[American miscalculations and aggression have set-up the "perfect storm" that will blow through the region if US forces withdraw. If we leave, there will be total nuclear war between the two antagonists.]
By Dr. Subhash Kapila
Strategic objectivity would suggest that India’s preference should be for a sustained United States embedment in Afghanistan till such time political democracy takes roots and the Afghan National Army is built upto at least 500,000 strong to take charge of Afghanistan’s security.
Strategic realism would also suggest that India recognize that American commitment to Afghanistan’s stability is dependent on the vagaries of compulsions of United States domestic politics. India also needs to keep in mind that if the situation does not turn around by mid-2011 then the uncertainties of United States sustained commitment to Afghanistan could become diluted by presidential election.
India has legitimate and vital strategic interests in Afghanistan’s stability and emergence as a moderate, democratic Islamic state. India’s historical links and cultural ties with Afghanistan pre-date by centuries the emergence of Pakistan. India is currently engaged in extensive reconstruction programs in Afghanistan in tandem with US & NATO Forces military stability operations to checkmate the Pakistan sponsored Taliban attacks against USA.
United States exit from Afghanistan is not a question of “if” but is a question of “when” Pakistan as the “regional spoiler state” of South Asia and a “proven destabilizer of Afghanistan” could boil over the situation in Afghanistan to contrive an American exit from Afghanistan.
India has wrongly shied away from a military commitment in Afghanistan for two major reasons. The first was the American reluctance to permit Indian military involvement in Afghanistan out of deference to Pakistan Army sensitivities. The second reason was the political and strategic timidity of India’s political leadership who have yet to recognize that being a big power would involve shouldering military responsibilities to reorder in India’s favor the security environment in South Asia.
On United States exit from Afghanistan, whenever it takes place, India would be forced to face some hard options in relation to India’s Afghanistan policy on the “day after” of the US exit.
The execution of hard options by India on the “day after” cannot emerge as knee-jerk reactions. India needs to undertake extensive contingency planning exercises at the political, strategic and military levels to secure India’s national security interests.
Currently, no indicators are available that the Indian Government has undertaken contingency planning for dealing with Afghanistan’s situation on the day after the exit of the United States form Afghanistan.
This Paper intends to briefly examine the following related aspects to offer some recommendations for India’s contingency planning on Afghanistan:
- Strategic Realties Which Should Prod India’s Contingency Planning.
- India’s Contingency Planning: The Political Initiatives Recommended.
- India’s Contingency Planning: The Strategic Steps Recommended.
- India’s Military Contingency Plans for Afghanistan on “The Day After”.
Afghanistan: Strategic Realties Which Should Prod India’s Contingency Planning
India needs to recognize and respect the following strategic realties which suggest that India should undertake post-haste contingency planning on Afghanistan: (1) United States exit from Afghanistan is a certainty with all pointers indicating by and of 2011. (2) USA has not built-up the Afghan Nation Army and by then they would be inadequate to secure Afghanistan in a self-reliant manner. (3) Pakistan would once again re-insert the Afghan Taliban to set up a Pak-friendly Taliban regime in Kabul. (4) A Talibanized Afghanistan would once again emerge as a springboard for Islamic Jihad against India as an adjunct of the Pakistan Army. (5) A Talibanized Afghanistan would pre-empt India’s access to Central Asia politically and economically.
India’s policy establishment needs to vitally recognize that Pakistan has indulged in active contingency planning for its strategic reestablishment in Afghanistan right from 2002, even as it acquiesced to US pressure. Pakistan Army’s double-timing of the United States ever since 2002, its protective sheltering of the Afghan Shura in Blochistan and its refusal to USA of extending US drone operations in Balochistan, are all part of Pakistan’s contingency planning for the “day after” of the US exit from Afghanistan.
India’s lack of geographical contiguity with Afghanistan and Pakistan’s adversarial stances aggravate the difficulties of India’s reactive operations on the day after the US exit. To overcome the problems of geographical contiguity and Pakistan’s anti-India Afghan-centric hostility, India has no choices but to go in for extensive contingency planning on Afghanistan.
The United States if it seriously was committed to a substantive US- India Strategic Partnership could have, and even now, facilitated a graduated Indian military involvement in Afghanistan to secure both US and Indian national security interests after US exit from that nation.
Indian has to face the stark reality that whether the United States goes in for a graduated exit form Afghanistan or a “Saigon-style” exit from Kabul, US strategic preference would still be in favor of Pakistan.
Notably therefore, arises the deduction that India’s contingency planning on all its dimensions would have to include seeking the assistance of countries like Iran and Russia to stabilize Afghanistan, the day after.
However, should strategic wisdom dawn an the United States to recognize that the vacuum in Afghanistan after its exit should be filled by India as a stable regional power and not Pakistan as a failing state, India would still require contingency plans to deal with Pakistan Army incensed by denial of what it perceives as its rightful strategic due of Afghanistan falling into its strategic perimeter.
Basically however, India’s contingency planning on Afghanistan, perforce has to be pursued on the assumption that the United States would not favor India over Pakistan Army’s sensitivity.
