Indian troops in Afghanistan

…as a basis for EU-India engagement (and in India’s national interest).

In the lead up to the EU-India summit that commenced in Marseille today, Richard Gowan, in an op-ed at the European Voice, makes a strong but unusual case for engagement between EU and India.

It may be better for the EU to base a partnership with the world’s largest democracy not on values, but on a joint effort to deal with the crisis in Afghanistan.

…The present crisis[in Afghanistan and Pakistan] should inject the EU’s strategic dialogue with India with a new sense of urgency – and might be the basis for closer co-operation in future.

Indeed, this period of turmoil may offer a better opportunity to cement a lasting relationship with India than discussions of shared principles and interests in quieter times.[EV]

This is probably the only instance where a Western analyst has made a case that India has legitimate interests in Afghanistan. Moreover it is very bold for any western analyst to articulate that India’s interests in the region coincide with that of the EU and the US. Incidentally, a fair share of these arguments for an Indian military presence in Afghanistan have been enunciated in the August issue of Pragati.

But for now, Europe, the U.S and India share immediate common interests in stemming the growing crisis in Afghanistan and Pakistan – if that spirals beyond control, dreams of a Global NATO can be confined to the dustbin as the real NATO goes into retreat.

Europe remains a marginal player in the region with little influence in Pakistan or Afghanistan; a fact which even Richard alludes to – European NATO members would play second fiddle to the U.S., but their continued presence in Afghanistan. It is mainly about India and US in resolving, and at worst containing, the crisis in the region. If this thought of US-India-EU’s common concerns in stemming the growing crisis gains currency in international fora, it is likely to raise many eyebrows in Islamabad, Beijing and even in Moscow.

Conventional wisdom among the US security analysts actually forbids India from a military role in Afghanistan. This is to address Pakistani concerns of being surrounded strategically by India on its eastern and northern borders. It is here that Richard falters in making a case, proposed by Rahul Chandran, for backing an US-EU guaranteed undertaking by India of no military move against Pakistan, before Indian troops move into Afghanistan.

Nitin Pai at The Acorn chews on the arguments forwarded by Rahul (and backed by Richard) and demolishes their rationale for an Indian promise to Pakistan.

Because Mr Chandran ignores the fundamental reason for India to even consider launching ‘a future war’, the whole idea becomes absurd. The tension along the India-Pakistan border is linked to Pakistan’s extant policy of using cross-border terrorism to push its anti-India agenda. The threat of war, therefore, is the way in which India escalates Pakistan’s costs of using terrorism as a policy instrument. So unless the US and NATO can underwrite a Pakistani guarantee that it will stop cross-border terrorism, it is absurd for India to promise anything.

Richard garnishes his piece with unflattering remarks about India’s approach to sovereign rights of developing countries, UN/ EU position on human rights and its status as a de facto nuclear power. While such sanctimony can be justified from an European perspective, it is contradictory to the grand idea proposed by Richard himself.

The crisis in central Asia may be a better basis for strategic dialogue with India than theoretical commitments to multilateralism and democracy.

There can be no two views about Richard’s concept of shared tripartite interests in the region and his advocacy of a stronger Indian role in Afghanistan. It is a strong endorsement of India’s national interests in the region. The mechanics of his proposal and its manner of implementation, however, leave a lot to be desired.

It leaves me intrigued with another unanswered query. Why are Indian strategic analysts and commentators afraid of making a similar case about Indian military presence in Afghanistan?…”not now, later” may turn out to be “too late and never”!


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8 Responses to Indian troops in Afghanistan

  1. Davy Jones September 29, 2008 at 7:39 pm #

    I don’t see much reason in interfering in Afghanistan.

    #1 Our presence will never be solid enough to make a difference, as the US, to a large extent, and the EU, to some extent, will be forever sensitive to Pak sensibilities about an enveloping Indian force.

    #2 The EU wants kaala chamdi as cannon fodder ; why they don’t they outsource Blackwaters and murkier waters to do their job for them ?

    #3 India is already an attractive target on the Islamist agenda, for various reasons ranging from internal strife to non-existent internal security. Jumping up to attract more mosquitoes is hardly an attractive option for India. Not that we let our policy be dictated by threat; but we must avoid needlessly enmeshing ourselves with a force increasingly identified as anti-Muslim.

    #4 Engaging in reconstruction activities in Afghanistan is equally a dangerous task, but likely to prove much more beneficial to us in the long run.

  2. Pragmatic September 29, 2008 at 8:13 pm #

    @Davy Jones:

    Check this comment at an earlier blogpost of mine on the subject. In fact, the comments there will answer many of your queries.

  3. k_ram September 29, 2008 at 8:17 pm #

    The crisis in Afghanistan has many strands woven into it. There are a number of reinforcing factors and there are as many contradicting factors. Even for seasoned Afghan diplomatic hands, the solution to (or the pacification of) of the warring tribes defies imagination. There can be many thoughts that could be considered before contemplating any reasonable answer to the issue.

