India is all set to deliver Afghanistan military assistance quintessential to fighting terrorist threats posed by militants and non-state actors. New Delhi has already transferred four Mi-25 attack helicopters to the Afghan Air Force, marking the first transfer of lethal military equipment to Afghanistan. The keynote here is that these helicopters are Russian made, and the spares needed to make the equipment functional are also Russian. Due to the current status of sanctions on Russia, most countries, especially the US cannot indulge in any economic activity with the Kremlin. India having been neutral in its stance towards sanctioning Russia is the preferred and chosen mediary for obtaining this equipment. Commenting on the US approach, Nitin Mehta, a defense analyst in India stated: "The call for stepping up military aid to Afghanistan is not a changed response of Washington in diplomatic terms, but only in military terms, arising from the sanctions by the Western world on Russia, thereby [pulling] the plug on supply of military spares."
IN VIEW: INDIA’S HISTORIC STANCE ON AID TO AFGHANISTAN
It can be largely agreed that India’s interests in a unified, stable and independent Afghan regime are very much in tandem with that of Washington’s. Indo-Afghanistan ties have historically been quite stable, with India being the fifth-largest bilateral donor to Kabul with over $2 billion in pledged support. The assistance has ranged from infrastructure, engineering, training and humanitarian needs. Although India was the first country to sign a security agreement with Afghanistan (SPA- Strategic Partnership Agreement), it has been reluctant in the past to assist Kabul with a supply of military capital. The main reason behind this reluctance is an unwillingness to interfere with another state’s internal security matters, a state which holds extreme strategic value to the region, along with an awkward relationship with its mutual neighbor- Pakistan.
History has shown that the security dilemma between India and Pakistan is bolstered by the role of Afghanistan, as the threat of terrorism has transcended these borders, often blurring lines of responsibility. Therefore, it could be argued that such hesitation in interference is valid as it could actualize fears of instigating Pakistani factions of the Taliban, specifically the Haqqani Network and Lakshar-e-Taiba against New Delhi. However, recent events have indicated that India has clearly made its decision about where it stands, whether it is a strategic move or not- only time will tell. A defense and security analyst, Brigadier V. Mahalingam has quite accurately expressed a major concern, the possibility that the exported equipment could be “pilfered by militant sympathizers within the Afghan National Defense and Security Forces or land in their hands”. This will and should be a key factor that needs to be taken into consideration while assessing the implications of the transfer.
US URGED INDIA TO STEP UP AID
The commander in charge of US forces in Afghanistan, General Nicholson is the primary instigator of this increased assistance to Afghanistan, making it clear that Pakistan’s wary eye to this matter should be overlooked. Whilst Washington’s support for military assistance to Afghan security forces has been staunch, it is quite interesting to see how it encourages the exchange with Russia to obtain the goods. Russia and the United States share a common goal in stabilizing Afghanistan, and it seems like regional and international stability is indeed a crosscutting agenda for both the major powers. However, from a critical perspective, the expectation from Kremlin to leverage this exchange as a favor-to-be returned is quite a possibility and would definitely be taken for the record.
Wider implications of this deal need to take into account the fact that Indian support doesn’t end here. Along with the above-mentioned assistance, India may also be helping the Afghan Air Force, and according to an Indian defense ministry official, discussions with Kabul included the possibility of increasing the number of Afghan officers being trained in Indian military institutions each year. Moreover India has already been involved in training Afghan soldiers on its soil. "The focus of the training is on conduct of counter insurgency and counter terrorism operations, with special emphasis on operations in built-up areas and rural areas in a realistic environment”. These actions are bound to heighten the tensions and suspicions of Pakistan, who already does not share the best relationship with either of the two countries. Islamabad’s mood in response to these recent developments can already be predicted, not leaving too much to the imagination.