Foreign Policy Watch: India-Afghanistan

Foreign Policy Watch: India-Afghanistan

Terrorist attack in Kabul’s Gurudwaraop-ed of the day


From UPSC perspective, the following things are important :

Prelims level : Not much.

Mains level : Paper 2- The US-Taliban pact and its implications for India.


Attack on gurdwara underlines that the US-Taliban deal has brought Afghanistan no respite.

The futility of US-Taliban deal highlighted

  • The attack on a gurdwara in Kabul, in which 25 people were killed, has shown that the coronavirus may well be vanquished by science, but human beings will continue to inflict barbarity upon each other.
  • Within hours, it was claimed by the Islamic State, which later also said it had carried it out in revenge for Kashmir.
  • The deal not leading to peace: If there were still doubts left on this score, it must be clear after this attack that the US-Taliban deal was not an arrangement to return Afghanistan to peace.

Why the attack matters for India?

  • The gurdwara attack was the first strike after the agreement claimed by the IS.
  • A provision in pact: Under the pact, the Taliban have committed themselves to eliminate the Islamic State from Afghanistan.
  • Yet to start honouring commitment: If the IS claim is true, the Taliban have yet to begin honouring that commitment.
  • India’s reaction: Appearing to hint at something more sinister, the ministry of external affairs called the attack “diabolical” and condemned the “perpetrators and their backers”, a formulation usually reserved for attacks suspected to have emanated from or to have the backing of Pakistan.
  • Connection of attack with India: The Taliban’s operational leadership is now in the hands of Sirajuddin Haqqani of the Haqqani group, which has been blamed for several attacks on Indian targets, including the 2008 Indian Embassy bombing in Kabul.
  • The Taliban have denied having anything to do with the gurdwara attack, and Pakistan has condemned it strongly.
  • The question over IS in Afghanistan: Who, really, is the IS in Afghanistan is a question that security experts have been asking for some time now.

COVID-19 outbreak in Afghanistan

  • Appeal for ceasefire: The UN Secretary-General made an appeal for an immediate ceasefire in theatres of conflict across the world, to enable governments, health workers and humanitarian aid agencies to access those who might be most vulnerable to COVID-19.
  • The epicentre of the outbreak is Herat, where over 1,00,000 Afghans recently crossed over from Iran.
  • After the number of confirmed cases rose to 58, the province has been placed under lockdown.
  • But the government is hobbled in its efforts to contain the disease, both by a contested election result — Afghanistan has two presidents — and the burden of an agreement that has brought it no respite.


With the recently concluded US-Taliban deal delivering no peace and coronavirus spreading unabated, Afghanistan faces two contagions, new and old — COVID-19 and the relentless violence.

Foreign Policy Watch: India-Afghanistan

Fail-safe exit for America, but a worry for Indiaop-ed snap


From UPSC perspective, the following things are important :

Prelims level : Not much.

Mains level : Paper 2- India-Afghanistan relations and return of Taliban after deal with the US.


The recently negotiated peace deal between the United States and the Taliban is unlikely to bring peace to Afghanistan, is geopolitically disadvantageous for India, and has serious implications for our national security.

Power dynamics of the US-Taliban deal

  • An honourable exit for India: The terms of the deal, the manner in which it was negotiated as well as the geopolitical context in which it was stitched up indicate that it was more about providing an honourable exit route for the U.S.
  • Violence after concluding the deal: Within 24 hours of the much-publicised deal, violence and major disagreements about the deal began erupting in Afghanistan.
  • Why there are the prospects of instability in Afghanistan: Given that the Taliban negotiated from a position of strength, the Trump administration from weakness and little political will, and that the Ashraf Ghani administration in Afghanistan was by and large a clueless bystander in all of this, means that the country is perhaps on the verge of yet another long-drawn-out and internecine battle.

The changed Taliban

  • Taliban of the 1990s: When the Taliban came to power in the mid-1990s in Kabul, it had few backers in the world.
    • Nor was it seen as a useful commodity by the great powers or the states in the region, except for Pakistan, Saudi Arabia, and the United Arab Emirates.
  • United pushback from the rest of the world: The international community was almost united in offering a normative pushback against the violent outfit.
    • As a result, the Taliban was at best reluctantly tolerated until it messed up towards the end of its regime in Kabul.
  • The pressure of Northern Alliance: The Northern Alliance, supported by countries such as Russia and India, kept up its military pressure against the Taliban while it was in power.
  • How today’s Taliban is different from the past: The situation today, at least for the moment, is perhaps the exact opposite of what was the case then.
    • Lessons learned to deal with the international system: The Taliban today is also more worldly-wise and might have learned, during its exile, to deal with the international system and play the game of balance of power.
    • Not necessarily the puppet: More so, it may not necessarily be a puppet of the Pakistani deep state once it returns to power.

International acceptance of the Taliban

  • Lending the legitimacy to Taliban: Given the war fatigue and the geopolitical stakes in Afghanistan, most of the key players in the region and otherwise have been in negotiations with the Taliban one way or another, and for one reason or another, lending the terror group certain legitimacy in the process.
  • Why countries want good relations with the Taliban: Anyone desirous of a stake in Afghanistan or does not want its domestic turmoil to spill over into their country would want to keep the Taliban in good humour.
    • Suitable withdrawal of the US: There is another reason why the Taliban has many suitors — because of the U.S. withdrawal by and large suits everyone, be it China, Pakistan, Iran, or Russia.
    • The US bigger challenge: Suddenly, the Taliban appears to have been forgiven for its sordid past and unforgivable sins because for most of these countries, the U.S. is the bigger challenge than the Taliban.

Why India’s strategy is diplomatically flawed?

  • Only state at losing end: The only state that seems to be on the losing end, unfortunately, of this unfolding game of chess and patience in Afghanistan is India.
    • Why the earlier Taliban was anti-India? The earlier Taliban regime was anti-India, it was also because India had militarily supported the Northern Alliance that kept up the military pressure against the Taliban.
    • Today’s Taliban does not share the same animus for India.
  • Need for Change in India’s approach: India, could have rejigged its approach to the Taliban this time around. However, it put all its eggs in the Ashraf Ghani basket, even on the eve of the signing of the peace deal in Doha.
  • Not a diplomatic strategy by India: India also, for most intents and objectives, adopted a puritanical approach to the Taliban.
    • There are 2 reason India is neither reaching out to the Taliban nor exploiting the fissures within it-
    • Because it did not want to irk the elected government in Kabul and-
    • It adopts a moralistic approach to dealing with extremist groups in general — not a smart diplomatic strategy.
  • Self-defeating position: This moralistic attitude, also a diplomatically lazy one, I would say, that be it Pakistan or Afghanistan, India would only talk to the legitimate government in that country, is a self-defeating position.
    • The world is not that perfect, nor state all that uniform, created in the shape and image of the Westphalian forefather.
    • Smart statecraft, therefore, is dealing with what you have and making the best of it.

What would be the result of India’s strategy?

  • Impact on relations with Afghanistan: India’s relations with Afghanistan will take a hit in the immediate aftermath of the deal.
    • Limited ability to influence the outcomes: With China, India’s strategic adversary, deeply involved in the geopolitics and geo-economics of the region, including in Afghanistan, India’s traditional ability to influence the region’s political and security outcomes will be severely limited.
    • This will be further exacerbated by the withdrawal of the U.S., India’s closest friend, from the region.
    • India’s relation with the other players in the region: Other regional actors in Afghanistan are also less friendly towards India than ever before: Iran feels let down by India given how the latter has behaved towards it at the behest of the Americans.
    • Relation with Russia: For Russia, India is only one of the many friends in the region — the exclusivity of Russia-India relations is a thing of the past — and Pakistan would consider targeting India a fair game.
  • Counter Strategy: Unless New Delhi carefully envisages a counter-strategy, these factors will increasingly push India into a geopolitical tough spot in the region.
    • Need to focus on the region: India should worry us that our political class is focused on domestic politics while the region is becoming ever more uncertain and evidently unfavourable to us.

