By: Jawad Sadiq Fitrat
The recent but discrete moves of Afghan government on bringing Indian military into Afghanistan has raised eyebrows of many observers who are focused on south Asia. The point that merits attention here is about the feasibility of Indian military’s presence on Afghan soil. Can India take the risks of sending its military contingents to a country which is grappled with numerous issues of survival, security, stability and economic progress and where more than 20 terrorist organizations are operating and challenging the writ of the government in Kabul?
India, that lacks a respectable reputation across the region on numerous counts such as human rights violation, oppressing minorities inside the country and scraping life in state of Jammu & Kashmir using state sponsored terrorism, would be a soft target of all Islamist militant organizations in Afghanistan.
During 2017, when US President Donald Trump spelled out his new South Asia policy in August, there was a euphoria created by Indian intelligentsia that India would likely to play a dominant role in Afghanistan next to the US. There were voices in India media that India would send military troops up to 15,000 to Afghanistan to defend that nation against militants and terrorists. Pro-Indian Afghan media persons also started circulating false stories about the impending Indian military presence in Afghanistan.
On 28 May 2017, Afghan Pajhwok news agency from Washington reported that India could send its troops to Afghanistan under a “UN Mission”. As per details, a “prominent Indian defence expert” told Washington based policy circles that “New Delhi could perhaps be persuaded to send up to a division of Indian troops — around 15,000 in total — to Afghanistan under a United Nations Peacekeeping mission”. However, in the end, no such scheme was dared to be materialized by India.
The idea of Indian military presence, by a closer inspection, appears to be the brainchild of Hindutva elements in Indian establishment, notably Ajit Kumar Doval. Afghanistan has never been a welcoming land for foreign invaders not only due to its difficult terrain, but also due to the religious, ethnic and cultural compounds that she carries. Thus, India is no exception. The very conception of Hindu soldiers defending the lives, honour and property of conservative Afghan Muslims is worst than a laughing stock.
In Afghan history, the defeat of British Army troops in 1842 at the hands of Afghans in Anglo-Afghan wars is a witness. There were thousands of Indians in that British army in 1842. The recent past has shown the ouster of Red Army of Soviet Union in Soviet Afghan war from 1979 to 1989. Of late, the US-Taliban peace talk is American search for honourbale exit from Afghanistan.
The question that why India wants to send its troops to Afghanistan has many probable reasons. Firstly, in case of US withdrawal and a peace agreement with Taliban, India has presumed a likely surge in Taliban related violence in southern Afghanistan thus putting in jeopardy India’s influence that she has been trying to maintain through Iran’s Chahbahar port and railway link.
Secondly, members of Northern Alliance have intimate relation with India and are comfortable with idea of Indian military boots on Afghan soil. Thirdly, India believes the presence of her armed forces in Afghanistan would help better protect her economic interests and continue to give her an upper edge in the region. Fourthly, Indian troops would better deter Pakistan’s lofty designs of strategic depth in Afghanistan and especially if US-Taliban conclude a peace deal.
The Hindutva plan of sending Indian troops to Afghanistan entails multitude of defects. One, logistically, there are no easy routes for reinforcement and supply to Indian contingent except the Chabahar Port that would provide a supply point for Indian contingent through Zaranj-Dilaram.
Two, the continued US-Iran hostility is likely to render the Chabahar option ineffective for Indian military in Afghanistan. Three, Pakistan’s strategic advantages in the shape of a 2400 km long Pak-Afghan border and the presence of pro-Pakistan religious, ethnic and socio-political elements in Afghanistan suffice to throw a spanner in the works for Indian military contingent on Afghan soil. Four, Indian Air power has no parallel to US air superiority in Afghanistan. Five, sending Army contingent to Afghanistan would be a much expensive affair for India in terms of its cost in huge financial loss and killings of Indian soldiers at the hands of militants in Afghanistan. Last but not the least, would not it be derogatory for Afghan government to ask for help of Indian Army to protect its political leadership, thus putting a big question mark on capabilities of Afghanistan National Defense and Security Forces (ANDSF).
Indian Military in Afghanistan: An Illegitimate Brainchild of Hindutva
By: Jawad Sadiq Fitrat