“Whether or not it further alters its planned troop withdrawal, the United States should encourage Indian efforts to assist Afghanistan in areas of Indian expertise: democracy, economics, and civilian security,” Alyssa Ayres, a senior fellow for India, Pakistan and South Asia at the Council on Foreign Relations, said in a new policy memo.
She said Pakistan “may object” to an enhanced role by India in Afghanistan as foreign troops withdraw from the country, but Washington should make it clear to Islamabad that Indian support for Afghanistan’s stability—especially without “boots on the ground”—poses no threat to Pakistani interests and should not be disrupted.
“Reasonable proposals for Indian collaboration in Afghanistan involving no Indian troops on the ground should not be subject to a Pakistani veto,” Ayres said adding that Pakistani anxieties can be alleviated if the US encourages New Delhi and Kabul to be transparent with Islamabad on their joint efforts.
“With Pakistan and India now embedded together in regional diplomatic mechanisms, added disincentives exist against Pakistani attempts to deny Indian support to Afghanistan when it would clearly benefit the region through greater stability,” she said.
India is the fifth-largest bilateral donor to Afghanistan with over USD 2 billion in pledged support and New Delhi was the first country to sign a security pact with Kabul.
“India can do more, but New Delhi’s concerns about poking a Pakistani hornets’ nest have limited the security partnership,” Ayres said adding that Pakistan views Indian influence in Afghanistan as “inimical” to its interest.
Ayres said support across civilian security areas necessary for rule of law and shoring up Afghan forces could be an Indian strength.
“Islamabad may object. The United States should discuss with Pakistani officials the benefits of a larger Indian role, including in civilian security areas, and be upfront about how greater stability in Afghanistan will benefit Pakistan,” she said.
Budget support and training in “unobjectionable” areas like literacy and medicine, particularly with no boots on the ground, has not and will not pose any risk to Pakistan, she added.
Ayres said Islamabad sees itself as the legitimate regional influence in Afghanistan, even though this view undermines sovereign Afghan initiatives with India.
In the wake of attacks on the Indian embassy in Kabul and on the consulate in Herat by Pakistan-based terrorist groups Haqqani and Lashkar-e-Taiba, Indian officials want to minimize the odds of terrorist attacks on their territory and hence India plays a limited security role despite the 2011 Strategic Partnership Agreement (SPA) with Afghanistan.
New Delhi is also focussed on conducting security training for Afghans on Indian soil.
“At the same time, Indian officials strongly resist the idea that Pakistan should have veto power over its regional role. That sentiment has been magnified as China becomes more active in Afghanistan; India does not want China to displace India’s influence in its own region,” she said.
The United States endorses India’s development and economic role in Afghanistan and heralded the India- Afghanistan SPA, but has said little about Indian security assistance. (Outlook)