India and Afghanistan: Friends with benefits?

Published: September 16, 2016
Afghan President Ashraf Ghani shakes hands with Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi in New Delhi, on April 28, 2015. PHOTO: AFP

Afghan President Ashraf Ghani shakes hands with Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi in New Delhi, on April 28, 2015. PHOTO: AFP

This Eidul Azha, Afghanistan President Ashraf Ghani went vegetarian amidst Narendra Modi’s hugs and hospitality during his recent two-day visit to Delhi. Amid unprecedented tensions within the Unity Government, the embattled Afghan leader managed to avoid the ceremonial Eid meeting with his coalition partner Abdullah Abdullah, who sees him ‘unfit for presidency’, to forge stronger Indo-Afghan ties.

Afghan endgame

Despite their differences Ghani and Abdullah agree on one point: Blaming Pakistan for most of the evils confronting their government. In New Delhi, Ghani lectured Islamabad on why it should act against terrorists indiscriminately. “Making a distinction between good and bad terrorism is an approach that is enormously short-sighted. Those who think they can manipulate the psychology of this phenomenon or affect the pathology are mistaken,” said the Afghan president during his address. “There is a war in Pakistan which the media doesn’t speak about. There are 207,000 Pakistani forces in Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa and Balochistan. This violence needs coverage and understanding, and needs to be stopped,” he added.

The joint statement sought an end to all sponsorship and sanctuaries to terrorists. Delhi announced to earmark $200 million per annum over the next five years to build Kabul’s capacity and capability in education, health, agriculture, energy and infrastructure development sectors. Besides signing an extradition treaty, the leaders expressed satisfaction over signing of the MoU for cooperation in peaceful uses of outer space.

Chabahar port will help India bypass Pakistan: Afghan president

The duo boasted the cooperation to anchor peace and stability in the region and beyond. The next Afghanistan-India high-level consultations are scheduled on the sidelines of UN General Assembly where the US official will be part of the trilateral meetings. Ashraf Ghani will also be the chief guest at the Amritsar Ministerial Conference of the Heart of Asia-Istanbul Process on December 4. Already, the Afghan president and the Indian premier have met over half a dozen times over the past 10 months. The diplomatic manoeuvring has paced up after the signing of the trilateral agreement involving Afghanistan, India and Iran in May 2016, primarily about using Chabahar port for transit trade.

The plight of Afghans living within its territory

Since 9/11, developments in Pakistan have been pretty much according to forecast except for two major caveats. Firstly, initiation of Zarb-e-Azb and Khyber military operations with unchallenged support from civilian and military leadership and secondly, the signing of China-Pakistan Economic Corridor. Cynical neighbours of Pakistan expected anything but a stringent military operation against non-state extremist groups and a resultant sharp decline in terror incidents. Afghanistan, on the other hand, has failed to yield requisite leadership to fill the political void exploited by militants, tribal leaders and ethnic hate-mongers.

For instance, Tarin Kowt in Uruzgan, Lashkar Gah in Helmand and Kunduz, three of 34 provincial capitals, are under direct Taliban siege while another 50 are ‘heavily contested’ admit Afghan officials publically. Most civil servants have either fled or wield negligible influence against the militia’s parallel administrations. As if this was not enough, ethnic Pashtun grievances against the non-Pashtun elite remain ignored like most other crucial challenges. No foreign leader can provide the healing touch that Afghan society desperately needs.

Afghanistan’s needs are more rudimentary. However, its elitist and rash leaders have been shy of addressing the core issues with their allies. Much hyped cooperation from India serves Modi’s electorate and Ghani-Abdullah’s political rhetoric against Pakistan than anything more tangible to the benefit of Afghan people. By embracing the Indian narrative, Afghan leaders are volunteering for what its NSA Ajit Doval explicitly stated: “India will fight Pakistan to the last Afghan.”

A deeper friendship?

The other critical question remains about the magnitude and utility of India’s support to Afghanistan’s security forces. Kabul fancies tipping the balance in its favour by hosting Indian military advisors, sending larger troop contingents for specialised training, acquiring used Russian gunship and light utility helicopters. On the other hand, India is dumping its decommissioned 105mm mountain artillery guns as it sees the Central Asian state as a testing ground for locally-assembled military hardware.

Kabul’s belligerent rhetoric not in regional interest: Maleeha

Instead of loans and grants, Afghanistan needs hard cash to streamline the government institution as well as recruit, train and equip more security personnel. Currently, it has 350,000 soldiers and policemen, which is far lower than the number of soldiers India has deployed in occupied Kashmir.

But why would any country fund Afghan government? In the past, assistance worth billions of dollars has only helped create a new breed of money launderers paired with aging warlords and decaying politicians. For a country whose territory was used to plan and launch 9/11 attacks 15 years ago it has not yet come to terms with its reality. The writ of the state is a mere figment of imagination, and non-state actors an open secret.

The way forward

Joining India and Iran against Pakistan will be detrimental to Afghanistan’s long-term future. Kabul is revisiting the Cold War era by reviving hostile policies. It used to be a relatively peaceful country with proper infrastructure, but today’s Afghanistan has three million citizens living as refugees in Pakistan and hundreds braving stormy Mediterranean waters to reach Europe. Unless Afghan people don’t own their country, the world will continue to toy with their geography and resources. Meanwhile, Islamabad should stay focused on establishing the state’s writ and obliterating non-state actors in its very own national interest.


