Event ReportsPublished on Apr 18, 2013
The issues in Afghanistan do not exhaust potential areas for India-US cooperation. For example, combating the drug trade, engaging China, Central Asian nations, Iran, and Russia. Successful coordination and collaboration will go a long way towards creating a post-2014 Afghan scenario amenable to both India and the US.
What US and India need to do together in Afghanistan

In view of the US and ISAF drawdown from Afghanistan, slated for completion by December 2014, Observer Research Foundation (ORF) and Center for American Progress (CAP) have embarked on a joint study identifying critical areas for deeper India-US cooperation. In order to discuss the draft report’s initial findings, ORF organised "India-United States Cooperation in Afghanistan" on 18 April in New Delhi.

The event featured a discussion chaired by ORF Director Sunjoy Joshi, who conversed with Minister for Information and Broadcasting Manish Tewari, Foreign Secretary Ranjan Mathai, CAP President John Podesta, and ORF Vice President Wilson John. Mr Joshi kicked off proceedings by noting the importance of India and the US sharing intentions and coordinating policies essential to post-2014 Afghan politics, economics, and security. Mr. Podesta highlighted the fruitful and longstanding partnership between CAP and ORF.

The discussions started with a stark reminder of the terrorist threat faced by both India and the US, highlighted by recent bombings in Bangalore and Boston. A chaotic Afghanistan, akin to the early 1990s, could once again give rise to a regime that allows terrorists to plan and launch attacks from its soil.

However, certain issues have kept the US and India from coordinating Afghan policies. First, multiple (though not all) speakers noted that deep Indian involvement could heighten Pakistani sensibilities. Second, India let the US and ISAF take the lead on military matters in post-Taliban Afghanistan. Third, the countries have differing views regarding Taliban reconciliation talks -principally over the concept of "good Taliban" and Pakistan’s important interlocutor role.

The discussants, however, agreed that India and the US share the same overarching strategic objective in Afghanistan: a stable and self-sustaining state that prevents terrorists from operating on its soil. The drawdown presents greater opportunities for collaboration, and opens more space for broad-based Indian involvement in the country. Closer consultation between India and the US will not necessarily mitigate all differences, but it can mean more efficient allocation of scarce resources to achieve mutually desirable goals.There are four broad areas for greater cooperation.

First, Afghanistan needs a stable political arrangement and an accountablegovernment.The US and India, the speakers agreed, must work together to ensure safe and legitimate elections. The 2009/2010 election cycle was marred by fraud and insecurity. President Karzai’s term limitations put the political situation in flux. While the US seeks needed electoral and governance reform, India can serve as a better interlocutor, given the strained state of US-Afghan relations and the goodwill India has courted in recent years. Also, there must be consultation on insurgency issues, with a goal of identifying actors willing to negotiate a non-violent settlement adhering to the Constitution. India remains skeptical of this outcome but must play a role in the process.

Second, there is agreement on strengthening the Afghan National Security Forces (ANSF). India knows the US military presence cannot last forever, but it fears the potential for resulting insecurity. India wants to ensure that the drawdown is not divorced from political and security conditions, so there is no "rush for the exits." India believes it can provide "enablers" in order to promote security during the upcoming election cycle, which if successful, will better allow the drawdown to succeed. Additionally, India and the US can work on increased funding and training for ANSF, which will have primary responsibility for securing Afghanistan.

Third, Pakistan remains an important variable that must be managed on a coordinated basis.Expanding the US-India-Afghanistan Trilateral to a quadrilateral involving Pakistan is one measure to jumpstart this process. India is not trying to "encircle" Pakistan but only pursuing its economic interests in Afghanistan.

However, India and the US must work together towards a long-term goal of convincing the Pakistanis (read: the Army) that Indian involvement in Afghanistan is in its interests. Perhaps the US can leverage its Pakistan influence to placate India fears.

One factor to keep an eye on is Pakistan’s democratic transition (elections will be held in May). If successful for more cycle, the Army (and its anti-India stance) may gradually lose clout. Pakistan remains an important regional player, so India and US actions regarding Pakistan should be shared and coordinated to bring about a mutually beneficial situation.

In a broader discussion of interested national actors, Iran’s role as a regional leader and influence over Afghanistan’s western border was noted. India collaborates with Iran on trade-promoting infrastructural development, including the Zaranj-Delaram Highway and Chabahar Port, which India needs in the absence of overland routes through Pakistan. In the immediate aftermath of 9/11, Iran had assisted in US efforts to displace the Taliban government, which was in both nations’ interest. However, in recent years, ongoing disputes over Iran’s nuclear aspirations have sidelined further cooperation. Given Iran’s influence in Afghanistan’s western provinces and its potential to positively impact any developing "New Silk Road" Strategy, India should exploit its good bilateral relations with Iran and the US to bring these two nations to the negotiating table regarding their mutual Afghan interests.

Finally, Afghanistan’s economy must be developed to make it self-sustaining, no longer relying predominantly on international commitments.The US and India must together coordinate an international effort to bring in private sector investments, principally in the lucrative mining sector. Additionally, the countries should work to ensure that mining operations are not plagued by corruption, with benefits reaching the Afghan people.

The US and India also should work toward developing Afghan economic linkages throughout Asia and a more economically integrated region - through development of the New Silk Road,projects like the TAPI pipeline, and integration into regional for a like SAARC. Only through building a self-sustaining economy will Afghanistan successfully support social welfare policies and ANSF when no longer bolstered by international funding.

These issues do not exhaust potential areas for India-US cooperation. For example, combating the drug trade remains essential and could include involvement from China, Central Asian nations, Iran, and Russia. However, the speakers were in general agreement that the drawdown presents new opportunities for long-term collaboration, opportunities unseen in the post-9/11 period. These opportunities cannot be wasted. Successful coordination and collaboration will go a long way towards creating a post-2014 Afghan scenario amenable to both India and the US.

The final ORF-CAP report on cooperation in Afghanistan will be released the next month.

(This report is prepared by Daniel Rubin, Henry Luce Fellow, Observer Research Foundation, Delhi)

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