Faced with the prospects of a military vacuum as Western forces will soon withdraw from its territory, Afghanistan is hopeful that India, under the Modi government, will emerge as a major player in filling the security gap in the strife-torn nation.
“Even before Prime Minister Narendra Modi had taken the oath of office, Afghanistan President Hamid Karzai had held two telephonic conversations with him, setting the tone for energising an already formidable relationship,” a diplomatic source said. The appointment of Ajit Doval as National Security Adviser also undergirds Afghan hopes. “We are aware of Mr. Doval’s security instincts when it comes to Afghanistan, and these augur well for a robust military relationship,” the source said.
From Afghanistan’s perspective, a prominent military dimension will raise the profile of the relationship between the two SAARC countries to the next level. With the Americans expected to leave behind only 10,000 troops by 2014-end, the Afghans are looking to bolster their armed forces with big-ticket military hardware from India, including Russian-origin fighter jets and tanks that New Delhi eventually wants to discard. These include MiG-21 fighters and T-72 tanks, apart from Bofors howitzers and equipment vital for command and control. But wary of upsetting Pakistan, the UPA-II government had told the Afghans that India would not be in a position to fly this equipment over Pakistani airspace in case it required repair in Indian military establishments, sources said.
Consequently, the Afghans approached the problem in a larger geopolitical perspective, involving a deeper and simultaneous engagement with India, Russia and China. Russia was approached to supply India-funded military hardware to Afghanistan, resulting in the establishment of a complex triangular partnership.
Reuters had earlier quoted Indian officials as saying that New Delhi had held talks with China, Japan and Iran to find ways to fund Afghan security demands, with a price tag of around $4 billion a year.
Seeking a special relationship with China, the Afghans want Beijing to invest heavily in their country, hoping that the Chinese will drive sufficient economic and commercial stakes in Afghanistan, persuading them to play a stabilising role in the country.
Analysts point out that the focus of Afghanistan on India, Russia and China to fortify its strategic interests comes at a time of a sharp deterioration of ties between Washington and Moscow, and Russia’s growing relationship with China, anchored by a recent $400-billion gas deal.