Naveed Ahmad is a Pakistani investigative journalist and academic with extensive reporting experience in the Middle East and North Africa. He is based in Doha and Istanbul. He tweets @naveed360

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Reader Comments (17)

  • Honest Observer
    Sep 16, 2016 - 7:42PM

    Great piece, man! So you volunteer for troll attack of the worst kind? Seems Naveed Ahmad is enjoying the hate messages in comment section. Seriously, I love the way you contextualised and quantified the relationship from Indian, Afghan and Pakistani standpoint. Modi is advances remind one of the history book recollecting Hitler, who made piece with Soviets to attack the Western Europe and later came for Stalingrad and Ukraine. Just keep up the good work. Objective, straightforward and courageous analysis!Recommend

  • Feroz
    Sep 16, 2016 - 8:04PM

    India does not give any money, it builds infrastructure directly and delivers to the Afghan government. No scope for anybody to pocket that money. Author is asking silly questions about why India does it. To win the affection and hearts of the Afghan people. The new Indian government has made strong efforts in assuring every country they can benefit from India’s rise through cooperation, investments and friendship. It is something the world can understand and is eager to embrace. Pakistan was also offered the same but not only rebuffed India, lapsed back to old terror tricks. Too bad a great opportunity was squandered. Here on the old India is dead and Pakistan will need to prove it is worthy of any friendship. Recommend

  • Reality Check
    Sep 16, 2016 - 8:24PM

    The money foreign countries give is meant to go back through contracts offered to their own respective companies. Moreover, how much can Afghanistan make of $200 million a year. China will still be the dominant player in reconstruction and businesses both. The author is right about leadership vacuum and absence of political stability resulting no writ of the state. Afghanistan remains hemorrhaged due to corruption, internal divisions, terrorism and foreign interference. Pakistan must focus on its internal security against multiple threat emanating from eastern and western neighbor-sponsored terror groups and Intel agencies. Recommend

  • Honest Observer
    Sep 16, 2016 - 8:30PM

    Sorry about typos in my comment, thanks my smartphone!

    @Feroz: Winning hearts and minds in Afghanistan. I think we heard George W Bush saying this for Afghans and then Iraqis. I don’t need to elaborate the end results. The Indian Hitler is no less hot-headed than the Bushs. No one can win Afghan hearts and minds by fighting Pakistan to the last Afghan!Recommend

  • Milind
    Sep 16, 2016 - 9:06PM

    @Honest Observer – There’s a huge difference between US and Indian role in Afghanistan… We do not have our troops on the ground trying to control Afghans.. We’re not giving orders on how to run their Govt… We let them run their own house…Its not a master-client relationship, but mostly of equals.. Alas critical thought is alien to Pakistanis.Recommend

  • Vectra
    Sep 16, 2016 - 9:34PM

    I think Pakistan need to lecture less and contribute more towards grievances concerned.Recommend

  • Honest Observer
    Sep 16, 2016 - 9:57PM

    I wish you’re optimism could hold some ground in the real world, manipulated through realpolitik. India’s not doing any service to Afghans but simply using it to encircle Pakistan. It has tried to use Iran the same way as well. The game has only just begun. Kabul and Delhi share many a pipedream here.Recommend

  • Lahul
    Sep 16, 2016 - 9:58PM

    Yes, Afghanistan is on Indian benefits.Recommend

  • Sri Varahadev
    Sep 16, 2016 - 10:40PM

    India and Afghanistan should jointly assist the Pushtuns and Balochis to drive out the “207,000 Pakistani Forces” of the Punjabi dominated Military President Ghani talks about out of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa and Balochistan.Recommend

  • Wake up
    Sep 16, 2016 - 10:47PM

    They both want to use Afghanistan for their own selfish purpose. Since when has the human nature been different?.@Milind: Recommend

  • Gribaldi
    Sep 16, 2016 - 11:22PM

    Just shut up and enjoy the new friendship with Afghanistan before they show you people their real face.@Sri Varahadev: Recommend

  • Pashtun
    Sep 16, 2016 - 11:46PM

    @srisoowarhadav u do not need to worry about Pakhtoons. We know that you guys still mourn for your gods destroyed by Ahmed Shah Abdali et al. In recent past we would like to remind you the 1948’s kashmir liberation war, 1965 and captain sher khan of Kargil conflict. And Nawab Noor Naseeri Baloch is a name which hindus always remember when they visit their somnath temples. Pakistan should focus on it’s own security. Puppet ghani can not even sleep with peace in his own palace despite of heavy security from american special forcesRecommend

  • numbersnumbers
    Sep 17, 2016 - 2:39AM

    The author conveniently neglects to talk about how Pakistans own Good Taliban terrorist groups have assisted Afghanistan over the past 15 years! LOL!Recommend

  • pradeep
    Sep 17, 2016 - 7:59AM

    @pashtun.. We Indians knows all history and we also proud that our forefathers fight against all intruders and gives their lives for their country and for save their religion. They are not not like your hindu forefathers who bent over foreign intruders and convert to other religion to save their lives and families. First you check your own history.Recommend

  • Darvesh
    Sep 17, 2016 - 8:11AM

    Hahaha…again hahaha India builds infrastructure in other countries when it’s own house has no toilets no proper streets no garbage system no food… Hhaha.Recommend

  • abhi
    Sep 17, 2016 - 10:18AM

    @HonestObserver what is your take on CEPC? why is China putting money in Pakistan? samething isn’t it?Recommend

  • B Shivaramakrishna
    Sep 17, 2016 - 1:05PM

    @Sri Varahadev: India should not restrict herself to driving Punjabi dominated Military out of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa and Balochistan to provide succor to Pushtuns and Balochis. They must also be driven out of Sindh and Pakistan Occupied Jammu & Kashmir so as to give succor to Sindhis, Mohajirs, Kashmiris and Balwaristanis.Recommend

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