India’s role in Afghanistan and its implications for peace efforts

India has been contributing to Afghanistan’s insecurity in a very timely and calculated manner


Hassan F Virk May 12, 2021
The writer is a lecturer of social sciences and public policy at School of Integrated Social Sciences, University of Lahore

Contrary to the predominant view that India has never meddled in the Afghan conflict and Pakistan is to be blamed for all the chaos, India has been contributing to Afghanistan’s insecurity in a very timely and calculated manner. If there had been any non-interference, it was before the Taliban established their regime; for instance, in the years of infighting in Afghanistan (1988-1994), India kept its distance and didn’t play any part in peace efforts. But then later India backed the Northern Alliance to overthrow the Taliban, and became the largest regional provider of humanitarian and reconstruction funds to the Islamic Republic of Afghanistan. It shows that India intervenes as per its political and strategic convenience, and not haphazardly.

A document titled, “Afghanistan: Background and U.S. Policy”, prepared by the Congressional Research Service (CRS) in March this year ignored any kind of role played by India except a fleeting mention of how Pakistan’s security establishment is fearful of strategic encirclement by India. If this kind of filtered and one-sided information is being used to inform legislative and policy debates in the US Congress then one could only imagine the condition of information disseminated in South Asia. India always had a sway in the US policy circles to some extent and India’s portrayal of the Taliban as a small and inconsequential entity created a false hope for a military victory in those circles. Contrary and rather practically, Pakistan believes that the Taliban are an established reality and power which cannot be just obliterated.

Another misrepresentation emerged out of the Indian media which alleged on loop that Pakistan’s ISI has been spreading terrorism in Afghanistan. This very same idea was sold to global media outlets through massive psychological operations in Europe and America fifteen years ago. Reportedly more than hundred fake propaganda outlets were created out of India to spread disinformation. Pakistan has been very clear on one thing: peace can never fully exist in Pakistan without first securing peace in Afghanistan. So, the argument that Pakistan wants to thwart the peace process defies logic and even common sense. Pakistan’s continued support for Afghan peace process has even been lauded by Khalilzad and the US Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin.

So then; if not Pakistan, then who benefits from a failed peace process in Afghanistan?

The Murree process of dialogue was stalled when the news of Mullah Omar’s death was leaked. US forces again faced another teeth-grinding setback on ground; and with mounting chaos and no peace in sight, Pakistan was again approached to push for peace talks but the process was again scuttled by Mullah Mansoor’s killing in a US airstrike. India, instead of encouraging the Afghan government and the US for peace efforts, supported the military approach and even assisted in training the ANDSF and NDS to fight the Taliban. In 2018, Doha talks were initiated and India was the first country to reject the talks saying that the US-Taliban peace process must be Afghan-led. At all regional forums India kept on depicting the Taliban as a terrorist entity unworthy of being included in the peace process. It also encouraged the Afghan government to take strict stance against the Taliban, thereby delaying the peace process.

According to the US officials, the Taliban are stronger and more coherent an entity than they were in the past. Under the docile leadership of Mullah Akhundzada, there are 60,000 Talib fighters. This kind of force has created a “strategic stalemate” between the Taliban and the Afghan government. Another point to be noted is that the Taliban and the Islamic State of Khorasan (ISKP) have fought over territorial concerns; but India has still tried over and over to link the Taliban with ISKP and the Al-Qaeda.

A secondary contention here is that whenever peace talks start to take shape, Pakistan’s internal security situation becomes delicate and violence surges in Afghanistan –as seen in the very recent violent attacks just days before the current phase of dialogue in Turkey.

And it is not without historical precedence.

Hijacking of Indian Airlines Flight 814 in the winter of 1999 and subsequent release of prisoners added to Indian animosity towards the Taliban.

In 2001, India supported the expulsion of Taliban from the democratic system of Afghanistan.

Post-9/11, India had increased its interference in Afghanistan by establishing consulates and allegedly posted undercover agents to spread insurgency in Pakistan. Can this claim be supported by India’s initial economic aid worth $650-750 million to Afghanistan? Maybe, maybe not but the question needs to be put out: to what end India has been investing billions of dollars in Afghanistan’s public enterprises? During the Karzai Presidency, India used its influence to negatively affect Af-Pak relations.

From APS Peshawar to PAF Base Kamra; from PSE Karachi to multiple attacks on CPEC related projects: there’s been a series of terrorist attacks in Pakistan for which, in one way or the other, Afghan space was used as a springboard. As Pakistan shifted its attention homewards, peace efforts in Afghanistan were left unattended; and without Pakistan’s assistance, a continuous surge in US troops could not achieve the desired results and the war dragged on.

Pakistan had a connection with the Afghan Taliban in the past; but, so did America. It doesn’t mean that Islamabad still views Afghan Taliban as a friendly ally to be used as an anti-India agent. Why Pakistan is always viewed as a trouble-making entity in South Asia? How come nobody has ever batted an eyelash on India’s overwhelming diplomatic and commercial presence in Afghanistan?

Other than maligning and isolating Pakistan in the eyes of the world, aborted peace talks and failure to reduce violence in Afghanistan, agent provocateurs have inflicted heavy losses on the US efforts on ground. It prolonged war in Afghanistan far beyond the expected stretch of time. It resulted in too much causality of US forces, international troops and Afghan security forces. Last but not the least; it generated a lot of ill will in the Pakistani masses against America.

To end war in Afghanistan and for peace efforts to become successful, all kind of negative foreign interference must stop in the country. Afghanistan and Pakistan have their interests aligned, so it would be imprudent for international powers involved in Afghanistan to ignore Pakistan’s national and regional interests. A war ended by a political settlement means that some political interests have been catered at the expense of others. This creates a latent rivalry of interests.

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