Taliban and Kashmir Angle of the deal

  • Negligible physical impact but the possibility of psychological impact: While the direct physical impact of the Taliban’s return to power in Afghanistan on Kashmir will be negligible, this will not be without serious implications for the unfolding situation in Kashmir’s restive regions.
    • Psychological impact: The most important impact is going to be psychological.
    • Interpretation of the event: Disenchanted Kashmiri youngsters, and there are a lot of them, will interpret the events in Afghanistan as follows: “If the mighty superpower USA could be defeated by the Taliban in Afghanistan with help from the Pakistan army, defeating Indian forces in Kashmir won’t be impossible after all.”
    • This enthusiasm is completely misplaced, but that is not the point.
    • That the Kashmiri youth might pick up guns drawing inspiration from the situation in Afghanistan is indeed the point.
  • Increase in Pakistan’s utility: The U.S.-Taliban deal cannot survive without Pakistan’s assistance towards ensuring its success, and the U.S. and its allies recognise that. Such recognition of Pakistan’s utility provides the country with ability, as and when it wishes to, to up the ante in Kashmir.
  • The geopolitical significance of Pok and Aksai Chin claim: India’s official statement which describes Afghanistan as a “contiguous neighbour” — meaning that India considers Pakistan-occupied Kashmir (PoK) a part of its sovereign territory — will make Pakistan and China sit up and take notice.
    • Claim making reconciliation more difficult: India also made a similar claim about Aksai Chin in the wake of its August decision on Kashmir. Erstwhile rhetorical claims on PoK and Aksai Chin have suddenly assumed a lot more geopolitical significance today making conciliatory approaches to conflict resolution ever more difficult.


Given that a new Taliban-led dispensation in Afghanistan will be far more accepted by the international community than the last time around also means increased acceptability for such regimes in general, either out of necessity or as a function of geopolitical calculations. That the Taliban mass-murdered its opponents into statehood in the 21st century and that this might provide potential inspiration to other outfits in the region and outside should indeed worry us.




Foreign Policy Watch: India-Afghanistan

Pieces of peaceop-ed of the day


From UPSC perspective, the following things are important :

Prelims level : Not much.

Mains level : Paper 2- US-Taliban Pact- Involvement of Pakistan and consequences for India.


“Agreement for Bringing Peace to Afghanistan” between the US and Taliban signed on February 29 in Doha, is just another piece in the overall strategy of the US for Afghanistan.

Pakistan’s support to the Taliban and unchanged Afghan policy of the US

  • Continuation of the same hard-nosed policy: While rolling out the Afghan policy in August 2017, it was emphasised by the current US dispensation that it was making amends to the Afghan strategy of the previous dispensation.
    • In reality, it has been a continuation of the same hard-nosed line.
  • How Pakistan supported the Taliban? The US and allies had got a rude shock when it dawned on them that between 2001 and 2008, the Taliban had used training and recuperation centres in Pakistan to regain domination over most parts of Afghanistan.
    • Benefiting from the Coalition Support Fund: Pakistan had actively aided the Taliban and al Qaeda (AQ), while continuing to benefit from handsome Coalition Support Funds and a seat at the “high table”.
    • Support of the Pakistan Army: All failures were blamed on inadequate numbers of International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) and Afghan National Security Forces (ANSF), which were ill-equipped to challenge the Taliban, backed by a professional Pakistan Army.
    • Misdiagnosed cause: The Obama administration diagnosed that lack of governance, corruption and fragmented polity were other key factors.

What was the comprehensive Afghanistan Strategy?

  • COIN doctrine and “troop surge”: A comprehensive Afghanistan strategy review led to replicating its “troop surge” strategy, which was believed to have succeeded in Iraq, leading to total withdrawal of US troops (December 2011).
    • At the heart of the troop surge was the Counterinsurgency (COIN) doctrine of the US Field Manual.
  • COIN plus CT: The military strategy in Afghanistan was split into COIN plus CT (Counter Terrorism) objectives.
    • The Taliban movement was treated as an insurgency.
    • What was involved in COIN: The COIN efforts entailed protecting population centres and highways, building numbers and capability of the ANSF to take on insurgents, with emphasis on good governance and support for reconstruction.
    • It also included reconciliation and reintegration of lower to mid-level willing Taliban.
    • The UN designations of Taliban and AQ were separated to pave the way for “peace talks” with Taliban commanders who were tired of fighting.
  • What this strategy achieved? The US-led ISAF troop surge helped create time and space to build and strengthen the ANSF over three times and succeeded in pushing the Taliban back to outlying areas.
    • Even today these territorial gains have not been reversed, except in some areas.
    • As the ANSF gained strength and depth, the US led-ISAF mission became a NATO led-Resolute Support mission.
  • How changing geopolitical circumstances increased challenges? The CT effort yielded rich dividends for the US and allies, in the Af-Pak region and even beyond.
    • The rise of ISIS: From the build-up of ISIS in 2014 to the loss of its Caliphate in 2019 and recently to the killing of General Solemani, the CT challenges of the US and allies in the Af-Pak region and periphery have become graver than ever.
    • These elements had a bearing on the Afghan strategy rolled out in August 2017.
    • Good progress was made in building up the ANSF, with a strong focus on three key elements — Special Forces, Air Force, and Afghan Intelligence (NDS).

The US withdrawal

  • Objectives of the withdrawal: Emphasising that “consequences of a rapid exit were predictable and unacceptable”, it outlined two key objectives —
    • Preventing a resurgence of safe havens that threatened the security of Afghanistan and the US interests in Afghanistan and Pakistan.
    • Preventing terrorists from getting nukes or nuclear material which could be used against the US or elsewhere.
  • What is the recalibrated strategy: The “recalibrated” strategy envisaged following-
    • Time-bound but condition-based withdrawal.
    • Support for the Ghani government.
    • ANSF to take on the Taliban.
    • Talks with the Taliban and for Pakistan to demonstrate commitment on dismantling safe havens that threatened US objectives.
    • Overall, the strategy remained the same, except for the withdrawal of the US from a role in nation-building.
  • What are the results of the strategy? There has been a greater emphasis on the strengthening of ANSF.
    • The regular assessments by the US show an increasing role and success of the Afghan Special Forces.
    • The Air Force and the NDS in playing the lead in keeping the Taliban from running over capitals.
    • By and large, the ANSF have been successful in maintaining the balance and the Taliban-control has not slipped to 2009 levels.
    • In the meantime, US forces have dropped to 10 per cent of the peak (in 2011).
    • With the re-election of President Ghani, it is assured that the US line of thinking will prevail over the Afghan government.
    • Role of Pakistan in the process: On its part, Pakistan has demonstrated its intent by delivering top-rung Taliban, including Mullah Baradar in its custody since 2010, and Anas Haqqani released as part of the process, for the talks.
    • Even if there is no comprehensive ceasefire or full withdrawal ever, Pakistan is unlikely to be blamed.

What Pakistan achieved from the peace process?

  • Return of Afghan refugee: Pakistan has been rewarded in more ways than one. It managed to return lakhs of Afghans.
  • Fencing on the eastern border of Afghanistan: It builds a fence along the eastern parts of Afghanistan to prevent cross-border attacks.
  • Targeting the key TTP leaders: Pakistan got the US and Afghan forces to target key TTP leaders, starting with TTP chief Mullah Fazlullah in June 2018.
    • Since January this year, three top TTP leaders have been killed in Kabul and Kunar.
    • This has also helped build the Pakistan narrative that Afghan soil is being used to target Pakistan.
  • Changing the international narrative in its favour: Even though it is facing “calibrated” heat on FATF sanctions, Pakistan has managed to change the international narrative in its favour.
    • The 24th report (July 2019) of the UNSC monitoring committee has stated, “Al Qaeda continues to cooperate closely with LeT and the Haqqani Network”, but there is no reference to LeT or Haqqani in the 25th report (January 2020).
    • This report has also asserted that ISIL-K has established informal contact with other terrorist groups, including Jamaat-ul-Ahrar, TTP and Lashkar e-Islam.
    • Meanwhile, these groups regularly attack Pakistani posts along the Afghan border.
    • All key anti-Pakistan groups are now being categorised as ISIL-K supporters, even though Pakistan has run the so-called Daesh networks in eastern Afghanistan for years.
    • The UNSC reports also highlight the positive role of Taliban in targeting ISIL-K.


