India is ideally suited to provide the military trainers that NATO needs in Afghanistan.
Afghanistan needs more military trainers — NATO has been able to provide only 541 out of 1278 trainers needed for the growing Afghan Army and Police forces — and they aren’t getting them from anywhere. Pakistan has been rather keen to provide the trainers, but NATO has been guarded in its reactions to the Pakistani proposal. And there are valid reasons for that reluctance.
The issue of regional sensitivities has been mentioned by the NATO Senior Civilian Representative in Afghanistan upfront as the primary reason for their disinclination. In any case, Pakistan has favoured only one tribe, the Pashtuns, in Afghanistan and played them up against all the other tribes in that country. This, coupled with its continued support to the Afghan Taliban, has severely damaged Pakistan’s credibility among the Afghans. Moreover Pakistan army, despite all its claims to professionalism, has never been part of a real democracy and doesn’t understand the basic dynamics of a healthy civil-military relationship. A fledgling democracy like Afghanistan can ill-afford an example like Pakistan when it comes to the critical democratic principle of civilian control of the military. In addition, Afghanistan army and police forces have to be trained to fight against Taliban, al Qaeda and other jehadis who are waging their war in the name of Islam against the Karzai government. Pakistan army, when asking its troops to fight the co-religionist jehadis on its own land, has often used the subterfuge of Pakistani Taliban being part of a Hindu-Zionist-Christian conspiracy hatched by RAW, Mossad and CIA who are hell-bent on destroying the Islamic republic of Pakistan. Can such an army ever be trusted to train the Afghan National Army?
In contrast, India suffers from none of these disadvantages. It has a professional armed force, which has been always subservient to the civilians, and which understands the constraints of operating in a vibrant democracy. Indian armed forces also possess the rich experience of conducting counter-insurgency campaigns in diverse social settings in various regions of the country, where successful security operations have often culminated in political negotiations for lasting peace. Moreover India, and Indians, have historically enjoyed a favourable reputation in Afghanistan, which has been further enhanced by India’s liberal economic and developmental assistance to the war-torn country since 2001.
But is the NATO asking India for its military trainers in Afghanistan? Going by the evidence so far, No. NATO’s anticipation of Pakistani objections to Indian involvement in military training in Afghanistan is perhaps holding it back.
Is Indian government offering its military trainers to NATO for Afghanistan? Nothing in the public domain suggests so. Perhaps, the belief that India can achieve its aims in Afghanistan by shovels alone is preventing the government from making that offer.
It is in the mutual interest of both the parties to overcome their doubts and start cooperating in Afghanistan. The earlier they do it, the better it is — for Afghanistan, for the region, and for exterminating the jehadi threat emanating from the region.