India’s Contingency Planning: The Political Initiatives Recommended
The four countries which have vested strategic interests in Afghanistan other then USA are Russia, India, Iran and China. China is the odd-man out in this four- some by virtue of her deep strategic nexus with Pakistan. China would continue to view Afghanistan from the Pakistani prism and therefore disqualifies itself as an effective contributor to Afghanistan’s stability, the day after.
In terms of contingency planning political initiatives India needs to undertake substantial negotiations with Iran and Russia over plans to ensure Afghanistan’s stability and security, the day after. India’s political contingency planning with Russia and Iran should also aim at political preemptive measures against Pakistan to de-legitimatize the existing elected government in Kabul.
Russia, India and Iran could also take the lead in calling for an international conference which could involve the United Nations in a major peace-enforcing, peace-building and nation-building program in Afghanistan, the day after. All these three nations should agree to make major contributions in this direction.
If such a contingency policy thrust is to be adopted by India, then it would call India to reconsider and correct the deviations that it has lately undertaken in its foreign policy on Iran and Russia.
India’s Contingency Planning: The Strategic Steps Recommended
In the strategic sense, Russia and Iran are well-placed geographically for any sustained engagement in Afghanistan to ensure its security and stability. Iran shares a long border with Afghanistan and has may religious and cultural links. Russia was geographically contiguous to Afghanistan earlier, but even now with many inter-dependent linkages with the Central Asian Republics bordering Afghanistan, it can exercise both geo-political and geo-strategic leverages.
India despite its lack of geographical contiguity enjoys political, economic and cultural proximity with the present Kabul regime established under US guidance. India has neglected its psychological warfare to counter-act Pakistani propaganda that India is anti-Pashtun because it is pro-Northern Alliance. India in fact has more historical links with the Pashtuns than Pakistan has and this needs propagation.
Coming back to the point, India to effectively engage itself in Afghanistan, despite its lack of geographical contiguity, would need the strategic assistance of countries like Iran, Russia, Tajikistan etc from whose territories it could ensure both an economic and military presence in Afghanistan till such time it emerges as a secure and stable state.
Iran has already assisted India’s reconstruction efforts in Afghanistan by providing passage of Indian reconstruction materials through its territories as Pakistan has presently refused to do so. India had sometime back set up an air-base in Tajikistan and should explore a wider presence in terms of base facilities in the region. India has existing “strategic partnership” agreements with Iran and Russia. What India needs to do now is to widen in tandem with its political initiatives, the scope of existing strategic cooperation to include specific plans for joint engagement in Afghanistan, the day after, to ensure that Afghanistan is secured and stable with in its border.
India’s Military Contingency Plans for Afghanistan on “The Day After”.
India’s military contingency plans for Afghanistan have to be viewed at two different levels namely (1) Military contingency planning for deployment of Indian military effort in Afghanistan, the day after, to assist the Kabul Government to survive Pakistan- Taliban aggression and (2) Military contingency plans to meet Pakistan aggression on the Western border as a spin-off and also to check-mate China’s military diversions in support of Pakistan, as a consequence.
India’s military contingency plans for Afghanistan would necessarily involve sizeable joint Army and Air Force operations for deployment of sizeable forces to assist the Kabul government to survive. Emphasis on the initial insertion of Indian force would have to rely on India’s sizeable Air-borne Forces and Special Forces.
Follow-up forces accretion would have to perforce depend on India’s strategic cooperation agreements with Afghanistan’s neighbors.
Sizeable Indian Air Force effort would be involved both in terms of transportation and logistics support. Combat air cover for both ground and air effort will be required to be planned.
Indian military contingency plans would require effective coordination with other countries willing to join in for the consolidation of Afghanistan. Should the United Nations get involved, then effective mechanisms exist for planning of UN military operations in which India has much expertise.
At the second level, Indian military contingency planning would have to arrive at realistic assessments of Indian Army deployments on borders with Pakistan and China to ensure a credible defensive posture.
The Indian Navy and specially the aircraft-carrier would have important roles to play.
Since the present Indian government would be in office till 2013, that is much after the estimated 2011/12 US exit from Afghanistan, it is unlikely that it will have the strategic will to use power to secure Indian national security interests.
However, this Indian Government may not be averse to a sizeable UN military intervention to ensure Afghanistan does not fall prey to Pakistan- Saudi Arabia- Taliban machinations.
In such an eventuality, India could be asked and be ready to play a sizeable role militarily in Afghanistan.
So in either eventuality, Indian military contingency planning should be pursued in right earnest by Indian political leadership.
Afghanistan could emerge as a test case for India’s strategic will to emerge as a global power. Ascending of the global power ladder does not come cheap. Power will not be bestowed on India. India will have to wrest power by exhibiting a demonstrated will to use power to secure India’s national security interests.
To come of age strategically, the Indian policy establishment needs to develop an over-the-horizon strategic vision especially within the South Asian confines and contiguous regions.
Success comes to those who can anticipate developments and devise contingency plans to deal with such developments.
Let this Indian process commence with how to deal with Afghanistan, “the day after”.
(The author is an International Relations and Strategic Affairs analyst. He is the Consultant, Strategic Affairs with South Asia Analysis Group. Email:firstname.lastname@example.org)