  • The election in the US has bearing on the process: In an election year, the US needs to show that it is not fighting someone else’s battles and is making “sincere efforts” at peace-making.
    • The “Agreement” demonstrates sincerity.
    • At the same time, the US has to continue steering the Afghan strategy to keep terror networks in check.
    • The peace process has already created a comfort-loving, globe-trotting leadership in the top echelons of the Taliban, who would continue to talk, even if the current Agreement falters.
  • Pakistan is again sitting on the high table: As the LeT and Haqqani networks go missing from UN reports and JeM chief Masood Azhar and pro-Pak TTP leader Ehasanullah Ehsan go conveniently “missing” from Pakistan soil, the pressure on Pakistan has eased.
    • The new non-state entities backed by Pakistan, such as the AQIS and ISKP/IS-Kashmir/IS-Hind will become more visible.
    • The rank and file of LeT, JeM, HUJI etc can easily be transferred to these new entities, while many more can be recruited under new banners.
    • Online propaganda of these entities, including in Indian languages, is already visible and likely to escalate.


Foreign Policy Watch: India-Afghanistan

Explained: US-Taliban PactExplained


From UPSC perspective, the following things are important :

Prelims level : Not Much

Mains level : US-Taliban pact and its implications on India-Afghanistan relationship



  • The US and Taliban signed an agreement for “Bringing Peace to Afghanistan”, which will enable the US and NATO to withdraw troops in the next 14 months.
  • The pact is between the “Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan which is not recognized by the United States as a state and is known as the Taliban” and the US.
  • The four-page pact was signed between Zalmay Khalilzad, US Special Representative for Afghanistan Reconciliation, and Mullah Abdul Ghani Baradar, political head of the Taliban.

Key elements of the deal

Troops Withdrawal

  • The US will draw down to 8,600 troops in 135 days and the NATO or coalition troop numbers will also be brought down, proportionately and simultaneously.
  • And all troops will be out within 14 months — “all” would include “non-diplomatic civilian personnel” (could be interpreted to mean “intelligence” personnel).

Taliban Commitment

  • The main counter-terrorism commitment by the Taliban is that “It will not allow any of its members, other individuals or groups, including al-Qaeda, to use the soil of Afghanistan to threaten the security of the US and its allies”.
  • While Miller said the reference to al-Qaeda is important, the pact is silent on other terrorist groups — such as anti-India groups Lashkar-e-Toiba or Jaish-e-Mohammed.
  • Again, India, not being an US ally, is not covered under this pact.

Sanctions Removal

  • UN sanctions on Taliban leaders to be removed by three months (by May 29) and US sanctions by August 27.
  • The sanctions will be out before much progress is expected in the intra-Afghan dialogue.

Prisoner’s release

  • This is a possible trouble spot because the US-Taliban agreement and the joint declaration differ, and it is not clear whether the Ashraf Ghani-led government is on board with this big up-front concession to Taliban.
  • The joint declaration says the US will facilitate discussion with Taliban representatives on confidence building measures, to include determining the feasibility of releasing significant numbers of prisoners on both sides.
  • While there are no numbers or deadlines in the joint declaration, the US-Taliban pact says up to 5,000 imprisoned Taliban and up to 1,000 prisoners from “the other side” held by Taliban “will be released” by March.
  • The intra-Afghan negotiations are supposed to start in Oslo.


  • This is identified as another potential “trouble spot”.
  • The agreement states ceasefire will be simply “an item on the agenda” when intra-Afghan talks start, and indicate actual ceasefire will come with the “completion” of an Afghan political agreement.

Implications of the Deal

An adieu to democracy in Afghanistan

  • The Taliban have got what they wanted: troops withdrawal, removal of sanctions, release of prisoners.
  • This has also strengthened Pakistan, Taliban’s benefactor, and the Pakistan Army and the ISI’s influence appears to be on the rise.
  • It has made it unambiguous that it wants an Islamic regime.
  • The Afghan government has been completely sidelined during the talks between the US and Taliban.
  • The future for the people of Afghanistan is uncertain and will depend on how Taliban honours its commitments and whether it goes back to the mediaeval practices of its 1996-2001 regimes.

Implications for India

  • India has been backing the Ghani-led government and was among very few countries to congratulate Ghani on his victory.
  • India’s proximity to Ghani also drew from their shared view of cross-border terrorism emanating from Pakistan.
  • There has not been formal contact with top Taliban leaders, the Indian mission has a fair amount of access to the Pashtun community throughout Afghanistan through community development projects of about $3 billion.
  • Due to So, although Pakistan military and its ally Taliban have become dominant players in Kabul’s power circles, South Block insiders insist that it is not all that grim for New Delhi.
  • these high-impact projects, diplomats feel India has gained goodwill among ordinary Afghans, the majority of whom are Pashtuns and some may be aligned with the Taliban as well.

Way Forward

  • The joint declaration is a symbolic commitment to the Afghanistan government that the US is not abandoning it.
  • Much will depend on whether the US and the Taliban are able to keep their ends of the bargain, and every step forward will be negotiated, and how the Afghan government and the political spectrum are involved.
  • Like in 1989, 1992, 1996, and in 2001, Pakistan has the opportunity to play a constructive role. It frittered away the opportunities in the past.


India and the Taliban

  • India and the Taliban have had a bitter past.
  • New Delhi nurses bitter memories from the IC-814 hijack in 1999, when it had to release terrorists — including Masood Azhar who founded Jaish-e-Mohammed that went on to carry out terror attacks as such on Parliament, Pathankot and in Pulwama.
  • Quite predictably, Mullah Baradar did not name India among the countries that supported the peace process, but specially thanked Pakistan for the “support, work and assistance” provided.
  • The Taliban perceived India as a hostile country, as India had supported the anti-Taliban force Northern Alliance in the 1990s.
  • India never gave diplomatic and official recognition to the Taliban when it was in power during 1996-2001.
  • But its foreign policy establishment has shied away from engaging with the Taliban directly.
Foreign Policy Watch: India-Afghanistan

Taliban ceasefire in AfghanistanPriority 1


From UPSC perspective, the following things are important :

Prelims level : NA

Mains level : Taliban Ceasefire and its significance

The Taliban’s ruling council agreed to a temporary cease-fire in Afghanistan, providing a window in which a peace agreement with the US can be signed. Since October 2018, Taliban representatives and US officials have been meeting to chalk out a peace treaty.

Significance of the ceasefire

  • A key pillar of the agreement, which the U.S. and Taliban have been hammering out for more than a year, is direct negotiations between Afghans on both sides of the conflict.
  • A peace deal would allow the U.S. to bring home its troops from Afghanistan and end its 18-year military engagement there, America’s longest.
  • The U.S. wants any deal to include a promise from the Taliban that Afghanistan would not be used as a base by terrorist groups.
  • The U.S. currently has an estimated 12,000 troops in Afghanistan.

Expected outcomes

  • The first item on the agenda is expected to address how to implement a cease-fire between the Taliban and Afghanistan’s National Security Forces.
  • The negotiations, however, were expected to be prickly and will cover a variety of issues including rights of women, free speech, and changes to the country’s constitution.
  • The intra-Afghan talks would also lay out the fate of thousands of Taliban fighters and the heavily armed militias belonging to Afghanistan’s warlords.


US-Taliban Conflict

  • Afghanistan has been ravaged by war since 2001 when a US-led coalition overthrew the Taliban.
  • Osama bin Laden’s al-Qaida who carried out the 9/11 terrorist attacks on the United States was harbored by Taliban.
  • The Taliban initially has emerged as a militia – largely consisted of students called as Talibs in 1994.
  • This group comprises of militants who had been educated in traditional Islamic schools and fought during the Soviet–Afghan War (ended in 1989).
Foreign Policy Watch: India-Afghanistan

[op-ed snap] Endless wait: on Afghanistan Presidential electionop-ed snap


From UPSC perspective, the following things are important :

Prelims level : Nothing much

Mains level : Afghan polls


The announcement of preliminary results for the Afghanistan Presidential election is a significant step for the country.


