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Time for India to Answer the Afghan Conundrum

Major Sunil Shetty, SM (Retd)
Tue, 27 Jul 2021   |  Reading Time: 5 minutes

Can India, at least this time, go beyond tokenism in supporting the Afghan National Army (ANA) in its fight against the Taliban? Will the Indian think-tank give up its measured approach while committing military aid to Afghanistan? And finally, will India take the lead in rebuilding ANA into a conventional army. These questions must be troubling the Afghan Army Chief General Wali Mohammad Ahmadzai, who has a planned visit to India.

India has stood rock solid with Afghan people by building critical infrastructures such as dams, roads, schools, hospitals, in the last two decades. However, when it comes to military support, India has been a miserable partner to Afghanistan. Though there is a “Strategic Partnership Agreement (SPA) of 2011” between the two nations, India’s support to ANA has not been more than a sham.

The period between 2001 to 2011- till Osama bin Laden was found and killed by the US special forces; India did not stand a chance of providing close military support to Afghanistan, because Pakistan used its proximity to the US in influencing the Afghan strategy. I remember that in selected contracts – we could not propose Indian managers for crucial roles. However, this changed post-May 2011 when the US found Osama bin Laden enjoying Pakistani hospitality.

In October 2011, India and Afghanistan signed the “Strategic Partnership Agreement (SPA) of 2011” and herein laid the opportunity for India. It should have stepped in and supported both the US and Afghanistan in rebuilding a strong ANA. Indian think-tanks would have appreciated the fact that a strong ANA is to India’s strategic advantage. But unfortunately, India missed the opportunity, or it gave it a pass.

Later in 2017, the Pentagon was asked by “a key Senate panel to identify ways India can play a larger role in providing increased and coordinated defence related support to war-torn Afghanistan.” It was “one of the 24 amendments moved and passed by the Senate Armed Services Committee.” Despite encouragement from the US and repeated requests from Afghanistan, the then Indian leaders failed to commit resources towards regional peace and security. In contrast, during the same period, Pakistan ensured that the supply of terror resources onto Afghanistan never dried.

So, what stopped India? To the best of my knowledge -the sole reason for India’s hesitancy in providing sophisticated military aid was – what if the equipment fell in the hands of the Taliban?  Well, someone should have asked, what if Kabul fell? That was a bigger problem. Indian strategic thought leaders can best answer this question.

However, let us see what role India could have and can play in rebuilding ANA.

Supplying Military Spares

Until early 2000, Russian military equipment formed the mainstay of Indian forces. Similarly, the ANA too was equipped with soviet weapon systems- thus, they were familiar and well trained on it.

During the initial period of rebuilding ANA, it was difficult to find spares and replacements for small arms, area weapons like mortars, D-30 artillery guns, and Afghan Air Force assets such as Antonov and MI series Russian aircrafts. India should have stepped in and supported the ANA with supplies and maintenance. As a military contractor for the US government, I spent many years scouting for suppliers. All I could manage was some MI-35 helicopter supplies.

Timely Indian support would have made ANA strong and given the US military planners the much-needed flexibility in planning a smooth and phased ANA’s transition to the NATO weapons system. Moreover, this military cooperation would have proved a catalyst and laid a strong foundation for future Indo-US military collaboration.

Arming ANA with Decommissioned Military Hardware

When a country decommissions a piece of military equipment -it doesn’t mean a weapon is not battle worthy anymore. It is just that it has outlived its tactical use for that particular nation. As a result, nation-states buy and sell refurbished military hardware to augment their forces.

India should have refurbished, overhauled military hardware and supplied it to the ANA instead of decommissioning them and using them as showpieces in Indian military establishments. The US government would have paid for such equipment that enabled the ANA to take on responsibility for the US troops and reduce US battle casualties. This move would have helped India on two fronts. First, on the diplomatic front, as argued by Sanjay Badri-Maharaj in his article “Decommissioned Military Hardware- A Potential Diplomatic Asset for India”, published in 2017 in Manohar Parrikar Institute for Defence Studies and Analyses (IDSA).

Second, it would have saved the country millions of dollars in storage and disposal of the ammunition belonging to decommissioned weapons, as suggested by Colonel Kr. Partap Singh, a former Director in the Indian Army.

Have you ever wondered; what happens to ammunition or spares of a decommissioned military hardware? It does not end up in a landfill. Instead, it is stored, safe-guarded and then, over a period, destroyed. This costs time, money and resources to the country. Given the state of ANA in the past two decades- overhauled Indian military hardware would have given it the teeth to take on adversaries. Moreover, it would have instilled confidence among rank and files – overall ensuring regional stability. Yes, of course, to the dismay of Pakistan.

Taking the Lead in Building a Conventional Army

It was clear from the beginning that the ANA’s training was focused or say limited to counter-terrorism operations. India should have taken the lead to deploy military trainers alongside the US forces in Afghanistan to augment the ANA. There was this apprehension that Afghans might view Indian forces as occupiers too.

