NEW YORK/WASHINGTON : India has not only Pakistan-specific interests in Afghanistan but also wants to be seen as extra-regional power through its presence in that country, according to a top American expert on the region.“India is interested in retaining Afghanistan as a friendly state from which it has the capacity to monitor Pakistan and even, where possible, cultivate assets to influence activities in Pakistan,” Christine Fair, a known South Asia expert, writes in an analytical piece for Foreign Policy magazine.Analyzing New Delhi’s regional policy, Fair, who is currently an assistant professor at Georgetown University, says “India is interested in retaining Afghanistan as a friendly state from which it has the capacity to monitor Pakistan and even, where possible, cultivate assets to influence activities in Pakistan.”In the piece headlined “India in Afghanistan : Strategic Interests, Regional Concerns” the expert notes “India’s profile in Afghanistan has been a quiet but looming concern for New Delhi, Washington, Brussels and of course Islamabad with all wondering what is the optimal role for India in Afghanistan’s reconstruction in light of the enduring security competition between India and Pakistan.”On the one hand, she says, are those who want to expand India’s presence in Afghanistan through increased Indian training of Afghan civilian and military personnel, development projects, and expanded economic ties.”
On the other hand are those that caution against such involvement. This view was articulated forcefully by then-top NATO commander in Afghanistan Gen. Stanley McChrystal in his August 2009 “COMISAF’s Initial Assessment.”McChrystal opined: “Indian political and economic influence is increasing in Afghanistan, including significant development efforts and financial investment. In addition, the current Afghan government is perceived by Islamabad to be pro-Indian. While Indian activities largely benefit the Afghan people, increasing Indian influence in Afghanistan is likely to exacerbate regional tensions and encourage Pakistani countermeasures in Afghanistan or India.”
Other analysts see Indian and Pakistani competition in Afghanistan as a new “Great Game” and argue that Afghanistan can be pacified only through a regional solution that resolves once and for all the intractable Indo-Pakistan dispute over Kashmir, adds Fair, who recently compiled a Century Foundation study on “India in Afghanistan and Beyond: Opportunities and Constraints.”Fair remarks that “American officials are often unaware of how Indians conceive of their neighborhood.”Indian policy analysts claim that India’s strategic environment stretches to the Strait of Hormuz and the Persian Gulf in the west (some will even claim the eastern coast of Africa as the western-most border of this strategic space); to the east, it includes the Strait of Malacca and extends up to the South China Sea; to the north, it is comprised of Central Asia; and to the south, it reaches out to Antarctica.Raja Mohan, a doyen of Indian security analysis, explains in comparable terms that India’s grand strategy:
“Divides the world into three concentric circles. In the first, which encompasses the immediate neighborhood, India has sought primacy and a veto over the actions of outside powers. In the second, which encompasses the so-called extended neighborhood stretching across Asia and the Indian Ocean littoral, India has sought to balance the influence of other powers and prevent them from undercutting its interests. In the third, which includes the entire global stage, India has tried to take its place as one of the great powers, a key player in international peace and security.”
Thus, in many regards, India’s interests in Afghanistan can be seen as merely one element within India’s larger desire to be able to project its interests well beyond South Asia, the expert observes.
Indians claim that developments in Afghanistan and Pakistan have important
and usually deleterious effects upon India’s domestic social fabric as well as its internal security apart from the well-known problems in and over Kashmir.
“Indian interlocutors have explained to me that Islamist militancy coexists with a burgeoning Hindu nationalist movement that seeks to re-craft India as a Hindu state.
Hindu nationalists and their militant counterparts live in a violent symbiosis with Islamist militant groups operating in and around India. Islamist terrorism in India and the region provides grist for the mill of Hindu nationalism and its violent offshoots.”
After the Taliban consolidated their hold on Afghanistan in the mid-1990s, India struggled to maintain its presence and to support anti-Taliban forces.
Working with Iran, Russia, and Tajikistan, India provided important (but not fully detailed) resources to the Northern Alliance, the only meaningful challenge to the Taliban in Afghanistan. According to journalist Rahul Bedi, India also ran a twenty-five-bed hospital at Farkhor (Ayni), Tajikistan, for more than a year. The Northern Alliance military commander, Ahmad Shah Massoud, died in that hospital after he was attacked by al-Qaeda suicide bombers on September 9, 2001. Through Tajikistan, India supplied the Northern Alliance with high altitude warfare equipment worth around $8 million. India also based several “defense advisers,” including an officer of a brigadier rank, in Tajikistan to advise the Northern Alliance in their operations against the Taliban.“Since 2001, India has relied upon development projects and other forms of humanitarian assistance. To facilitate these projects and to collect intelligence (as all embassies and consulates do), India also now has consulates in Jalalabad, Kandahar, Herat, and Mazar-e-Sharif, in addition to its embassy in Kabul. There also are a number of smaller-scale activities throughout Afghanistan. According to U.S., British, and Afghan officials interviewed over the last several years, India’s activities are not isolated to the north, where it has had traditional ties, but also include efforts in the southern provinces and in the northeast, abutting the Pakistani border – App