  • This is the fourth presidential poll since the Taliban’s fall in 2001.
  • It consolidates the country’s democratic process in the face of continuing violence and terrorism there. 
  • According to the Independent Election Commission, President Ashraf Ghani has won 50.64% of the votes counted. It will obviate the need for a second round of polling. 
  • A second-round would prolong the uncertainty around the polls, given that even these results took more than three months to announce. 
  • These polls have been delayed for months, and almost canceled after progress in reconciliation talks with Taliban leaders, who do not recognise the electoral process. 
  • The U.S.’s decision to cancel the talks in September gave a breather for the September 28 polls and counting to be carried out. 

Questions remain

  • Voter turnout was a record low, with only about a quarter of 9.6 million registered voters voting. 
  • Thousands of votes were also disqualified after biometric match failures and other irregularities. It has set off allegations of voter fraud. 
  • Afghanistan’s former Chief Executive Officer and Mr. Ghani’s chief rival, Dr. Abdullah Abdullah, has rejected the preliminary results. 
  • Mr. Ghani’s vote margin over Mr. Abdullah is only about 214,769, and if more votes are disqualified during the review process, they may have to fight the second round. 
  • Mr. Ghani, a Pashtun leader, has drawn much of his support from the Pashtun-majority south and Mr. Abdullah has won mainly in the Northern areas with Tajik presence. 
  • The U.S.-Taliban talks also cast a shadow over whether the results will be respected if the Taliban negotiates its way into a power-sharing arrangement in Kabul.


  • Modi reaffirmed India’s close and strategic partnership with Afghanistan since 2010. It is in sharp contrast to the rest of the world that has chosen to be more cautious at present.
  • U.S. Ambassador has reminded that “many steps remain” before the final results are certified and declared.
  • The UN has called for all candidates to “safeguard and complete the election”.
Foreign Policy Watch: India-Afghanistan

[op-ed snap] The Taliban problem: On the Afghan crisisop-ed snap


From UPSC perspective, the following things are important :

Prelims level : Nothing much

Mains level : Afghanistan - latest situation and way ahead


The U.S.-Taliban talks collapsed last week. Taliban threatened to step up attacks in Afghanistan. 

The security situation in Afghanistan

  • It used two suicide bombers who killed at least 48 people by targeting a rally being addressed by Ashraf Ghani. 
  • These attacks are yet another warning of the security challenges Afghanistan faces. Particularly before the presidential polls.
  • Both the 2014 presidential election and last year’s parliamentary poll were violently disturbed by the Taliban. 
  • This time, they asked civilians to stay away from political gatherings, making all those who participate in the political process of potential targets. 


  • Rising attacks against Afghan civilians make the Taliban’s claim of fighting on behalf of them hollow. 
  • The Taliban did not suspend its terror campaign even while holding talks with the U.S. in Qatar. 
  • Now that the talks have collapsed, a vengeful Taliban is unleashing itself.
  • Threat from the Taliban is so grave that the President is largely addressing campaign rallies through Skype. 

Afghanistan situation

  • The Afghan government is determined to go ahead with the election. 
  • Even if the elections are over without further attacks, the Taliban problem will remain. 
  • The fundamental problem with the U.S.-Taliban peace process was that it excluded the Kabul government at the insistence of the insurgents.
  • The Taliban was not even ready to cease hostilities. A peace agreement dictated by the Taliban won’t sustain.
  • A permanently unstable Afghanistan and Taliban growing in strength is not good news for Afghanistan’s neighbours.


  • Regional and international players should help the new government. 
  • The Taliban can’t be allowed to have a free terror run. 
  • Afghanistan needs a comprehensive peace push in which all stakeholders, including the government, the U.S., the Taliban, and regional players will have a say. 
  • The U.S. should continue to back the Kabul government.
  • It should put pressure on Pakistan to crack down on the Afghan Taliban, double down its counter-insurgency operations in Afghanistan.
  • The US should also invite regional players such as Pakistan, Iran, Russia, India, and China to take part in the diplomatic efforts. 
  • The Taliban should be forced to return to talks. 


The U.S.-Taliban peace talks may have collapsed. But it need not be the end of the road for finding a settlement for the Afghan crisis.

Foreign Policy Watch: India-Afghanistan

[oped of the day] In Afghan peace derailment, a wagon of hopeop-ed snap


From UPSC perspective, the following things are important :

Prelims level : Nothing much

Mains level : Afghan peace process

Op-ed of the day is the most important editorial of the day. This will cover a key issue that came in the news and for which students must pay attention. This will also take care of certain key issues students have to cover in respective GS papers.


U.S. President Donald Trump abruptly called off ‘peace’ talks with the Taliban citing the killing of an American soldier in a suicide bomb attack for which the Taliban claimed the credit. 


  • The agreement had been in the making over nine rounds of talks, largely in Doha.
  • The Afghan government was not a part of talks on account of a Taliban veto.
  • The details of the agreement are as follows
    • They centered on an initial timetable for the withdrawal of around 5,400 out of nearly 14,000 U.S. troops from five Afghan bases in 135 days.
    • A tight timeline of two weeks to kick-start intra-Afghan talks before the Afghan presidential elections.
  • The announcement was accompanied by a wave of violence. They were intended to sabotage the elections. 

Why Trump had to withdraw the Khalilzad deal

  • The deal as negotiated was one-sided, partial and highly flawed. It tilted towards Trump’s goal of a withdrawal of all U.S. troops by November 2020.
  • It was weak in guarantees against terrorism aimed at the U.S., and lacking safeguards for the security and stability for Afghanistan. 
  • Differences remained over the withdrawal of the remaining troops amid U.S. insistence on residual counter-terrorism (CT) and intelligence presence.
  • A lack of trust in the Taliban at critical levels in the U.S.
  • The comprehensive ceasefire was watered down to a limited ‘reduction’ in violence. 
  • The intra-Afghan government talks effectively downgraded to talks with a non-official delegation. 
  • The Afghan government with which the U.S. has a bilateral strategic partnership and security agreements were sidelined and powerless. 
  • These were among the reasons for Trump’s decision.

Other problems with the agreement

  • Its timing and attempt to rush intra-Afghan talks just days before the presidential elections is with the aim of undermining the elections. 
  • If successful, they could have undercut plans to install an interim, transitional or power-sharing arrangement that could provide the mechanism and an illusion of peace to pull out U.S. forces. 
  • It would have paved the way for a dominant position for the Taliban in any future dispensation and pushed Afghanistan towards instability.
  • Even a civil war worse than the intra-Mujahideen fighting of the 1990s with unpredictable consequences could happen.
  • The agreement was seen as an “abdication”, and even a “surrender” rather than a peace agreement, sacrificing the political, military and economic investments and civic gains of the last 18 years including democracy and the advancement of women.
  • It is creating the conditions for a likely descent into civil war, fanning radical extremism.

