India in Afghanistan

Date01 June 2013
Published date01 June 2013
Subject MatterArticles
Harsh V. Pant is a Reader in International Relations in the Defence Studies
Department at King’s College, London, UK. E-mail:
India in Afghanistan:
A Trajectory
in Motion
Harsh V. Pant
Ever since the declaration of the ‘war on terror’ in Afghanistan in 2001,
New Delhi has heavily invested in humanitarian assistance, develop-
ment projects and nation-building activities in that country with a view
to cultivate a mutually beneficial relationship with Kabul and thereby
enhance its own regional security. However, its reliance on the ‘soft
power’ approach made it a ‘secondary player’ in Afghanistan; its views
and concerns were not adequately taken into account by the interna-
tional community while reaching crucial decisions regarding the end-
game in Afghanistan—phasing out of international forces and handing
over the charge to the Afghan National Army; and the United States
seemed more inclined to rely on Pakistan’s Inter Services Intelligence
(ISI) to engage the Taliban leadership in the ensuing political process.
This quite expectedly generated domestic resentment in India as well as
calls for adoption of a more robust approach to protect its interests in
Afghanistan. This article explores the new policy course New Delhi has
embarked on—which included conclusion of a comprehensive security
agreement with Kabul and policy coordination with Russia and Iran—
and also evaluates the policy options available to India in post-2014
Afghanistan, India’s policy, India as a regional power, US withdrawal
Jadavpur Journal of
International Relations
17(1) 103–127
2013 Jadavpur University
SAGE Publications
Los Angeles, London,
New Delhi, Singapore,
Washington DC
DOI: 10.1177/0973598414524121
104 Harsh V. Pant
Jadavpur Journal of International Relations, 17, 1 (2013): 103–127
New Delhi has long viewed South Asia as India’s exclusive sphere of
influence and has sought to prevent the intervention of external powers
in the affairs of the region. The notion of a Monroe Doctrine similar to
the one proclaimed for the western hemisphere by the US in the nine-
teenth century was explored by Jawaharlal Nehru, India’s first Prime
Minister. Henceforth, the security of its neighboring states was consid-
ered to be intricately linked with India’s own security. With India’s rise
in the global interstate hierarchy in recent years, tensions have emerged
between India’s purported role on the world stage and demands of the
challenges it faces in its own neighborhood. South Asia is a difficult
neighborhood and India’s strategic periphery continues to witness con-
tinuous turmoil and uncertainty. The instability in Pakistan, Afghanistan,
Bangladesh, Nepal, Sri Lanka, and Myanmar is a major inhibiting factor
for India to realize its dream of becoming a major global player. India’s
attempts to emerge as a global economic power are marred by the uncer-
tainty in the region and this has even stalled India’s attempts at building
inter-dependencies and enhancing connectivity. India is surrounded by
several weak states that view New Delhi’s hegemonic status in the region
with suspicion. The conundrum India faces is that—while it is seen as
unresponsive to the concerns of its neighbors—any diplomatic aggres-
siveness on its part is also viewed with suspicion and often resentment.
The structural position of India in the region makes it highly likely that
Indian predominance will continue to be resented by its smaller neigh-
bors even as instability nearby continues to have the potential of upset-
ting its own delicate political balance. However, a policy of ‘splendid
isolation’ is not an option and India’s desire to emerge as a major global
player will remain just that, a desire, unless it engages its immediate
neighborhood more meaningfully and emerges as a net provider of
regional peace and stability. While India continues to struggle in other
neighboring states, Afghanistan, since last 2001, has provided New
Delhi an opportunity to showcase its role as a regional power.
For the West, the ground realities in Afghanistan are turning from bad
to worse and there seems to be no easy resolution in sight. After an
American soldier shot dead 16 Afghan civilians, the West is struggling to
respond to an ever worsening situation. A series of events in recent
months—an American soldier killing Afghan civilians in March 2012,
the Koran burnings and the emergence in January 2012 of an Internet

To continue reading

Request your trial

VLEX uses login cookies to provide you with a better browsing experience. If you click on 'Accept' or continue browsing this site we consider that you accept our cookie policy. ACCEPT