Foreign Policy Watch: India-Afghanistan

[op-ed snap] The road to peace runs through Tehran


Mains Paper 2: International relations| India and its neighborhood- relations.

From UPSC perspective, the following things are important:

Prelims level: Basic knowledge of Afghanistan peace process.

Mains level: The news-card analyses the India and Iran’s role Afghanistan peace process, in a brief manner.


  • An American military pull-out from Afghanistan is on the cards and the U.S. will want to leave behind a stable country.

Peace in Afghanistan, rallied on the support of regional powers

  • Any peace settlement in Afghanistan will stand a better chance of staying on the rails if it is supported by regional powers.
  • Ties between Afghanistan and its neighbours, including Iran, will impact the security of southern and western Asia.
  • Like India, Russia, China and the U.S., Iran would want to see a steady hand at the helm in Afghanistan.
  • While lacking military influence, India can build on its good ties with the U.S. and Iran to secure Afghanistan.

Iranian continuity

  • Iran is not a newcomer to regional diplomacy in Afghanistan.
  • First and foremost, India should try to dissuade the U.S. from dealing with Iran, Russia and China as enemies.
  • In fact, U.S. President’s perception of all three as foes is at odds with America’s earlier engagement with them to end its military campaign in Afghanistan.

Afghan peace process: 6+1 process

  • From 2014 to 2016, Washington and Moscow quietly arranged talks on the Afghan peace process.
  • The meetings, known as the 6+1 group, included representatives from Afghanistan, China, India, Iran, Pakistan, Russia, and the U.S.
  • The 6+1 process assumed that each of these countries was essential to the achievement of a political settlement in Afghanistan.
  • Moreover, last November, the U.S. and the Taliban joined for the first time the Russia-hosted conference in the hope of promoting a negotiated solution to achieve peace and national reconciliation in Afghanistan.

Negotiated settlement to ensure Afghanistan’s stability

  • Regional powers could put their weight behind a negotiated settlement that will ensure Afghanistan’s stability.
  • Iran, Russia and China — and the Central Asian states with which India and Afghanistan wish to cooperate in countering terrorism — fear of that continued instability in Afghanistan could spill over into their countries.
  • India will also be adversely affected if negotiations break down.
  • In that event, extremist exports from Pakistan to Afghanistan or India would probably increase.

India to explore the Iranian diplomatic options to secure Afghanistan

  • It could be worthwhile for India to explore the Iranian diplomatic options to secure Afghanistan.
  • On good terms with Tehran, New Delhi would gain by developing the Chabahar port in southern Iran.

International North-South Transport Corridor project

  • Looking beyond Chabahar, India, Iran and Russia were the founding countries of the International North-South Transport Corridor project as long ago as 2002.
  • The corridor is intended to increase connectivity between India, Iran, Russia, landlocked Afghanistan and Central Asia and Europe.
  • It would also advance their trading interests.

India’s role with the US

  • India could remind Washington about the past coincidence of American and Iranian interests on Afghanistan.
  • Together with the U.S. and India, Iran supported the overthrow of the Taliban in 2001.
  • In the international negotiations which followed in Bonn that year, Iran supported the installation of Hamid Karzai as President and favoured the exclusion of the Taliban from his government.

U.S.-Iran ties have often been fractious

  • As the U.S. imposed sanctions on Iran after 2005, Iran saw the Taliban countering American influence on its borders and gave them arms.
  • Iran continues to oppose the U.S.’s presence in Afghanistan, largely because it fears that American troops in Afghanistan could be used against it.
  • The U.S. and Iran could be advised of the mutual, and regional, advantages of improving ties.
  • Such advantages could range from stability in Afghanistan, and beyond, to increased trade prospects, especially in South and West Asia.

Afghanistan and Iran

  • To allay Iranian fears, Afghanistan recently said that it would not allow the U.S. to use its bases in the country to conduct any act of aggression against Iran.
  • Last December, Iran also held talks with the Taliban with the knowledge of the Afghan government.
  • In recent months Afghan officials have accused Iran, which the U.S. says is trying to extend its influence in western Afghanistan, of providing the Taliban with money, weapons and explosives.
  • Iran has denied the charge.

Win-win prospects

  • Iran could gain by strengthening trading ties with a secure Afghanistan.
  • In 2017 it supplanted Pakistan as Afghanistan’s largest trading partner.
  • At a time when Iran’s economy is weighed down by American sanctions, it would want to build up trade ties with neighbouring states.

The U.S. would also gain

  • Iran is the geopolitical hub connecting South, Central and West Asia and the Caucasus.
  • The Strait of Hormuz, that crucial conduit, links Iran westwards to the Persian Gulf and Europe, and eastwards to the Gulf of Oman, South and East Asia.
  • Moreover, an improvement in U.S.-Iran relations would be welcomed by America’s European allies, who are opposed to Washington’s unilateral sanctions on Iran.

Way Forward

  • The U.S. should not lose the chance to act in concert with Iran to improve Afghanistan’s security.
  • As the U.S. airs the idea of withdrawal from Afghanistan, now is the right time for India to act as the honest broker between them and to play a larger role in regional security.
  • The status of India and Iran as regional powers as well as the stability of South, Central, and West Asia would simultaneously be enhanced.
  • It is to be hoped that Mr. Trump’s display of America’s “superpower” in opposition to Iran — and Russia and China — will not block such an opportunity to stabilise Afghanistan.
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