During my decade long stay in Afghanistan, I travelled extensively across the length and breadth of the country, including to provinces like Khost, Kandahar and Jalalabad. So, I can vouch for grassroot support for India. The majority of Afghans respect India’s positive role during their civil war and in rebuilding Afghanistan. In addition, Afghans fondly recall the time-tested relationship between the two nations that spans centuries. However, many also point out that India and Afghanistan were geographically distanced due to Pakistan’s creation.

Given the proximity of Afghans to India due to culture, tradition and familiarity with the Urdu/Hindi language- the learning would have been effective, economical and less time-consuming. In recent years, India did take small steps in training ANA officers in conventional roles-however, it was limited in its scope.

Now, what is next for India?

Time to Go Overt: This is not the time to be covert – go overt and provide all-out support to the democratically elected government of Afghanistan. When the Afghan Army Chief General Wali Mohammad Ahmadzai lands in India- he should get a list of equipment India can provide to the ANA. Let him pick and choose. The General knows the requirement better. Put in place infrastructure and resources to provide strategic advice to the Afghan military leadership.

Time Up for Playing Neutral: India is well aware that the Taliban will act in concert with its handlers in Pakistan to reverse all the excellent work done by India. Pakistan, like Duryodhana, will refuse even an inch to India in Afghan affairs.

Recently, Suhail Shaheen, Tailban’s political spokesperson based in Qatar, preached to India to remain “Neutral” by not aiding the Afghan government with military aid. India has been mindful of Pakistani concern; it was also careful not to step on the Taliban’s toes in Afghanistan. However, the time for being neutral is over.

“The Taliban has no intention and willingness for peace”, said Afghan President Ghani while leading an Eid prayer dedicated to the “Afghan Forces for their sacrifice and courage.” I doubt anyone in the region and within the democratically elected Afghan leadership ever believed the Taliban. Yet, the US forced the Afghan government onto the negotiation table with the Taliban and probably pushed for the release of 5000 Taliban prisoners.

While President Ghani called the discussion a mistake, when the dust settles, history will judge the current Afghan government favourably for showing the intent and taking steps to find lasting solutions in Afghanistan. Now is the time for India to correct a wrong – by supporting the Afghan government through enhanced military aids and advice. Otherwise, history will call out India for blinking on Afghanistan.

References:

https://zeenews.india.com/asia/pentagon-asked-to-identify-larger-role-for-india-in-afghanistan-2019980.html

Decommissioned Military Hardware – A Potential Diplomatic Asset for India, Jan 2017, Manohar Parrikar Institute for Defence Studies and Analyses.

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Author

Major Sunil Shetty, SM (Retd), is a veteran, journalist, entrepreneur, and startup evangelist. He was a US military contractor who successfully implemented numerous projects funded by the US government in support of ANDSF between 2003-2014. He is the founder of My Startup TV, an online channel for startups and MSMEs.


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POST COMMENTS (14)

Sandeep Singh

Aug 20, 2021
India never trusted USA. They trusted Russia in 90's. I am glad that they did not trust USA and remain neutral. #1 USA always trusted Pakistan. They will never take any action against them. #2 You can check peace treaty Trump started. As long as Taliban don't hurt US interest, they are fine. #3 US never dropped or tried to kill Taliban heads. They new where they are. #4 US released captured Taliban commanders. #5 Most recently US left airbase in night and did not even inform to Afgan forces. More points are there. Now you tell me how India can stand with some one when US themselves are unreliable.

Pradeep Gupte

Aug 11, 2021
This the best opportunity for India to become a regional and emerging global power by overtly supporting Aghanistan and all democracies. THIS IS THE ONLY WAY TO ESTABLISH YOUR INFLUENCE AS A REGIONAL POWER. JAI HIND.GOD BLESS INDIA

sheetal nilatkar

Aug 08, 2021
kya ap ye article bhi Hindi mai de sakte hai taki sb lok asa ni se padh sake

Amit

Aug 05, 2021
This article is a quality and indepth comprehensive suggestions and possible moves that India can play to project that India is ready to be part of UNSC permanent table by acting as superpower by stabilizing Afghanistan

Vishal

Aug 05, 2021
India can provide armed version of the new basic Trainer aircraft HTT 40 may be weaponize those kits. The guys desperately need air support to supress Taliban terrorists. I also agree that India now should not be neutral give all out support to Afgan govt forces.