Way ahead

  • There is a need for a counter-terrorism strategy. 
  • The suspension of U.S.-Taliban talks has opened the space for the holding of Afghan presidential elections.
  • It also gave a window of opportunity for the international community and India to reset their approach to peace and withdrawal.
  • The Afghan election authorities and security forces should be supported in every way to conduct free and fair elections as an exercise of Afghan sovereignty. 
  • Concerns about misuse of government apparatus should be addressed. 
  • A reasonably good turnout even if elections are held only in secure areas would be a barometer of support elsewhere and a victory for the constitutional order.
  • Its outcome could provide a stronger foundation for talks with the Taliban that are Afghan-led, Afghan-owned and Afghan-controlled and not as dictated from Washington, Islamabad, Doha or Moscow. 
  • India should be able to support such talks.
  • Free from elections, the Afghan government should take the lead in forging a national consensus behind talks with the Taliban that it has failed to do until now.
  • Focus efforts on the Taliban to demonstrate their ‘nationalism’ by distancing themselves from Pakistan’s ISI, halting attacks against fellow Afghans, agreeing to a ceasefire, and negotiating directly with a representative Afghan delegation.
  • U.S. military pressure on the Taliban is not enough. Doha talks show that the route to peace in Afghanistan is through Pakistan. Every possible instrument should be brought to bear on Pakistan to deliver on this. 
  • Crucial to Afghanistan’s future is its ability to stand on its own feet:
    • economically through investment in Afghanistan’s mineral sector
    • Militarily through a progressive ‘Afghanisation’ of security forces at a lower budget
  • India should be able to use Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s rapport with Mr. Trump and Russian President Vladimir Putin to influence their policies and play a larger international diplomatic role in Afghanistan.
Foreign Policy Watch: India-Afghanistan

[op-ed snap] Free fall: On the Afghan conflictop-ed snap


From UPSC perspective, the following things are important :

Prelims level : Nothing much

Mains level : Afghan peace process


A recent suicide attack at a crowded wedding hall in Kabul killed at least 63 people and injured more than 180 others. It is a tragic reminder of the security situation in Afghanistan.


  1. The blast is claimed by the local arm of the Islamic State. It occurred at a time when the U.S. and the Taliban are preparing to announce a peace agreement to end the 18-year-long conflict.
  2. It’s now a three-way conflict in Afghanistan — the government, the Taliban insurgents and the global terrorists.
  3. The Afghan government is fighting to preserve the existing system that offers a semblance of democracy. But it failed in ensuring the safety and security of the people.
  4. The Taliban controls the mountainous hinterlands and wants to expand its reach to the urban centers.
  5. IS declared a province (Khorasan) in eastern Afghanistan and has emerged as the third player. Attacks against civilians, especially the Shia minority, is the central part of its brutal military tactics. Afghanistan’s Hazara Shias were the target of the wedding hall bombing.
  6. IS has demonstrated an ability to survive and strike in Afghanistan despite the U.S.’s heavy air campaign in the east.

Afghanistan peace deal:

  1. U.S. is ready to pull troops from Afghanistan in return for assurances from the Taliban that they will not allow the Afghan soil to be used by transnational terrorists such as the IS and al-Qaeda.
  2. But the Taliban’s intentions are hardly clear. It ran most of Afghanistan according to its puritanical interpretation of Islamic law from 1996 to 2001.
  3. There are chances that it turns against Kabul once the Americans are out and the country may plunge into a multi-party civil war as it did after the Soviet Union pulled out in 1989.

Way ahead :

  1. Taliban and the government should have their own peace talks and settle differences. It would allow both sides to rechannel their resources to fighting terrorist groups.
  2. The international community should strengthen the hands of the Kabul government against all kinds of terrorists, before seeking a settlement with the insurgents.
Foreign Policy Watch: India-Afghanistan

[op-ed snap] Talks and terror: on Afghan peace talksMains Onlyop-ed snap


From UPSC perspective, the following things are important :

Prelims level : Nothing Much

Mains level : Peace talks in afghanistan are not yielding required results


The attack on Afghan vice presidential candidate Amrullah Saleh’s office in Kabul on Sunday that killed at least 20 people and injured 50, including Mr Saleh, is a grave reminder of the crisis the war-torn country is going through even amid attempts to find peace.


  • Mr. Saleh, a former intelligence chief and a strong critic of the Taliban and Pakistan, is President Ashraf Ghani’s running-mate for the September 28 election.
  • And the irony is that the assault occurred a few hours after President Ghani officially launched his campaign in which he promised that “peace is coming”.
  • The message the insurgents are trying to send is that even the most fortified political offices in the country or its top politicians are not safe.
  • The insurgents have made it clear they will carry out their offensive irrespective of the peace process, especially when Afghanistan gets down to a full-fledged election campaign.

Peace initiatives

  • In recent months, even when the U.S. and Taliban representatives have held multiple rounds of talks in Doha, Qatar, insurgents have kept up attacks, both on military and civilian locations.
  • The Taliban appears to be trying to leverage these assaults to boost its bargaining position in the talks with the U.S.
  •  And the Kabul government’s inability to prevent them and the U.S.’s apparent decision to delink the negotiations from the daily violence are giving the insurgents a free run in many Afghan cities.

Problems before  Afghanistan

  • Afghanistan’s crises are many.
  • Half the country is either directly controlled or dominated by the Taliban.
  • In the eastern parts, the Islamic State has established a presence and the group targets the country’s religious minorities.
  • The government in Kabul is weak and notorious for chronic corruption.
  • Its failure to ensure the basic safety and security of civilians is in turn eroding the public’s confidence in the system.

Response by government

  • At present, the government appears beleaguered. Its security agencies are strained by the prolonged war. 
  • It is true that Afghanistan needs a political settlement.
  • The war has been in a stalemate for long.
  • The government, even with U.S. support, is not in a position to turn the war around.
  • The Taliban, on the other side, has expanded its reach to the hinterland, but not the urban centres.

Giving too much leeway to the Taliban

  • While a peace process is the best way ahead in such a scenario, the question is whether the U.S. is giving too much leeway to the Taliban in its quest to get out of its longest war.
  • The decision to keep the Afghan government out of the peace process was a big compromise.
  • The absence of a ceasefire even when talks were under way was another.


  • The result is that Afghans continue to suffer even when the Americans and the Taliban talks.
  • This has to change.
  • There has to be more pressure, both political and military, on the Taliban to cease the violence.
  • And the U.S. should back the Afghan government and the coming elections resolutely, while Kabul has to get its act together.
Foreign Policy Watch: India-Afghanistan

[op-ed snap] Endless warMains Onlyop-ed snap


From UPSC perspective, the following things are important :

Prelims level : Nothing Much

Mains level : Current situation of afghanistan Peace Process


A call by Afghanistan’s Loya Jirga, a grand assembly of senior politicians and tribal and religious leaders, for a ceasefire between government troops and the Taliban underscores the mood in Kabul.The U.S. must put pressure on the Taliban to heed the Afghan government’s concerns.


  • Afghanistan’s leaders, from its rulers to tribal chieftains, want to resolve the 17-year-long conflict.
  • Over a four-day meeting that ended on May 2, the Jirga asked the government to set up a negotiating team with members from the assembly for talks with the insurgents.
  • It also backed women’s rights, a critical issue being debated by the political class amid the Taliban’s rising clout.
  • President Ashraf Ghani has said his government would honour the assembly’s proposals, but wants the ceasefire to be mutual.
  • The Taliban, for its part, immediately shot down the proposal, vowing to continue attacks through the Ramzan month.
  • Without the Taliban’s reciprocity, no ceasefire will hold.

Current Situation

  • The group controls half of Afghanistan and has shown its capacity to strike anywhere, including in the most fortified of locations.
  • It has also been engaged in direct talks with the U.S. for months.
  • But the peace talks haven’t prevented the Taliban from carrying out its summer offensive against the government.
  • By rejecting the Loya Jirga proposal, the Taliban has once again made it clear that it is not ready yet to engage with the government in Kabul.

Us Stance

  •  The talks between Taliban representatives and Zalmay Khalilzad, the U.S. special representative, are primarily focussed on withdrawing foreign troops from Afghanistan.
  • The U.S. seeks, in return, an assurance that Afghanistan will not provide a safe haven to transnational terrorist groups such as al-Qaeda and the Islamic State.

Stalemate situation

  • But for an eventual settlement of the Afghan crisis, the government and the Taliban need to talk. The war has long been in a stalemate.
  • But the government and the Taliban see different ways out.
  • The government is willing to engage the insurgents, a move which has now been endorsed by the Loya Jirga as well.
  • But the Taliban, like any other successful insurgent group, wants to prolong the conflict, hoping that it can weaken the government’s morale and reduce its military strength.
  • The Taliban will change track only if it is forced to do so militarily or through pressure.
  • The government lacks the resources to accomplish either.
  • It cannot defeat the Taliban militarily, as the 17 years of the war suggest.
  • It cannot forge peace on the Taliban’s terms as it would mean endangering whatever few freedoms the Afghans enjoy right now.
  • This resource deficit can be bridged only with the help of the international community.

