Afghan conundrum and the road ahead

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Afghan conundrum and the road ahead

Wednesday, 28 July 2021 | NISHTHA KAUSHIKI

Afghan conundrum and the road ahead

The responses can range from total to moderate military support or maybe a combination of various strategies but India won’t certainly be indifferent

The Taliban taking over Kabul or establishing a parallel regime in Afghanistan will involve the issue of legitimacy via its recognition. Strongly related to this, the message from Russia to India is clear, “it’s up to India to analyse the situation and go ahead according to the current realities”. The new strategic alignment of Pakistan-China-Russia is already in a process that will have a destabilising effect on the countries of South and Central Asia. With these developments, India might then have to rethink beyond its traditional strategies.

In this context, the entire debate would shift upon India’s decision for the Afghan forces and the strategic developments that might follow. India might decide to help the Afghan Air Force with the Strategic Partnership Agreement (2011) being the main guiding principle. The responses can range from total military support to a moderate one or maybe a combination of various strategies, but certainly, the Indian government will not be indifferent because security is at stake.

Irrespective of the decision that would be taken, certain challenges are coming up for the government. An increase in cross-border terrorism with new forms of hybrid warfare, a sharp increase in drugs and human trafficking, especially affecting Punjab, Rajasthan, Gujarat, and Maharashtra, and an increase in the propaganda warfare by the adversary working in tandem with the existing and the emerging Violent Non-State Actors (VNSA). The fate of Hindus and Sikhs in Afghanistan is also in jeopardy. All these challenges are interlinked. An India-centric approach is required to deal with them.

First, at the diplomatic level, even though Russia might look to stand with Pakistan, strategic overlaps with Russia can be used for the furtherance of India’s interests. As we understand that geopolitics is neither black nor white, how well the current strategic agreements are used to extract leverages would depend upon the government apart from the developments that will follow. India should exercise its strategic leverage with Saudi Arabia and other Islamic countries to tighten its noose around Pakistan in the future. The role of OIC in the coming few days would be of immense importance to India. The policy of exposing and isolating Pakistan should continue at a regional and international level. There can be no better platform than FATF and UNGA.

There is also an opportunity for India to reinvigorate its strategic relations with Iran and find new commonalities to cooperate. Iran’s initial euphoria of the US exit may soon end as it might find the Taliban committing atrocities on the Shia minority in Afghanistan. Many hardliner clerics in Tehran have still not forgotten the 1998 killings of Iranian diplomats.

The upcoming refugee problem in the wake of the establishment of an Islamic emirate is going to open up new challenges for Iran. The Taliban have already taken control of Islam Qala, a military post on its border with Afghanistan. Here, an opportunity for India is open. It is through an independent Iran policy that India can deepen its strategic stronghold. Another geopolitical twist, a positive one, can be a possibility if pursued. Given the geographical proximity of India to both Afghanistan and Iran, the dynamics of the situation are well understood. The US has to accept the region’s geopolitical realities. History is full of examples of states having multiple allies who probably don’t see eye to each other.

The role of the UN has to be called upon as sincere joint efforts are required. India should first approach the UNSC and in case of conflicting interests, the task of maintaining normalcy and peace should be discussed in the UNGA. Having an understanding that there would be a lack of unanimity in the UNSC to protect Afghanistan and its people, India cannot let the region be sucked into chaos and anarchy. For this, sooner or later, India has to take the lead for an “emergency special session” of the UNGA. This session can be called by India and its allies under Resolution 377A (V) that provides for a ‘Uniting for Peace’. India must remind the international community of its primary duty to maintain peace and security and should request recommendations to act collectively to restore the peace of the region under a unified command. The UN has provisions in case the UNSC fails to “discharge its responsibilities”.

All the international legal issues such as re-arming and unlawful diplomatic recognition to the Taliban, suppression of the human rights of women, children, and religious minorities, and diversion of fundamentalists should be discussed in the UNGA to expose countries like Pakistan. This will also set the tone for India’s leadership and the expansion of the UNSC.  Additionally, to secure the lives and dignity of Hindus and Sikhs in Afghanistan, the government may think of evacuating them at the earliest before a full-fledged war breaks out.

Second, at a tactical level, hybrid warfare against India will deepen and broaden. New weapons and tactics utilised by the proxy militia will call for measures that favour coercive policies. For instance, the use of drones and rockets by terror groups to avoid casualties in physical attacks has already been initiated. To counter such an emerging threat, India can expand the horizons of its ‘offensive defence’. It may incorporate the policy of  ‘deterrence by denial’ through disallowing the terrorists to assemble and execute attacks against India. Of course, it has its own risk of substantial escalation when states are using VNSA. The evolving strategic communication and the military-civil interface through the media to let the world know about India’s political will, intentions and interests will surely play an important role.

India should strengthen its defence system that is capable of retaliating to the emerging hybrid warfare techniques that are redrawing the battle lines. Turkey and China are the main suppliers of drones to Pakistan. Collaborative threats either in a proxy war or a military conflict cannot be ruled out. Here, a two-way approach may be adopted. Apart from strategic purchases of anti-drone platforms from the allies such as the US, Israel, France, and Germany, long-term collaboration may be pushed forward to counter the asymmetric warfare. AI is another thrust area. For instance, the US alone has around 140 projects based on AI, the knowledge of which is available in the public domain. This can be of immense help to the Indian forces. Simultaneously, indigenous R&D in defence manufacturing especially in AI technologies should be boosted for surveillance and tactical capabilities.

There are various new areas of AI that India has not yet explored. These include bio-inspired surveillance systems, AI face recognition cameras in sensitive areas, tools using AI algorithms to counter cyber-attacks, and overlook security issues such as indoctrination, sale of narcotics, and small arms through the darknet. All these measures will help the forces and will ensure efficiency in the changing times. However, the focus on AI and other technologies should not distract the government from developing new warfare platforms such as anti-submarine warfare capabilities and short-range tactical weapons to defeat the conventional threats for there are possibilities for simultaneous provocations on the border. Given the current scenario and the shifting sands, India has to strive for itself and there is no one better than India to think about the national interests. 

(The writer is an Assistant Professor at Central University of Punjab, Bathinda. The views expressed are personal)

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