Afghan Stability Is in India’s Interest
This article was originally published in The New York Times.
After months of U.S.-Afghan brinkmanship, many now consider an American withdrawal from Afghanistan inevitable. Washington’s “zero option,” however, does not represent the end of international engagement in Afghanistan. For regional stability, India should assume a more active role to ensure a stable post-2014 Afghanistan and to minimize the risk of terrorist resurgence.
India should have no problem with deepening its economic and security links with Afghanistan. Building on its long-term investments in Afghanistan's development, India can consider providing technical assistance in sectors like mining, textiles and information technology that could expand employment and foreign investments. India’s increased role in building Afghanistan’s economy can make the country an integral part of a Central Asian trading corridor.
Aside from the economics, Indian leaders are aware of the security landscape. A complete pullout of American and NATO forces would leave a vacuum to be filled by Pakistan-backed militant groups, which would imperil India’s internal security. To avoid this outcome, India can consider heightening its military cooperation with the Afghan government. This can be done by providing Afghan forces with military hardware, artillery and armored vehicles; training Afghan intelligence operatives in gathering technical intelligence; bolstering the ability of the nascent Afghan air force by supplying necessary spare parts to operate its small fleet of helicopters; and deploying advisory teams to train the technical and maintenance personnel of the Afghan forces.
But there will be obstacles. India’s efforts in Afghanistan could further Pakistan’s many deep-seated insecurities about India’s role there. But it’s not all about Pakistan – and Pakistan should keep this in mind. India’s assistance would be aimed at sustaining the Afghan government to stay operational after 2014 and to ensure regional stability. India’s assistance will go through the Afghan government, and not through any Afghan factions, leaving little room for suspicions. Afghanistan does not choose sides in its ties with India and Pakistan, and, as it does with India, the Afghan government can also work with Pakistan in security and other sectors. Pakistan can consider matching India’s broad support for the nation, rather than betting on one faction or the insurgency.
India had a spike in terrorism in the early 1990s after the Soviets left Afghanistan, including the hijacking of an Indian airliner in 1999 to Kandahar. A terrorist resurgence in Afghanistan could again hurt India. It’s a perilous moment, but full of opportunity as well – a chance for India to ensure Afghan sovereignty and stability, in the interest of both nations.