No boots on Afghan soil

Author Published: 28th Sep 2017   12:05 am Updated: 27th Sep 2017   6:20 pm

The war-ravaged Afghanistan presents a complicated interplay of geopolitical forces with Pakistan’s policy of stoking terror widening the theatre of conflict in the region. India has been treading cautiously so as not to escalate the tensions while continuing its positive role in the economic reconstruction of the war-torn nation. New Delhi has steadfastly refused to be drawn into the military conflict in the volatile region but kept its role confined to humanitarian assistance and infrastructure building which have a direct bearing on the welfare of people. The Defence Minister Nirmala Sitharaman’s assertion that India would not send its troops to Afghanistan reflects an unwavering position of the country in the face of growing pressure from the United States pitching for a military role for India. The stand was made clear to the visiting US Defence Secretary James Mattis whose engagement with New Delhi comes close on the heels of American President Donald Trump’s call for an enhanced involvement of India in the counter-terrorism operations in Afghanistan. New Delhi has done well to send out an unambiguous message that there would be no Indian boots on Afghan soil. India has made a huge socio-economic impact by building hospitals, roads, dams, bridges and power transmission lines in the war-ravaged country and has already contributed $3 billion as developmental aid. The country enjoys enormous goodwill and affection of all sections of people in Afghanistan because of the humanitarian and developmental works on ground. As an influential player in the region, India must do everything in its means to promote democracy, stability and security in Afghanistan without getting sucked into the military conflict.

Indian presence in Afghanistan is synonymous with development and public welfare. Be it Kabul’s biggest children hospital, Parliament building, the transmission lines that light up Kabul and the buses that ferry commuters in the capital, medical missions across major cities or the highway linking to Iran, they were all funded and built by India. The Small Development Projects (SDPs), numbering about 300 and funded by India, are the most striking examples of the goodwill as these projects directly benefit remote border villages. India also has plans to enhance training for Afghan soldiers in counter-terrorism. However, any military alliance with the US could undermine the goodwill built over decades. The security-centric strategy could lead to an increase in civilian casualties and collateral damages. A comprehensive and long-term approach is needed to stabilise Afghanistan. Apart from fine-tuning training for security and police forces on counterinsurgency operations, the focus should be on finding economic alternatives and employment opportunities that will effectively deny the insurgents their support base in rural Afghanistan. India can play a vital role in formulating a comprehensive business plan for revival of Afghan economy.