India’s full military co-operation with Afghanistan on hold over US ‘sensitivities’

One of the most recent US diplomatic cables released to be released by Wikileaks has pointed to India’s deep ambitions in Afghanistan. The cable, written as a ‘scene-setter’ for the visit of influential US Senator John Kerry in February last year noted that Indians were restrained in their military co-operation with Afghanistan only because of the US.

The cable pointed out that India was very interested in forging deep military ties with Afghanistan to counter-act possible Pakistani military manoeuvres and alliances in the region. The cable shows that the US too seemed to think that India was trying to forge an alliance with Afghanistan to resist a similar military alliance between Pakistan and China, both India’s neighbours on either side.

“The Ministry of External Affairs [of India] told us after the [President Obama’s] West Point speech that the Government of India wishes to do more to help develop Afghan capacity, especially with regard to the police and military, but is also cognizant of USG “sensitivities” about such assistance,” the cable, meant for Kerry, pointed out.

It noted that Pakistan’s efforts at check-mating India in Afghanistan and preventing it from forging the alliance are unlikely to be successful, calling them unrealistic. It pointed out that India was kept out of the Istanbul regional conference on Afghanistan (based on a Pakistani veto) and was isolated at the London Conference over reintegration of Afghanistan.

“India, with the exception of the Taliban era, has always had strong ties to Afghanistan since Partition; conversely, Islamabad with the exception of the Taliban period, has had strained ties with Kabul. Pakistan’s expectation that the government in Afghanistan will be pro-Pakistan and anti-Indian is unrealistic, particularly given Karzai’s own long-standing ties to India and the goodwill that India’s assistance and other elements of India’s soft power have created in Afghanistan,” the New Delhi embassy noted.

India gives both infrastructure and humanitarian help to Afghanistan, including providing training to its professionals. It recently increased its total committed aid to $2 billion and has built a 218km road in Helmand province. It also provides daily food aid to 2 million Afghan school children.

Civilian aid is channeled into three main areas: infrastructure development (centerpiece is a); capacity building (scholarships and civil service training in India); and humanitarian assistance (). Virtually all GOI aid is administered through the Afghan government or NGOs.

India has offered its Advanced Light Helicopter to Afghanistan as well as pilot training to the new Afghan air force. It has also provided cars and trucks to the Afghan military.