Way Forward

The U.S., which is in talks with the Taliban, should not overlook the interests of Kabul. It must put pressure on the Taliban to cease hostilities and engage with Mr. Ghani’s government.

Foreign Policy Watch: India-Afghanistan

[op-ed snap] No good options in AfghanistanMains Onlyop-ed snap


From UPSC perspective, the following things are important :

Prelims level : Doha Talks

Mains level : Peace in afghanistan seems elusive.


In Afghanistan, ‘reconciliation’ means different things to different players and to different groups of Afghans.


During the last 50 years, Afghanistan has been through different governance systems — monarchy till 1973; communist type rule, initially home-grown and then imposed by the U.S.S.R. with its 1979 intervention; jihadi warlordism in the early 1990s; shariat-based Taliban rule; and a democratic republic based on a presidential system since 2004.

Negotiating a U.S. exit

  • The U.S. began its operations in Afghanistan, primarily against the al-Qaeda, 18 years ago.
  • The cumulative cost has been over $800 billion on U.S. deployments and $105 billion on rebuilding Afghanistan, with nearly 2,400 American soldiers dead.

Trump’s Policy

  • U.S. President Donald Trump’s policy announced in August 2017 was aimed at breaking the military stalemate by authorising a small increase in U.S. presence, removing operational constraints, putting Pakistan on notice, improving governance and strengthening the capabilities of Afghan security forces.
  • Within a year, the policy failure was apparent.
  • Afghan government continued to lose territory and today controls less than half the country.
  • Since 2015, Afghan security forces have suffered 45,000 casualties with over 3,000 civilians killed every year.

Talks With Taliban

  • Last year, U.S. senior officials travelled to Doha to open talks with the Taliban, followed by the appointment of Ambassador Zalmay Khalilzad as Special Representative for Afghan Reconciliation.
  • Five rounds of talks have been held and a sixth is likely soon.

Terms of talks

  • Mr. Khalilzad is seeking guarantees that the Taliban will not provide safe haven to terrorist groups such as al-Qaeda and Afghan territory will not be used to launch strikes against the U.S., while the Taliban have demanded a date for U.S. withdrawal along with the release of all Taliban detainees in Guantánamo and Afghanistan.
  • Mr. Khalilzad has also sought a ceasefire in Afghanistan and engagement in an intra-Afghan dialogue in return.
  • Al-Fatah- The Taliban have responded with their new spring offensive, al-Fath, and refuse to engage with the Afghan government.
  • An intra-Afghan dialogue with political and civil society leaders planned for around the third week of this month in Doha was called off on account of the presence of Afghan officials.
  • Us exit is aim of talks -It is clear that Mr. Khalilzad is not negotiating peace in Afghanistan; he is negotiating a managed U.S. exit. Given the blood and treasure expended, the optics of the exit is important. As former U.S. Defence Secretary J. Mattis said, “The U.S. doesn’t lose wars, it loses interest”.

Increasing polarisation

  • There is growing polarisation in Afghanistan along ethnic and even sectarian divides.
  • With three presidential elections (in 2004, 2009 and 2014) and three parliamentary elections (in 2005, 2010 and 2018), faith in the electoral process and the election machinery has eroded.

Elusive peace

  • Mr. Khalilzad met with his Russian and Chinese counterparts in Moscow where the three reiterated support for “an inclusive Afghan-led, Afghan-owned peace process”.
  • However, there is no common understanding of what it means or which Afghans should own and lead the process.

The Pakistan factor

  • Pakistan is once again centre-stage as the country with maximum leverage. To demonstrate its support, Pakistan released Mullah Abdul Ghani Baradar, a leader and founder of the Taliban.
  •  Pakistan Prime Minister Imran Khan’s recent statement suggesting the formation of an interim government in Kabul to overcome the hurdles in the Doha talks provoking a furious backlash from Afghanistan from the government and the opposition figures.
  • Even Mr. Khalilzad dubbed the statement as ‘inappropriate’. Pakistan has since backtracked but it shows that old habits die hard.


  • Even without getting into details of why the post-Bonn order in Afghanistan is fraying, there is agreement that peace in Afghanistan cannot be restored by military action.
  • It is also clear that a prolonged U.S. military presence is not an answer.
  • The problem is that a U.S. withdrawal will end the U.S. war in Afghanistan but without a domestic and regional consensus, it will not bring peace to Afghanistan.
  • Sadly, today there are no good options in Afghanistan.
Foreign Policy Watch: India-Afghanistan

[op-ed snap]Afghanistan and the Taliban: next stage in the Great Gameop-ed snap


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

From UPSC perspective, the following things are important:

Prelims level: Basic knowledge of India-Afghanistan relations.

Mains level: The news-card analyses the India’s Afghan policy in the light of US withdrawing from Afghanistan and ongoing talks with Taliban, in a brief manner.



Defeatism will hurt India’s interests more than the Taliban’s return to Kabul could.

Relationship dynamics over Taliban Inclusion

  • As international talks with the Taliban leadership gain momentum, India’s foreign policy establishment has gone through the five stages of grief: denial, anger, bargaining, depression and acceptance.
  • After the initial denial that several countries, including the U.S., Russia, U.A.E., Qatar and Saudi Arabia, were engaging with Pakistan in order to bring senior Taliban leaders to the table in late 2017, India protested against being cut out of the talks.
  • It then negotiated to join them, followed by expressions of deep misgiving over where the talks would lead.
  • And finally this has given way to acceptance today that the talks have not only progressed, but are being given priority over every other process in Afghanistan.

Details of Ongoing Talks

  • The talks appeared to be held on the Taliban’s terms, and at a venue of its choice.
  • Therefore, while clear agreements have been forged on the withdrawal of foreign forces and on not allowing Afghan soil for use by foreign terror groups, agreements on a comprehensive ceasefire and an intra-Afghan dialogue, once considered the minimum “redlines” or starting point of engaging with the Taliban, have now been made the last priority.
  • These talks have also broken the most important redline, that of being led by, or at least held with the full backing and knowledge of, the democratically-led government in Kabul.
  • During a visit to Washington on March 14, Afghan National Security Adviser Hamdullah Mohib lashed out at Mr. Khalilzad for “delegitimising” the Ashraf Ghani government by carrying out talks in the dark.

Worrying Factors for India

  • reason for New Delhi’s disquiet is that these talks continue without acknowledging a role for India, despite this being an expressly stated goal of Mr. Trump’s South Asia policy.
  • This week, Mr. Khalilzad’s conference at the U.S. State Department to discuss “international support for the Afghan peace process, the role each party can play in bringing an end to the war, and progress to date in peace talks” included only special envoys from Russia, China and the European Union.
  • When talks with the Taliban began, the objective was to try to mainstream the insurgents into the political process, and at least have a working ceasefire by the time presidential elections, scheduled for April 2019, were held.
  • The reality is far from that.
  • The Taliban continues to carry out terror attacks in Afghanistan even as its leadership talks with the U.S. Despite the Ministry of External Affairs issuing a statement on the importance of holding the presidential elections, the Afghan vote has been further postponed to September 28.
  • This makes Mr. Ghani’s continuance more tenuous under the constitution, which could mean an interim government will be installed, something India has been opposed to as well.
  • New Delhi is worried about the prospect of chaos and civil war, akin to the scene after the previous U.S. pullout in the early 1990s that cut India out and brought the Taliban to power in Kabul with Pakistan’s support.

Way Forward for India

  • Despite the restricted room for manoeuvre, however, there are several steps New Delhi can and must take in the present scenario to ensure both its own relevance in Afghanistan and stability in the region.
  • To begin with, there is the question of talks with the Taliban, which India has thus far refused.
  • In the recent past, the Modi government has shown some flexibility on the issue, by sending a “non-official” representation to the Moscow talks with the Taliban.
  • After a visit to Delhi in January by Mr. Khalilzad, Army Chief General Bipin Rawat even suggested that India should “jump on the bandwagon” of engaging the Taliban.

