WHY THE US POLICY CHANGE ON AFGHANISTAN MATTERS FOR INDIA

The article originally appeared on India Today on August 22.

As expected, US President Donald Trump has called for a greater Indian role in Afghanistan. During his address to the nation on US’ Afghanistan policy review, during which Trump made several departures from his established stand to withdraw the US from the war-torn South Asian nation like increasing the number of US troops there and giving the forces free hand to handle insurgents and not micro-managing then from the Washington, he clearly said that developing a strategic partnership with India was a critical part of US’ South Asia strategy.

His policy statement that the “India, the world’s largest democracy is a key security and economic partner of the US and it appreciates India’s important contributions to stability in Afghanistan and wants India to help the US more with Afghanistan, especially in the area of economic assistance and development” is an extension to a last month report by the powerful US Senate Armed Services Committee report that advocated a trilateral arrangement between India, Afghanistan and the US. “The committee believes that the US needs to recommit to the fight in Afghanistan and that India, as a major defence partner of the US and a contributor to regional security, has a critical role to play in this effort”, the report said.

In fact, a greater Indian role in Afghanistan where it is already playing a big part in its reconstruction, will not only give India strategic advantage over its traditional rivals like Pakistan and China, but would also mean greater access to the oil and mineral rich Central Asian nations and opportunity for its industry to gain a larger share in the whole Afghanistan rebuilding business.

And this is coupled with the fact that the US review on Afghanistan has been extremely harsh on Pakistan with Trump describing Pakistan again as safe haven for terror groups. He warned that the US will no longer remain silent about it and pressed that it had to change immediately. Now that has huge implications for an increased Indian role in Afghanistan as it has been primarily Pakistan’s objection, a US ally in war on terror, that sees India’s rise in Afghanistan inimical to its interests. How frustrated the US is with Pakistan’s double-dealings becomes clear once again with Trump’s remarks that “the US has been paying Pakistan billions and billions of dollars at the same time they are housing the very terrorists that US is fighting.”

INDIA’S GATEWAY TO CENTRAL ASIA

In July 2015, Prime Minister Narendra Modi made a historic visit of five Central Asian nations, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Uzbekistan, Turkmenistan and Tajikistan and the main objective was ensuring India’s future energy security. For India, Afghanistan is the gateway to Central Asia and a stable Afghanistan with greater access will go a long way in fulfilling India’s objective.

GREATER LEVERAGE IN DEALING WITH TERROR GROUPS

A wider presence in Afghanistan will give India greater leverage in dealing with the terror groups like Al Qaeda and the Islamic State which are trying to establish their Indian footprint. There groups are currently using restive regions of Pakistan and Afghanistan as their gateway opportunity to the Indian Subcontinent.

OPPORTUNITY FOR INDIAN INDUSTRY IN AFGHANISTAN’S RECONSTRUCTION

India has played an important role in Afghanistan’s reconstruction in post Taliban era spending around $2 Billion since 2002 on development projects including its parliament building and committed another $1 Billion last year. The Indian aid basically has been in infrastructure development, health services and military equipments like bullet proof jackets and convoy vehicles. But breaking the tradition of not giving lethal military equipments in aid, it gave Afghanistan four attack helicopters last year and is also training its soldiers.

Now with the US policy change, seeking an enhanced Indian role, coupled with the fact it seeks to limit the Pakistan’s presence there, Indian companies have an opportunity to invest more in Afghanistan, especially when the US wants to win the war on terror, its longest foreign war that is on for the past 16 years, at any cost. A drastic change in the US policy to crack down on Afghan terrorists with a free hand to security forces can effectively take care of the terror menace. How big the opportunity is can be gauged from the fact that the US has spent over $100 Billion of Afghanistan reconstruction yet it is just far from producing any tangible outcome and now that Trump has made it clear that there will be no more ‘blank check’ from the US, the door is wide open.

Also, Afghanistan in future can emerge as a big push for Make in India initiative for India’s nascent defence industry as the country would need a sustained military supply to handle not only its internal terror threats but also to secure its contentious borders with Pakistan, a terror exporter that has been destabilizing Afghanistan for the past four decades.

KEEPING PAKISTANI AND CHINESE DESIGNS IN CHECK

If Pakistan has used Afghanistan as its junkyard to push terrorists there to maintain its hegemony and export them to India at the same time, China, too, has been trying to increase its influence there owing to Afghanistan’s geographical advantage but so far has failed. A stable Afghanistan, which is fiercely against Pakistan, can in fact give India strategic advantage by providing a valuable military base in future, overlooking both Pakistan and China. It is important for India as reports indicate that China is going to establish its military base in Pakistan, most probably at the Gwadar port in India’s backyard.

©SantoshChaubey

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