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How India Can Help in Afghanistan

by Alyssa Ayres
April 14, 2017

India's Prime Minister Narendra Modi (L) and Afghanistan's president Ashraf Ghani inspect the guard of honour in Herat province, Afghanistan June 4, 2016. (Omar Sobhani/Reuters)


National Security Adviser H.R. McMaster will head to Afghanistan, and reportedly Pakistan and India as well, this weekend. In the wake of Thursday’s Massive Ordnance Air Blast bomb drop in Afghanistan, targeting Islamic State cave-and-tunnel hideouts on the border with Pakistan, McMaster will have much to discuss with his Afghan interlocutors on the security front.

The Donald J. Trump administration will need to reach a decision soon about the size of the U.S. military presence in Afghanistan. Worrying trends in Afghanistan, like the fall of Sangin to the Taliban just weeks ago, underscore the need for a reassessment. The presence in Pakistan of internationally-proscribed terrorist groups like the Afghan Taliban and the Haqqani Network undermine efforts to secure Afghanistan. Challenges to political stability, governance, and economic growth make it harder for Afghanistan to deliver opportunities for its citizens. The country could use assistance from all its partners on its economic growth and prosperity agenda.

Once he arrives in New Delhi, McMaster should have in-depth discussions with his Indian interlocutors on regional stability. He will likely find that Indian officials view the situation very similarly to American officials, but may have different prescriptions due to their regional position and difficulties with neighbor Pakistan. He should use the opportunity to discuss how India—the fifth-largest bilateral donor to Afghanistan, and a power with deep expertise on governance, development, infrastructure, and commerce—could be a larger part of the international efforts to assist Afghanistan.

I have argued previously that India can bring to the table some special strengths in addition to the infrastructure work it has carried out in Afghanistan. India could play a more active diplomatic role with the politically-delicate Afghan government—a unity government that the International Crisis Group has called “shaky.” International observers worry that the possible collapse of the Afghan government could risk its progress on security and development. New Delhi has an opportunity to use its good offices and ties with both President Ashraf Ghani and Chief Executive Abdullah Abdullah to help.

As the region’s economic vortex, India and its successful private sector companies can continue to assist Afghan enterprises with markets for their goods and training to manage their businesses. India’s chambers of commerce have been active on this front for years.  Last summer’s Made in Afghanistan trade fair in New Delhi marks just one example. Of course, enabling trade across the South Asian region would bring a commercial boon to Afghan producers, and here Pakistan has a chance to take advantage of its location and enable region-wide trade, not block it as it has continued to do.

India’s expertise in the arena of civilian security has been largely overlooked, but the country has capabilities—especially in training and skill development—which could be helpful to Afghanistan. Greater budget support for the Afghan National Security Forces would be welcome. In addition, the kind of training capacity on issues like countering improvised explosive devices, or security support functions like literacy training, logistics and supply-chain management, or military medicine, to name just a few, present possibilities for Indian expertise to help the Afghan security forces.

For a more detailed description of how India could help Afghanistan in the civilian security areas, take a look at my Policy Innovation Memorandum on the subject, published in 2015 but (sadly) still relevant to the region today.

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  • Posted by MBI Munshi

    If we are to be honest to the reader of these analytical reports then we should disclose what is really being said here which is that the US and India have a shared interest in preventing Russia, Iran and Pakistan supporting the Taliban. The most worrisome development according US military officers is the growing nexus between Russia and the Taliban with intelligence reports indicating that Moscow is arming the Taliban against the Afghan government, NATO and US troops. Moscow of course denies all this and claims that their main objective in Afghanistan is to control the spread of ISIS which is merely a creation of the CIA/DIA to justify US military operations around the world while overruling objections or opposition from other governments on the pretext of fighting terrorism. For Russia the greatest threat from ISIS is the groups possible infiltration of Central Asia through Afghanistan which Moscow believes is an objective being promoted by the US to destabilize the region as well as Xinjiang province in China creating a massive headache for both Moscow and Beijing. The US for its part sees an Indian role in Afghanistan as a natural obstacle to Taliban and Pakistani designs in the country but also as a counter to China and now Russia which it had been formerly allied. Complicating these calculations, however, is the fact that India may still be acting in tandem with Russia in the region with both countries signing MOU’s with Bangladesh on counter terrorism cooperation recently. This apparent pattern may only apply in the case of Bangladesh which is several hundreds miles away from Afghanistan but the Indian perspective will need to be gleaned and incentives given to bring it to the American side in the region. A tough call since Indians like everyone else finds Donald Trump extremely confusing and unreliable.

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