My op-ed in the Indian Express: On going to Afghanistan

In today’s Indian Express, Rohit Pradhan and I renew our call for India to send troops to stabilise Afghanistan. It summarises the arguments we have made in on INI and Pragati and addresses the most popular objections to the proposal.


Over time, a co-operative arrangement between India, Iran and Russia could form the bedrock of a regional solution to a stable Afghanistan.

Unfortunately, the very mention of an overseas military deployment runs into a dogmatic wall of domestic opposition. First, the bad experience of the Indian Peace-Keeping Force (IPKF) in Sri Lanka in the late 1980s is brought up as if that episode should cause India to for forever foreswear the use of its armed forces beyond its borders. Apart from the significant differences in context, the Indian army has accumulated two decades of counter-insurgency experience in Kashmir and elsewhere that makes it a qualitatively different force from what it was before the Sri Lankan intervention.

Second, it is argued that sending Indian troops to Afghanistan will be seen as anti-Muslim. On the contrary, it is ordinary Afghans, a vast majority of who are Muslims, who will be the biggest beneficiaries of an Indian intervention. How can supporting the legitimate government of the Islamic Republic of Afghanistan be anti-Muslim? The idea that fighting the Taliban is a war against Islam is a misleading canard that only benefits the likes of Osama bin Laden and the Pakistani military-jihadi complex.

Third, it is not true that the Afghan people are uniformly hostile to foreign troops as it is frequently made out to be. Western troops were generally welcomed as deliverers when they expelled the Taliban regime in 2002, and recent surveys indicate that a majority of the Afghan people still support their presence. The notion that Afghans resent all foreigners is borne out of colonial romance and modern ignorance — ground realities suggest that Afghans seek security and good governance, like anyone else in their situation.

But can India afford to station troops abroad? Some critics of the idea estimate that it costs Rs 1 crore a day to maintain a brigade in Afghanistan. Let’s put this in context: last year, the defence ministry returned Rs 7000 crore of its budget due to its inability to spend it—enough for 19 brigades. We cite this to suggest that financial considerations do not rule out the option of foreign troop deployments.

India must continue providing long-term development assistance. India must ramp up training Afghan security forces. But successes from these will be ephemeral unless India deploys combat troops to Afghanistan. As the nuclear deal has shown, the Indian electorate does reward those willing to take risks in pursuit of the national interest. As US troops mobilise for a decisive year in Afghanistan, India has a unique opportunity to shape the future of the Hindu Kush and, in doing so, open the doors to peace in the subcontinent. [IE]

Related Links: Sushant K Singh (August 2008); Rohit Pradhan & I (January 2010) make the case for India to step up its military presence in Afghanistan & an online panel discussion (January 2010) on Offstumped.

11 thoughts on “My op-ed in the Indian Express: On going to Afghanistan”

  1. Sending Indian troups to Afghansitan – This can be the worst diplomatic decision India can make in ages.

    No one in India wants to count the number of coffins turning up every day of its dead soldiers. If this blog claims to represent National interest then this is definately not in the national interest of India.

    Our soldiers would end up being easy traget for the Taliban who are just waiting for such a move from India. They can easily regroup saying that India now wants to occupy Afghanistan and also bring the Kashmir issueback on the limelight.

    This is one issue India can do without as we have enough internal problems to worry about

  2. What is missing here is mention of the expected gains to India from pursuing such a policy. The main opposition to this idea is not just what has been covered here, the real problems are different, to my mind at least.

    What would be the political aim of following such an action? Moreover, is anyone clear about what the US plan really is in Afghanistan? I think it is actually working out a long term exit strategy.

    According to some estimates, that I have read, the real shortfall in terms of troops in Afghanistan is closer to 100,000. Unless the strength is made up to a sizeable degree, success is a remote hope.

    By sending troops there aren’t we actually complicating the issue? Will the US or any of the NATO countries agree to our presence there in the face of Pakistani hostility and opposition. We will end up with egg on our face by being the most unwelcome guests possible.We will be making a bad situation worse.

    Finally, I would think that the domestic opposition to such a move will be impossible for any government to ignore, specially one as timid as the UPA .

  3. What a terrible idea. We can also see what a century of foreign interventions has done for the USA? It is the foreign interventions of yesteryears that are the cause of today’s problems that US is facing in the form of terrorism.

    If this is the future we want where we are afraid of our neighbours and world in general then sure send troops to not only Afghanistan but Nepal, Sri Lanka, Bangladesh and why forget Myanmar? And while we are at it let’s take on China as well.

