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THE situation in Afghanistan can be described as a stalemate at both the strategic and tactical levels. The security environment is precarious, socio-economic development is stagnating, and the reconciliation process has reached an impasse. The Nato-Isaf strategy to clear-hold-build-transfer-exit has succeeded only partially as the Taliban and the Al Qaeda have not been eliminated and terrorists owing allegiance to the militant Islamic State (IS) are increasing in number.

The fledgling Afghan National Army (ANA) and the Afghan National Police (ANP) are not yet capable of managing security after the premature withdrawal of the US-led intervention force.

The Afghanistan National Security Forces (ANSF, ANA plus ANP) numbers are small (352,000). The ANA lacks heavy weapons, artillery, air support and helicopters for logistics support. The standards of the junior leadership are low and the troops are inadequately trained and equipped. They do not have the level of motivation necessary to undertake complex counter-insurgency operations on a sustained basis.

Cases of fratricide and desertions with weapons are commonplace.

While the ANSF and the remnants of the Nato-Isaf forces control most of the large towns and the airports, the Taliban and the Al Qaeda between them control large swathes of the countryside. Governance is virtually non-existent outside Kabul. The approximately 13,000 western troops now in Afghanistan are on a train-advise-assist mission. Unless Afghanistan’s neighbours, the Central Asian Republics (CARs), Pakistan, China, India, Iran and Russia join hands with the international community to supplement the ANSF’s efforts to eliminate the insurgents, the security environment is likely to deteriorate further and may degenerate into a civil war.

Afghanistan and India have had a historically friendly relationship. Its location at the strategic crossroads between South Asia and Central Asia and South Asia and West Asia makes it an important geopolitical partner. It boasts vast mineral deposits.

When the Chabahar port in Iran becomes operational, India will gain access to the Central Asian republics through Afghanistan. Hence peace and stability in Afghanistan are vital national interests for India.

India supports the installation of a broad-based and stable representative government in consonance with Afghan customs and traditions. The imposition of the Western model of democracy will not be appropriate. India would prefer a government that adopts a stance of neutrality between India and Pakistan, but should be willing to work closely with any government that is truly representative of the Afghan people.

India’s efforts to provide greater assistance are being hampered by the lack of geographical contiguity. It has only limited access to Afghanistan as Pakistan has not given it transit rights. India’s attempts to allay Pakistan’s fears about her intentions have not been successful as Pakistan has steadfastly refused to discuss this issue.

Afghanistan’s problems cannot be resolved unless the trans-Durand Line challenges that it faces from Pakistan and the Haqqani network are addressed simultaneously.

The India-Afghanistan strategic partnership agreement was signed in Oct 2011. It calls for close political cooperation with a mechanism for regular consultations and joint initiatives on regional and international issues. It stipulates a strategic dialogue to provide a framework for cooperation in the field of national security. Security cooperation is intended to enhance mutual efforts against international terrorism, organised crime, illegal trafficking in narcotics and money laundering.

The agreement specifies that India will assist in the training, equipping and capacity-building programmes of the ANSF.

It commits the two sides to “strengthening trade, economic, scientific and technological cooperation, as well as cooperation between other bodies of business and industry representatives.”

India has committed itself to continue to provide assistance for Afghanistan’s reconstruction and development programmes and capacity-building.

India’s policy objectives in Afghanistan are in consonance with the strategic partnership agreement. Besides a stable and preferably neutral government, these objectives include the following ~ to ensure that Afghanistan does not again become a base and safe haven for terrorists and radical extremists; counter Pakistan’s quest for strategic depth, acquire access to Afghanistan and through it to the CARs; establish broad-based engagement with all political groups; support Afghan-led reconciliation efforts, as visualised by the Afghan High Peace Council; assist Afghanistan to train its administrative and judicial staff to improve governance and the delivery of justice; and, further enhance people-to-people contacts.

India’s national security objectives comprise supporting the capacity-building efforts of ANSF by ensuring the implementation of the strategic partnership agreement, including the supply of war-like stores; ensuring the safety and protection of Indian assets and infrastructure in Afghanistan; and, cooperating to share intelligence. India’s economic policy objectives are to increase trade with Afghanistan and through it with the Central Asian Republics; enhance Indian business investment in Afghanistan; assist Afghanistan to develop its natural resources; further increase India’s reconstruction and capacity-building programme; enhance this country’s energy security; for example, through the commissioning of the TAPI pipeline; assist Afghanistan to replace narcotics-based agriculture with regular agriculture; and, work towards the implementation of SAFTA.

Finally, unless the security environment improves substantially, governance and development will continue to be relegated. The P-5 needs to be persuaded to supplement the ANSF with a United Nations or a regional peacekeeping force to eliminate the Taliban.

There is no support in Afghanistan for another peacekeeping force. Nor is there support in India for sending troops to Afghanistan. However, it is generally realised that the fight against the Taliban and the Al Qaeda must be won as it has long-term security implications for the country.

For India, peace and stability in Afghanistan are vital national interests. By definition, vital interests must be defended by force, if necessary.

Along with other neighbours ~ if invited ~ New Delhi should be willing to deploy up to one division (15,000 troops) to join such a force.

The Statesman/India

Published in Dawn, April 26th, 2017