What are India’s interests in Afghanistan post-US exit?

Delhi cannot afford to risk her interests in Afghanistan leaving it at the ‘mercy’ of Pakistan and Taliban. She has invested heavily in the people of Afghanistan. Taliban has no interests in abandoning its ideological base yet has shown a leaning towards India geared towards achieving material interests. India is invested in the region at many levels.

First to attain connectivity between Central and South Asia for purposes of energy. Second is to ensure that the soil is not used for terrorism and interlinked with this is the third factor: security. Afghanistan plays a pivotal role in all three.

However, in light of attacks on Pakistan Embassy in Kabul, and earlier attack by a suicide bomber deliberately crashing into a police escort for a polio vaccination team in southwestern Pakistan, India’s fears of Pakistan using Afghan soil for terror attacks are clearly unfounded. Besides, the average Afghan does not consider Pakistan as a friend. In spite of Pakistan housing over a million refugees.

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Taliban after assuming power continue their strategy of being friendly to Deobandi groups. This, to arm-twist Pakistan to serve their ends. The Taliban also do not accept the Durant Line and continues challenging Pakistan’s armed forces. Taliban have also provided sanctuary to members of TTP raising the level of tension between Afghanistan and Pakistan.

The Taliban have tried to create the image, largely real, of distancing from Pakistan, by inviting India to step up investments in Afghanistan in exchange for the assurance that their soil will not be used against India.  However, whether or not Taliban can keep this promise is questionable. The reason is the anti-Taliban groups, more prominent being the radical Islamic State-Khorasan (IS-K) and the National Resistance Front have been adding those from Afghan security forces who lost jobs post-US exit. Anti-Taliban groups are surging within Afghanistan. These groups are strong in their own right and will likely act against Taliban to serve their own interests.

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India planned better than Pakistan for the day US leaves Afghanistan and like an excellent chess player has positioned herself in a strategically strong position in anticipation of the happening. Tajikistan, Turkmenistan, and Uzbekistan lie in the north of Afghanistan, Iran to the West, Pakistan to the South-East and China to the remote East. A narrow stretch of Afghan territory separates Tajikistan from Pakistan-administered Kashmir. The importance of this region for India’s security is huge. Tajikistan is in Central Asia, a gas-rich region in which India has developed growing interests. Tajikstan also happens to be extremely anti-Taliban. India, in order to gain strategic depth, focused on the Ayni Air Base, also called as ‘Gissar Air Base’ located 10km west of the capital of Tajikistan-Dushanbe. In the post 1979 era of Soviet invasion of Afghanistan it had served as the key air base for Soviet military air transportation of its troops to Afghanistan. It fell into disuse and neglect later. Between years 2002-2010, India invested approximately $70 million in renovations, installing state-of-the-art air defense navigational facilities. The runway was further extended. This access offers immediate strategic depth in the region to India.

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The second place of Indian foothold is the Farkhor Air Base; a military air base located near the town of Farkhor in Tajikistan, 130 kilometers south east of the capital Dushanbe. In 1996-97, the Research and Analysis Wing (RAW) started negotiations with Tajikistan to use the Farkhor Airbase to transport high-altitude military supplies to the Afghan Northern Alliance, service their helicopters and gather intelligence. The IAF airlifted supplies to Ayni, which are then transported to Farkhor and onward to Afghanistan by road. More important, aircrafts taking off from Farkhor could be over the Pakistani skies within minutes.

Prediction: Taliban will continue to play Pakistan against India and vice versa to gain maximum benefits.

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The writer is a lawyer, academic and political analyst. She has authored a book titled ‘A Comparative Analysis of Media & Media Laws in Pakistan.’ She can be contacted at: yasmeenali62@gmail.com and tweets at @yasmeen_9

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