Challenges in talks with Taliban

  • However, direct, open talks between India and the Taliban at this point would serve little purpose for either side.
  • For India, it would mean casting aside a consistently held moral principle and speaking to a non-state actor that espouses terrorism.
  • recognising the Taliban as a legitimate interlocutor for India at this point would be a betrayal of India’s values without any visible gains.
  • India’s policy for the past two decades is to deal with the government in Kabul, and this will hold it in good stead if the Taliban were to eventually be a part of the government there.

The difference in situation from 1989

  • While Afghan security forces have suffered many losses in the past year, it is unlikely that the Taliban would today be able to overrun and hold Kabul or any other big Afghan city as it did before.
  • It also seems inconceivable that a “full withdrawal” of U.S. troops will include giving up all the bases they hold at present.
  • Given technology, social media and the progress in education in Afghanistan since 2001 (the number of secondary graduates rose from 10,000 to more than 300,000 in 2015), it is also unlikely that the Taliban will be able to control the hearts and minds of Afghans if it were to revert to its brutal ways.
  • Nor could it run policies that endanger Indian interests in the country, given the special place India enjoys, amongst thousands of Afghans who have studied in India, youth and women supported by Indian development projects, and hundreds of military officers trained in the country.
  • India is also host to a sizeable population of Afghans who live, work and study in the country, and an outreach is important.


  • Despite all the many reasons for despondency, it is necessary that Indian strategists don’t lose sight of the bigger picture — India’s longstanding relationship with the people of Afghanistan.
  • This is a relationship nurtured by every government in New Delhi, with more than $3 billion invested by India since 2001, which has reaped manifold returns in terms of goodwill and friendship across Afghanistan.
  • Defeatism or a lack of ambition for the India-Afghanistan relationship at this juncture would be much more detrimental to India’s interests than anything the Taliban’s return to Afghanistan’s political centrestage can do.


Foreign Policy Watch: India-Afghanistan

Afghanistan launches new export route to India through IranPriority 1


Mains Paper 2:IR| Agreements involving India and/or affecting India’s interests

From UPSC perspective, the following things are important:

Prelims level:  Chabahar Port

Mains level: Significance of Chabahar Port for India


  • Afghanistan began exports to India through the Chabahar as the landlocked, war-torn nation turns to overseas markets to improve its economy.

Afghan Exports to India

  • 23 trucks carrying 57 tonnes of dried fruits, textiles, carpets and mineral products were dispatched from western Afghan city of Zaranj to Iran’s Chabahar port.
  • The consignment will be shipped to the Indian city of Mumbai.
  • The Iranian port provides easy access to the sea to Afghanistan and India has helped developed this route to allow both countries to engage in trade bypassing Pakistan.

Afghanistan, a new trade partner

  • India has sent 1.1 million tonnes of wheat and 2,000 tonnes of lentils to Afghanistan through Chabahar.
  • Both countries established an air corridor in 2017.
  • Afghan exports to India stood at $740 million in 2018, making it the largest export destination.

To read more about Chabahar Port, navigate to the page:

Chah Bahar, Its significance and the impediments in taking it ahead

Foreign Policy Watch: India-Afghanistan

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


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.
Foreign Policy Watch: India-Afghanistan

[op-ed snap] A Crossroads In Kabulop-ed snap


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

From UPSC perspective, the following things are important:

Prelims level: Basic knowledge of India-Afghanistan relations.

Mains level: The news-card analyses the India’s Afghan policy in the light of US withdrawing from Afghanistan, in a brief manner.


  • India’s Afghan policy is at a crossroads.
  • A period of adjustment has become essential following US President Donald Trump’s unilateral announcement that he is pulling US troops out of the conflict-ridden country.


  • Trump is the third, and perhaps the last US president, to try to wind up America’s costly military involvement in Afghanistan.
  • But the announcement of a draw-down before the final peace deal with the Taliban is concluded was certainly a blunder.
  • More fighting and political instability in Afghanistan would be damaging, as much for Indian interests as for regional stability.

Framework deal between the US and Afghan Taliban

  • Another development is the “framework” deal between the US and Afghan Taliban after six days of discussions at Doha.
  • Washington’s hasty timetable (18 months) to disentangle itself from the Afghan quagmire has narrowed the US’s options.
  • India too is trapped in a strategic blind-spot in Afghanistan.

US pull-out: role of Pakistan is going to expand significantly

  • For Pakistan’s security establishment, Trump’s frustration at the current military stalemate in Afghanistan is a godsend — it can re-engage with Washington, largely on its own terms.
  • Trump has frequently criticised Pakistan for turning a blind eye to the Taliban’s insurgency.
  • But he now appears reconciled to Pakistan’s centrality to the endgame in the region.
  • The role of Pakistan is going to expand significantly, with the US depending upon it to implement the interim deal.
  • This will be a diplomatic victory for Pakistan.

Trump’s decision against Pentagon’s advice

  • James Mattis, who was forced to resign as secretary of defence, was against the pull-out.
  • The head of the US Central Command, Lt General Kenneth McKenzie, had argued that Afghanistan would be doomed to a downward spiral if abandoned by the US at this critical juncture.
  • But Trump decided to ignore Pentagon’s advice.

An Afghan-led and Afghan-owned peace process seems to has vanished

  • Fully aware of the deadline, the Taliban are playing their hand well, trying to secure maximum concessions from Zalmay Khalilzad, the US special envoy, without offering anything meaningful in return.
  • The Kabul government is nowhere in the picture.
  • The Taliban’s determined refusal to engage the Kabul regime constitutes the biggest obstacle to a meaningful intra-Afghan dialogue.
  • In all probability, the Trump administration is going to finalise the deal with the Taliban without consulting President Ashraf Ghani, leave alone taking into consideration New Delhi’s concerns.
  • All talk of an Afghan-led and Afghan-owned peace process has vanished.
  • The Afghan presidential election, originally scheduled in April, stands postponed till July.

India finding itself marginalised

  • Despite being an important stakeholder in Afghanistan, India finds itself increasingly marginalised in negotiations involving the key regional players.
  • New Delhi is concerned about the vital role that all the powers are giving to Pakistan.
  • Iran and Russia, two of India’s closest allies during the Northern Alliance’s battle against the Taliban regime in the 1990s, seem out of sync with New Delhi’s interests.

India’s soft power strategy has limitations

  • Since the Taliban’s ouster, Washington’s financial, diplomatic and military support to the Kabul regime has allowed New Delhi to avoid direct military involvement in the Afghan conflict.
  • India’s developmental approach has earned it immense goodwill among the Afghan people.
  • However, the “soft power” strategy has limitations.
  • The manner in which Trump hit out at India’s contribution towards Afghan stabilisation is largely symptomatic of his fundamentally transactional view of India’s relationship with the US.
  • India cannot send troops to Afghanistan since there is a domestic consensus against it.
  • But ironically, without any military footprint, India cannot convincingly push for Pakistan’s exclusion from the peace process.
  • New Delhi today has little influence over Afghanistan’s future.

Taliban might effect security scenario in India’s troubled Kashmir Valley

  • An emboldened Taliban is sure to impinge on security scenario in India’s troubled Kashmir Valley.
  • The outfit seems positioned to emerge as the ideological bulwark of Kashmir’s renewed insurgency.
  • Pakistan’s security establishment, in cahoots with the Taliban, will likely project a potential American exit from Afghanistan as a vindication of its policies.

US and India not on the same page over Afghanistan

  • Trump is unlikely to be bothered even if America’s disengagement in Afghanistan is viewed as a strategic defeat .
  • Trump’s criticism of India’s Afghan policy and his plans to exit could cast serious doubt on the US’s role as a strategic ally for India.
  • Trump’s ill-conceived strategy gives India a chance to reconsider its long-standing belief that it has the US’s backing in Afghanistan.

