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Trump’s Afghan Policy: India’s Options and Opportunities

US President Donald Trump’s outlining of new Afghan policy marks a shift from earlier Presidents and policies. If the policy is implemented as stated, it would mean that US is keen to change its outlook towards South Asia. Although the policy is about Afghanistan, it was Pakistan that was the ultimate target of the US President. Trump spoke about increasing the US Armed Forces in Afghanistan in order to fight the Taliban and Al-Qaeda. This is reversal of Obama’s policy that sought phase-wise withdrawal of US troops from Afghanistan.

While threat of Taliban and Al-Qaeda is the reason of US increasing its presence in Afghanistan, it can be easily understood that Trump believes Pakistan to be the root cause of all the instability in the region. Trump’s statement that Pakistan harbours and provides safe haven to the terrorists and terrorist organizations is the shift from the policies followed by the previous US governments. Further he also stated that should Pakistan fail to end terror activities, US itself would use all and any means (which range from economic sanctions to military means) to tackle this problem.

This change in stand by the US is a positive sign for India. India’s efforts to resolve the menace of terrorism by isolating Pakistan on international stage may well be bearing fruit with these developments. How and how much of Donald Trump’s new policy is implemented remains to be seen. As far as India is concerned, Trump called for a greater role by India in Afghanistan. Again this is departure from the earlier policies of US. Until now Pakistan has always been the partner of US in Afghanistan. India should consider this as an opportunity to make inroads in Afghanistan and play a part that should matter to India and the South Asian Region.

India is already involved in Afghanistan in a number of ways. Majority of India’s involvement remains in infrastructure development, humanitarian aid and logistics. Besides, India has also provided training to personnel of Afghan Armed Forces. Now we have an opportunity to go beyond economic domain and try and take advantage of the geopolitical landscape that Afghanistan offers. India has two extremely important interests in Afghanistan. One is security and the other is connectivity.

Afghanistan, like India, has been a victim of terror attacks from Taliban, Al-Qaeda, ISIS or even Pakistan-based terror organizations. There have also been a number of attacks on Indian diplomatic missions and on Indians engaged in various medical and infrastructure activities in Afghanistan. Security wise Afghanistan remains a vulnerable country whether for Afghans or Indians. India could look forward to meeting two objectives should it chose to participate actively in the security of Afghanistan. First priority would be to strengthen the security of Indians in Afghanistan. The second objective would be to participate in counter terrorism operations against various terrorist groups that operate from Afghanistan or especially from the Af-Pak border. India’s active involvement in the security architecture along with the US and Afghan Armed Forces could result in a better co-ordination in war against terrorism. India would also be a valued and trusted partner than Pakistan. Despite partnering US in Afghanistan Pakistan has all along continued to support terrorist organizations to operate from its own soil. India’s experience in fighting terrorism and inputs from India’s intelligence agencies could greatly help India in Afghanistan.

India’s other interest in Afghanistan is connectivity. A stable Afghanistan would see increase in the trade and commerce in Afghanistan as well as through Afghanistan. Afghanistan could become a gateway for India into Central Asia. India has economic activities going on in Iran including the development of Chabahar Port. India’s active role as a stakeholder could open up sea access through Iran to Afghanistan and even Central Asia. Peace and stability in the region along with co-operative diplomacy from India’s side could result in improved connectivity and thereby economic development of the region.

India’s increased role in Afghanistan would go a long way in serving former’s economic and geopolitical interests in the South Asian Region. Afghanistan is not just a theatre of war to counter Pakistan, it is also an important geostrategic point to compete with and counter China. China has considerable stakes in Afghanistan with investments in mining of natural resources. Presence in Afghanistan would help India tackle a number of issues as well as offer an opportunity to exert influence in the region. Therefore India’s strategically proactive Afghan Policy would be a great boost to its foreign policy.

Niranjan Marjani

(The author is an Independent Researcher based in Vadodara and can be reached at – niranjanmarjani@gmail.com)

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