    One of the most, if not the most important factor would be the visualisation of the end state of a solution. The most happy end state would be that of a democratic force ruling Afghanistan which rules with the allegiance of the majority but is mindful of the concerns of minorities. Who or what can that be? Afghanistan may be a country but is it a nation? Is there a national idea that can bind all Afghans together? Can we find a common meeting ground for all the tribes that constitute the theoretical country that is Afghanistan? Ruling Afghanistan by proxy can be a short term solution but is not a viable long term option for USA, NATO, Europe or any other such grouping with or without India. Ultimately Afghanistan should and will be ruled by Afghans – but who are they? As of now there are two main contenders, namely the Taliban (dominated by Pushtuns) and the Northern Alliance. Is it possible that one is decimated giving way to the other? Rest assured, Northern Alliance will not be allowed to die by the West, USA and India. It is also in the interest of China, Iran and Russia that Taliban does not come to power in Afghanistan. But, is it possible to conceive a political dispensation that can rule Afghanistan without participation of the tribes that back the Taliban, if not the Taliban? If such a dispensation can work, how stable will it be? As of now, the answer veers to the conclusion that any ruling dispensation in Afghanistan will compose of a bulk of the supporters of Taliban as they form the numerical majority in Afghanistan.

    Next comes the minor issue of geography. Let us count the adjacent stake holders in Afghanistan first. They are Pakistan, Iran, Turkmenistan, Uzbekistan, Tajikistan and China. The proximate stake holders are Russia and India. USA and Europe in general have stakes due to the global threat of terrorism, hegemonic ambitions (or if we do not feel comfortable with that ‘goodwill towards Afghan people), persistent fears about drugs and the potential of Afghan unrest to impose varying degrees of instability in the neighbourhood. Therefore, no viable long term solution is possible in Afghanistan without the cooperation (or at worst benign inaction) of all its neighbours, especially Pakistan and Iran. No military operation in Afghanistan is possible without the support of Pakistan and Iran. With the USA sharing a difficult relationship with Iran and Pakistan sharing an uncomfortable relation with India, the combination of USA and India can be the worst possible scenario where the occupation armies will be fighting the combined might of all tribes of Afghanistan (with tacit support of Iran and Pakistan). May be, this particular factor may unify Afghanistan as a nation more than anything else!

    Is there then some way forward? There needs to be a round table conference of sorts of all the adjacent stake holders with proximate and global stake holders in attendance. Participation of representatives from Afghanistan is desirable but may not be essential at the initial stages. China and Iran have to be on board for any counter taliban strategy to be viable in Afghanistan (for obvious reasons – Uighurs of China are its Achilles heel and Shias of Afghanistan are the strength of Iran). Russia has a tremendous strategic interest in Afghanistan as it has a direct bearing on the (losing) battle that is being waged by the ethnic Russians (facing a catastrophic demographic decline) against the increasing population and influence of Muslims in Russia. Russian interest in Afghanistan is co-terminus with Europe but is Europe listening? There is a need to eradicate the influence and the toxic ideals of Taliban but that is not synonymous with mass murder.

    USA under President Bush has exhibited that epic quality of turning into dust whatever it has touched. Discounting Ahmedjinidad’s fulminations, does USA realise that Al Qaeda (including Taliban) and Iran are like oil and water and cannot mix. Is it smart enough to realise that they are natural enemies? If so, then it defies imagination that USA is trying its utmost to destabilise Iran (the animosity can be traced to the US hostage crisis of 1979, but it is time to move forward).

    Cutting a long story short, it is impossible to imagine a solution to Afghanistan without the wholesome involvement of Pakistan, Iran, Russia and China. Indian role would remain secondary, with or without USA or Europe. It is fantastic to build strategic castles in air but like all castles built in air this too shall collapse! This is not to say that (I said it earlier too) Indian involvement is wrong. India has tremendous strategic stakes in Afghanistan but has little influence. Hence Indian involvement in Afghanistan is desirable but not feasible in the given circumstances.

    USA, Europe and India can be more useful in rebuilding Afghanistan

  4. Stray Barks October 2, 2008 at 9:26 pm #


    “USA, Europe and India can be more useful in rebuilding Afghanistan”

    methinks negative sir for rebuilding or reorienting them -

    [1] no mercenary / remunerative / valid reason for the IA to do a repeat of the story told by col sir robert warburton* k.c.i.e., csi. ’18 yrs in the khyber’ (reprint oup, pakistan branch 1970; original 1900 ).

    *sirjee’s ma was an afghan so he knew his way around. (the crafty brits liked that duality.)

    [2] do we have any kabuliwalas before striving to add to the kitty of a ~dozen clasps to the IGSM / IM ? let chidambaram / mms / pranab_da / antoniji jrs join the TA and demo the holi grail.

  5. Stray Barks October 2, 2008 at 9:35 pm #

    India Medal —Buy now

  6. mike henderson November 1, 2008 at 7:18 am #

    it may sound exciting for indians to be told that as part of their ascent to great power status, indian troops will shoulder the burden of great power adventures in afghanistan. history would, however, demonstrate the opposite as true. indian soldiers in afghanistan would actually replace u.s. and western troops, because the political will in the west for keeping troops in afghanistan is receding fast. 9/11 did not attack india or indians, but indians have been the victims of terror bred in pakistan/afghanistan long before 9/11 – after iraq, india is the second largest victim of this terror. so indian soldiers in this region would probably play the same role and meet the same fate as their forebears fighting as part of the imperial british army in mesopotamia and afghanistan in the past – and pay the biggest price. why should indian blood be shed in afghanistan, when india was not the initiator or implementer of the current war in afghanistan?


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