    Sure, India should try to create a peaceful South Asia as it serves us best but we can do that by supporting people and institutions in these countries that will ensure peace and stability.

  4. 1. Invest atleast 1 billion USD in Afghanistan per annum.
    2. Deploy troops to protect the investment.
    3. Repeatedly and severely threaten Pakistani interests in Afghanistan and in Balochistan.
    4. Announce loudly you willingness to do the above and you may just not have to. Give the Obama administration a new policy tool with which they can seriously rattle the Pakistanis.

    People who oppose an Afghanistan deployment now should realize the inevitability of this. Afghanistan burns because none of her neighbors will help. Pakistan dare to open new fronts (e.g. 26/11) because we do not counter attack. We can take care of these Talibanis. We won’t be depending on the Pakjabis for our supply lines or for intelligence. The major cause of failure in Afghanistan will be blown away.

  5. UK seems to be the only one pushing for the regional coalition: India,China,USA, and USSR seem to think otherwise.

    I suppose that about says it all about send Indian troops to Afstan.

  6. India has been kept out of the Afghan meet at the behest of Turkey, which means the USA has no intention of seeing India in Afghanisthan. The Turkish govt. clearly did not take the decision on his own, and such indicators imply that the USA still considers Pakistani army as its main leg to “fix afghanisthan”.

    Pres. Obama will pile on the cowdung and horsemanure onto the plate of the Indian PM when he visits the USA. (Amusing to see journalists like KP Nayar write absolute nonsense on the impending visit to the USA of the Indian PM.)

    Going by all indications, the PM would do well to carry a lot of extra tea and buscuits to the white house…other than sipping tea and BSing nothing much will come of the PM’s visit to the USA.

  7. The lofty ambitions and behaving like a ‘Great Power’ to achieve Great Power status are all fine and dandy – my question is this:
    India supported Najibullah, and now the Northern Alliance – both of whom did not represent the Pasthuns. To send to troops to Afghanistan now only heightens Pashtun insecurity – this is the reason the Taliban is only around in the first place – it is in the Pashtun South that they are strongest. If India was viewed as Neutral – it could be a force for good. But I do not believe, soft power notwithstanding, that India would be viewed as a neutral / beneficial party by the Afghans themselves, to hell with the West. Until and unless the Afghans themselves don’t ask for our military help, we should be reluctant to give it to them. I do believe we could greatly improve Pakistan by sending a sizeable amount of troops there, however 😉

  8. Correction:
    this is the reason the Taliban is only around in the first place

    should read:

    this is the reason the Taliban is STILL surviving – with Pashtun support

  9. Jehadis can not be won over by playing cricket or singing duet, as long as they exist they are a threat to India, and our Army would be forever engaged to them if not in Afghanistan then in Kashmir, do we know how many casualties we suffered to terrorists/insurgents/Maoists in 2009, it was more than the combined casualties of the Nato forces in Afghanistan. I don’t see any expressions of deep anguish over those bodybags.
    Jehadis derive their strength and resources from Pak Army which has traditionally used them as a strategic tool and force multiplier. Earlier they were able to get away with their shenanigans because they were the frontline ally of the Nato forces. But post cold war, the scenario has changed and Jehadis have become an international migraine. India has as much at stake in the war against terrorism as the Nato forces presently in the Af-Pak region. Having allowed Pakistan to create Jehadis by looking the other way, even the US has now realised that they have to be dismantled for good, but they also know that it would require an international joint effort to do so. Since it’s in India’s strategic interest, India should have explored the possibility of augmenting that international joint effort. But now since India has agreed to hand over Afghanistan to so called “good” taliban, only thing we can do now is play cricket and sing duet.

  10. Indian should send troops to Afghanisthan.

    But it should be as a part of an UN mandated international peace keeping mission in the post american afghanisthan II composed of major nations who have a real stake in the growth and development of afghanisthan as identified by the afghan govt (probably India, Iran, Bangladesh, Srilanka and even Russia and China) . This force shall support the ANA till sustainable peace is achieved.

    Pakistan won’t get a major role in this force due to the unacceptibility of
    to afghan govt due to pakistan’s role in fanning the flames of the present taliban insurgency.

    Hence work is cut out for indian diplomats to convince the americans of the worth of this course of action (thereby securing the UNSC resolution authorizing this mission).

    In a nutshell Afghanistan needs a regional stabilization mission akin to AUM in Sudan, when american surge is over.

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