Niladri Banerjee

Aug 02, 2021
1. India made a mistake by investing in Afghanistan at the cost of American security. We don’t have much business in Central Asia as well so that we need route to it at least for now.. we should not give our soldiers lives for saving another nation. We made a similar mistake in the past with Sri Lanka and we suffered heavily.. here lack of direct route to Afghanistan and involvement of both China and Pakistan may make it more difficult to fight with Taliban.. 2. it will become disaster for India to send troops to Afghanistan to save the 4 billion dollars.. China can put more money and we will end up spending more than ever if we enter into this game.. we need to know how much we can support Afghanistan government as well.. If US, Russia, Iran is not helping Afghanistan govt with money and militarily, why should we continue this exercise..? India will loose more if we don’t have the scenarios defined for us.. 3. We know Taliban is India’s enemy as it has that history.. if it attacks India, we need to defend our borders. That’s the best we can do.. we can keep supplying arms to Afghanistan to keep Taliban in check but if China starts fuelling money into this, it will be lost game for India.. moreover we don’t have the geographical advantage as well which Pakistan and China has.. 4. India should think about building its military might to another level.. we need to target to spend close to 150 billion dollars per year and spend heavily on R&D and keeping our talents in India.. and meanwhile we should focus on building strategic weapons like H bombs, nuclear attack submarines to keep the pressure on China.. we should start looking at biological weapons building and how to save our population from it..and also research on building genetically modified soldiers.. We need to grab both China and Pakistan lands to keep them in check.. if we don’t start acting rogue, they will.. we need to give the same medicine to China what Pakistan gave us.. Pakistan in spite of being a smaller power has been able to flex its muscles with the fear of nukes.. the same is done by N Korea to US.. we need to adopt the same with China until we at least gain sufficient power to counter China..

jitendra

Aug 02, 2021
i think India has to clear its view..as we are always very natural..

Shivi rajwal

Jul 31, 2021
I totally agree with you..its time to be offensive. It is the right time for India to help ANA.

Arup

Jul 29, 2021
Indians are very defensive but in present situation India must takeover Afghanistan and do control over Taliban. This is the route which can India should adopt and go forward for a permanent member of Security Council. We can also win over Pakistani Terrorism. It's a great opportunity for us.

ASHOK IYER

Jul 28, 2021
I agree with the author that India must refurbish & sell all outdated arms & ammunitions. However, respectfully, I don’t agree that they should be sold to the ANA. Peace & stability in Afghanistan is not in India’s interests as it will help promote China’s initiatives such as CPEC & BRI throughout the Central Asian region. Anyway, Peace & stability in Afghanistan is a near impossibility because of the presence of diverse, feuding, ethnic groups & warlords with very little trust or unity between them. Even the Taliban has many splinter groups that differ from each other on a range of issues. Arming the Afghan army with our weapons will help them push back the Taliban & other rebel groups into Pakistan from where the ISI could divert them towards India. Yes the ties between Pakistan & the current Afghan government are frosty but, in case of stability in Afghanistan, Pakistan could ride piggyback on China & enhance its influence in the region. There is a large market worldwide, for such weapons so India shouldn’t have any problems in selling them off profitably. Additionally, we could sell them to the Baloch Liberation Army (BLA) or Sindh based rebel groups. This could seriously affect all activities at the Gwadar & Karachi ports & that will work in India’s favour.

Mukesh.Naik

Jul 28, 2021
Sir, Thanks for the very important article at this juncture on Afghanistan Its the right time for India to take clear stance on Afghan Government and Taliban. If we are with Afghan Government we have to express and act accordingly. As for as Taliban is concerned our views still looks murky and undecided. Hope in next couple of days our plan of action will be clear. Interesting to know outcome of present US Secy visit to India. I think India should play constructive role and active role in Afghanistan and also be aggressive to an extent. Jai Hind

Naresh Kumar Shukla

Jul 28, 2021
The inherent hesitation on part of Indian thinkers lies in Gandhi-Nehru's blunders.Nobody can be Bharat-Mata's Father.Not even Ram and Krishna were declaired so.What happened to our "Ashwamegh Yagya" centuries old traditions?Our problem is that we have fogotten ourseleves and our powers like Hanumanji.Where are today's Jaamvants who could remind Bharatvarsh its true poers.China claims on territories which never belonged to them and Bhartiya Rulars can'even claim it centuries ols territories.Its time to do acts to realise united Bharatvarsh. jai Hind

Bipin Kumar Sharma

Jul 28, 2021
आप का लेख पढ़ा। बहुत सुंदर लिखा और भावनात्मक रूप से बहुत ही आकर्षक है। बहुत सच्चाई भी है लेकिन 100% नहीं। भारत अफगानिस्तान में तब तक किसी भी तरह की निर्णायक भूमिका में नहीं आ सकता जब तक कि यूएनओ में वीटो पॉवर के साथ स्थाई सीट नहीं मिलती। अगर भारतीय फौज अफगानिस्तान जाती हैं तो उनको रास्ता कहां से मिलेगा? क्या पीओके भारत की न्याय व्यवस्था के अंतर्गत लाने में अमेरिका, ब्रिटेन, फ्रांस मदद करने को तैयार हैं। फिलहाल इसके कोई संकेत दूर दूर तक नज़र नहीं आते जब की चीन अपनी फौज लेकर भारत के बॉर्डर पर युद्ध की स्थिति पैदा कर रहा है ताकि भारत पाकिस्तान पर कोई दवाब न बना सके ।

Reshav Singh

Jul 28, 2021
very precise analysis...india should support Afghan government fully this time. Our enemy do their work in full force and we think too much and do very less. it's time to correct previous mistakes and go full force but cleverly. 😑

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