India needs to resist pressure to send troops to Afghanistan
The long-awaited, enormously hyped visit of the mercurial US President, Donald Trump, to India is just three days away. Its outcome for India can only be judged after the visit materialises, as India, regrettably the world's largest arms importer, will naturally have a long wishlist from its strategic partner.
The United States, on the other hand, would like to get handsomely reimbursed for state-of-the-art weaponry and cutting edge platforms it consents to supply to India.
President Trump, as universally accepted, has been rather successful managing his nation's business interests! Some geopolitical pressures on India to toe the US line in this vastly strategically significant region cannot be ruled out.
Though no official press releases are normally issued prior to such head-of-state visits by the governments concerned, yet the news of parleys and planned agendas for discussion do leak out at times. Apart from India looking to seal some deals for big-ticket acquisitions like an integrated air defence missile system and the latest Seahawk naval helicopters, many Indian strategic analysts say that, apart from discussions on many diverse challenges concerning the Asia-Pacific, the Americans will push India hard for convergence with their Afghan policy.
The Great Game has been enacted, in various forms, in the rugged and fratricidal violence-afflicted Afghanistan over the last two centuries, and it still continues. The financially weary and militarily fatigued Americans have been engaged in their longest and costliest war in Afghanistan with no successful end in sight. Committed for over 18 years, with financial costs touching $2 trillion and around 2,400 American and 34,000 Afghan civilian fatalities, the Americans have been looking for a face-saving exit strategy from Afghanistan since the tenures of Presidents George W. Bush and Barack Obama. Facing re-election this year, President Trump wishes to bring back his troops from the endless conflict in Afghanistan - a condition that he had promised to the American people during his last presidential campaign. His inability to do so will certainly have some impact on his re-election prospects.
Though Mr Trump has managed to substantially reduce the US presence in Afghanistan to now just over 12,000 troops, he cannot, at the moment, withdraw the entire US contingent as Afghanistan remains in the throes of grave political and security instability. Any premature troop withdrawal will only precipitate a likely civil war with grave repercussions for that nation and the region. It goes without saying that the situation in Afghanistan impacts India in a variety of ways.
Till date, India is widely respected in Afghanistan for its non-interference in its internal affairs whilst going all out to assist the Afghan people in civil infrastructure projects, education, health and electricity generation apart from the training of the Afghan security forces and supply of some non-lethal military equipment. India's soft power forays to the tune of over $2 billion into Afghanistan have been well received. In its eternal quest for "strategic depth" and having a pliant regime in Kabul, Pakistan, on the other hand, has been the perpetrator of terrorism and the master of all mischief in league with the Afghan Taliban and some Pashtun warlords. As accepted by all, including the Americans, Pakistan has been deceiving the US for years, extracting considerable military and financial support in return for provision of some logistics and routes to Afghanistan from its territory to American soldiers and troops of the International Security Assistance Force. Pakistan, now trying to facilitate the current talks between the Taliban and the US, is a tricky customer.
As being widely speculated, President Trump may endeavour to influence Prime Minister Narendra Modi - with whom he shares a warm relationship - to deploy Indian troops in Afghanistan. He may even offer some lucrative sops to the Indian side. India will, however, be well-advised to steer clear of putting boots on the ground for it will get sucked into an unending cycle of violence with no returns. If the Americans pull out prematurely and the current Kabul government does not have a mutually acceptable peace agreement with the ambitious and terror-driven Afghan Taliban, Afghanistan stands on the cusp of a civil war.
The Indian establishment, therefore, may wish to remember the lessons of history - where no foreign troops deployed in the land of the Hindukush have ever met with any success.