means for India

August 21, 2009

India and Pakistan, with their competitive strategic interest in Afghanistan, are keenly watching the war-battered nation’s election this week, the second since the Taliban were overthrown in 2001.

The front-runner of that vote is incumbent President Hamid Karzai who is facing a stiff challenge from his former Foreign Minister Abdullah Abdullah and former Finance Minister Ashraf Ghani. There are more than two dozen other candidates.

While a successful vote could mean a step toward achieving basic political and military stability in Afghanistan, its outcome holds crucial geopolitical significance for India and Pakistan.

Conventional wisdom is that a victory for Karzai will help India. Karzai has lived and studied in India, cultivated a strong relationship with New Delhi and spoken out angrily against Pakistan, especially during the years it was ruled by Pervez Musharraf.

Abdullah and Ghani too have India connections — while the former lived there, Ghani was once posted in New Delhi with the World Bank.

So in that sense, Pakistan should have no serious good option, and the various candidates who offer any potential to project its influence in Afghanistan, Islamabad should be more or less a supporter of them, says Daniel Markey, senior fellow at the Council on Foreign Relations.

Markey says Pakistan may tend to prefer Karzai simply because he is “known quantity” and his relations with the civilian government in Islamabad are better than before.

But former diplomat M.K. Bhadrakumar argues Pakistani intelligence disfavours Karzai’s victory as it has scores to settle with almost all the warlords who rally behind Karzai — Mohammed Fahim, Karim Khalili, Mohammed Mohaqiq, Rashid Dostum, Ismail Khan — and they happen to be in the rogues’ gallery in the Western world, too.

But a Hamid Karzai victory may not be without complications for India.

New Delhi, which is seeding Afghanistan with projects spanning sanitation to roads and power, is worried at Karzai’s election promise to intensify peace talks with the Taliban and other insurgent groups such as Hezb-i-Islami.

Last month Karzai’s government announced it had reached a truce with local Taliban fighters in Badghis, a province in the north. Some Taliban leaders later denied there was such a truce.

Karzai’s government has enlisted the help of former Taliban officials in recent months to act as go-betweens in an effort to reach out to fighters. Saudi Arabia has also indicated its
willingness to help in mediation efforts.

Such moves have worried Indian officials who say they fear a U.S.-British-Saudi-Pakistani plan to co-opt the Taliban into the Afghan power structure as part of the NATO’s Afghan exit plan.

If that happens, Indians suspect, wouldn’t it then just be a matter of time before the Taliban start going after their enemies?

It may not, however, be as simplistic but India does seem to have a job of dissuading Karzai from pushing for a rapprochement with the Taliban.


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Congratulations to Afghans for the return of democracy!

India always wants a stable, prosperous, progressive, democratic, secular and independent Afghanistan and Pakistan. Nobody wants to see the cave age, opressive Taliban back in power. And India is willing to contribute any kind of aid to see this happen.

US, EU and world want the same thing. So India’s expectations are nothing new or unique.

Posted by Patrick | Report as abusive

Either Karzai or Abdullah is fine for India. Karzai is shopping for negotiating with Taliban for his survival is of lesser interest to India. It also depends which Taliban which Taliban leaders he is talking about. I guess Mullah Omar, who ruled Afghanistan before 9/11 and ex-Pakistan ISI (Mis)chief Hamid Gul claims can be brought to the negotiating table. Then Karzai is of lesser interest to India than Abdullah who is anti-Taliban guy (Northern alliance with which India has better relations too I guess).

From Pak POV, neither candisate is OK–Karzai is slightly better for them but that depedns upon if uses Pakistan’s favorite Taliban (Mullah Omar) card.

India wishes Afghanistan all the best and hopefully country gets on track through positive power play, not through submission to Taliban.

Posted by rajeev | Report as abusive

Nepal and Sri Lanka are relatively more prosperous countries than Afghanistan. If Nepal and Sri Lanka get billions of Indian aid, Afghanistan deserves a lot more Indian aid.

While US and EU are contributing to security, India should contribute to economic security. India should open IITs, IIMs, call centers, IT development centers in Afghanistan. Brings thousands of Afghan youths to Indian universities and train, educate them. New generation Afghans should be moved away from Talibans. India should finance 5-10 divisions of Afghan army for 5-10 years, till Afghanistan develops financial and industrial base.

Posted by Rav | Report as abusive

India has many troubled neighbhours if Afghanistan adds too it will be a serious headache for india and it is for indian diplomats to workhard to persuade karzi from moving towards Pakistan.

Posted by sridhar velusamy | Report as abusive

India should open military bases in Afghanistan to help Afghanistan, US, NATO and keep an eye on Taliban, Pakistan, China.

Posted by Big Daddy | Report as abusive

Neighbour of the neighbour is also of much relevance in many ways. Perhaps the best way to foster deep rooted relations with Afghans is already worked upon by the government. Providing a decent infrastructure to launch a soci-economic cycle which spans the maximum possible of Afghan society. That is the only approach which will go long far in taking Afghans away from Stone age Taliban and “God knows what” sort of interests of other super powers in this war torn state. Once a single generation of Afghans sees/lives life outside of gun culture’s shodow they will never let themselves pulled back into past.

Posted by Virendra | Report as abusive

[…] step in a comprehensive solution to the regional conflict. Indian concerns are well summarized in this report from Reuters. Perhaps India could be added to Ambassador Holbrooke’s portfolio? Special Envoy […]

Posted by Ballots & Bullets in Afghanistan | U.S. Role in the World | Report as abusive

more fear mongering… c’mon India, show some leadership is south and south west Asia

Posted by North Pacific Observer | Report as abusive

It is only when you get involved in others’ affairs that you get burned.
India shoul simply not interfere in Afghanistan.
This doesn’t mean it should stop the aid work. That is important to have good relations with neighbours.
But the internal politics is for the country to decide.
If Karzai does bring the Taliban to negotiating table, then maybe India too can negotiate with it. Who knows?? Maybe karzai himself might help in that.
If Abdullah wins then there is no probs for India.
In any case, internal politics of Afghanistan is for Afghanis to decide not us.

Posted by Aman | Report as abusive

Of course, India wants a stable Afghanistan, without the Taliban, that brings peace and stability to the Afghans. They have been unwitting victims of Pakistan, the Soviet Union and America’s geo-political game. Strangely each one with a radically different ideology from the other, drove the country to ruin. Some people, especially within Pakistan, might feel India is contnuing where they left off, but that is certainly not true. It is important that the world supports the people of Afghanistan in developing her internal systems so that it emerges as a strongly democratic country. This is as important as defeating, or nullifying the Taliban’s presence.

Posted by Welingkar | Report as abusive