Way Forward

  • According to experts, India cannot be out of the bandwagon because if “you are not sitting on the high table you will not know what is happening”.
  • It is time for New Delhi to engage the Taliban to secure its interests.
  • India also needs to reassess its policy choices in close coordination with Russia and Iran, constantly reminding them that a complete surrender to the Taliban’s demands will be detrimental to their own security.
Foreign Policy Watch: India-Afghanistan

[op-ed snap] Afghanistan at a crossroadsop-ed snap


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

From UPSC perspective, the following things are important:

Prelims level: Basic knowledge of the Afghanistan peace process.

Mains level: The news-card analyses the issues and challenges in carrying out the Afghanistan peace process, in a brief manner.


  • Afghanistan is seeing growing national, regional and global attempts to seek a peaceful settlement to the conflict.


  • The U.S. is desperate to extricate itself from the war, heightened by an unpredictable President and an ambitious negotiator, Zalmay Khalilzad.
  • This is matched by growing fears in Afghanistan that the Taliban will seek to overthrow the government, as it did in 1994, and that the government, the political class and the democratic constituency will be betrayed by a hasty deal between U.S. and Pakistan.
  • This may produce a peace agreement, but such an agreement may not bring inclusive and sustainable peace.

Areas of concern

  • Addressing the main drivers of the conflict are the principal tenets of any sustainable peace settlement.
  • The causes of the Afghan conflict are religious, ethnic and external in nature
  • The conflict has been fought over the identity, legitimacy and sovereignty of the Afghan state and society: Should it be a Pashtun-dominated entity or a pluralistic state?
  • Is an Islamist/theocratic emirate a true identity of the nation or a constitutional republic?
  • Should it be a puppet state of Pakistan or a sovereign and independent state?
  • Should it be a representative or plutocratic state?

Numerous peace-making efforts in past

  • There have been numerous peace-making efforts and agreements since the beginning of the conflict in 1979.
  • The leftist Najibullah Ahmadzai, the Mujahideen-led government of Burhanuddin Rabbani, and the Western-installed governments of Hamid Karzai and Ashraf Ghani all pursued political settlements based on the principles of power-sharing and democratic governance but failed.

Taliban for a pure Islamic government

  • Since its formation in 1994, the Taliban has remained consistent in its ambition of total victory and establishing “a pure Islamic government”.
  • The Taliban is not primarily a nationalistic insurgency fighting a foreign occupation, but an ideological movement determined to re-establish a political order that is in alignment with Pakistan’s geo-strategic ambitions.
  • The presence of international troops is an obstacle to the Taliban’s goal.

Key questions in Afghanistan

  • The key questions are:

(a) whether the Taliban’s goal of establishing a “pure Islamic government” is compatible with the principles of pluralism, power-sharing and election-based politics;

(b) whether Pakistan will accept a sovereign, independent Afghanistan;

(c) whether the potential peace settlement is to be built upon the fragile achievements in the fields of state-building, democratisation, pluralism and connectivity; and

(d) whether there will be an effective guarantee and mechanism for ensuring the sustainability of any peace agreement.

The role of the U.S.

  • In March 1979, the U.S. began covertly supporting the Mujahideen via and with Pakistan through ‘Operation Cyclone’; it has remained a party to the conflict ever since.
  • However, the U.S.’s Afghan policy has been driven by instinct rather than deliberation.
  • Its current peace efforts are mainly driven by Washington’s selfish instincts and ever-changing moods rather than the realities on the ground, particularly the role of the Afghan government and people.
  • U.S. President Donald Trump follows his predecessors in changing the goalposts from conditions-based engagement to cater to the U.S.’s domestic impulses and/or emerging geopolitical attractions.

Current realities

  • Neither the current military environment nor the political structure is conducive for a sustained peace process.
  • Unlike the Afghan and the coalition forces, the Taliban is not militarily and politically exhausted and/or desperate.
  • The leadership of the Taliban and their Pakistani enablers have more stamina, resources and reasons to be hopeful of total victory.
  • Their confidence has been reinforced by the Trump administration’s ‘all bark no bite’ approach in dealing with Pakistan.
  • The Afghan presidential election, in which 17 candidates from different political backgrounds have registered to compete, is scheduled to take place in July.


  • The speedy talk between the U.S. and the Taliban has created a parallel process in competition with the planned presidential election.
  • Many in Kabul rightly fear that the U.S. may sacrifice Afghanistan’s nascent democracy and sovereignty to attain its objectives.
  • Any agreement between the Taliban and the U.S. at the expense of the two principal stakeholders — the Afghan government and the people — is doomed to fail.
  • The Afghanistan of 2019 is fundamentally different from the Afghanistan of the 1990s.
  • Despite many shortcomings, the state of Afghanistan enjoys significant capacity and legitimacy and is endowed with a formidable and growing national security force.
  • On the other hand, both Pakistan and the Taliban remain despised and distrusted by an overwhelming majority.
  • In 2018, the Asia Foundation’s annual Afghanistan survey and the nationwide survey conducted by the Afghan Institute for Strategic Studies found that over 90% of the population do not support the Taliban’s cause.

Afghanistan: the school of jihad

  • In the words of the Taliban, Afghanistan is “the school of jihad” for jihadists around the world.
  • Therefore, any arrangement with the Taliban would have direct implications for other violent Islamist groups.
  • Separating the Taliban from wider global Islamist movements is the product of Western political duplicity and intellectual naivety.

Way Forward

  • A trilateral agreement involving Pakistan, the U.S., and the Taliban’s Quetta Shura will not be acceptable to other stakeholders in Afghanistan and the region.
  • Inclusivity, realism, sustainability and Afghan ownership should drive the efforts for the peace settlement.
  • For this to succeed, India should join other like-minded and concerned stakeholders to ensure that Afghanistan moves forward rather than be forced to return to the dark age of the 1990s.


  • The people of Afghanistan want a peaceful, pluralistic and prosperous country.
  • The Taliban can have a role and a place in building and living in such a polity, similar to other Afghan citizens or political groups.
  • A peaceful and prosperous Afghanistan, a peaceful and developed region, and the defeat of the ideology of violent Islamist groups are all interlinked.
  • But the people of Afghanistan should not be forced to choose between an imposed peace or independence and a constitutional order.
  • An imposed peace will achieve brief victory for one party, but cause long-term suffering and will eventually break down.
Foreign Policy Watch: India-Afghanistan

[op-ed snap] A way out of the morass on the US’ plan to pull out of Afghanistanop-ed snap


Mains Paper 3: International relations| India and its neighborhood- relations.

From UPSC perspective, the following things are important:

Prelims level: Basics of India-Afghanistan relations, Afghanistan politics.

Mains level: The news-card analyses the issues and challenges in Afghanistan after the US pull out, in a brief manner.


  • In an article published in The Hindu in Dec, 2003 it was suggested that the only way out of the morass in Afghanistan would be to re-place Afghanistan in its traditional mode of neutrality.
  • For that, two things were essential. The Afghans themselves must declare unequivocally that they would follow strict neutrality in their relations with external powers, and the outside powers must commit themselves to respect Afghanistan’s neutrality.
  • In other words, external powers must subscribe to a multilateral declaration not to interfere in the internal affairs of Afghanistan together with an obligation on Afghanistan not to seek outside intervention in its internal situation.


  • The agreement on the Neutrality of Laos, concluded in 1962, could provide a model for the neutralisation of Afghanistan. The present might be an appropriate time to revisit that proposal.
  • U.S. President Donald Trump has announced his decision to reduce American troop strength in Afghanistan, 14,000 at present, by half. Though Mr. Trump has not laid down a deadline for this reduction, it is assumed that he will make this happen well in time before the next U.S. presidential election in 2020.
  • This development has energised the principal stakeholders in Afghanistan to make calculated efforts to place themselves in as favourable a position as possible in an Afghanistan post-American withdrawal.
  • India should also be thinking of what steps it should take to protect its interests in that situation.


Engaging in dialogue with the Taliban

  • The Taliban will be a major player in the politics of Afghanistan in the coming months and years. They already control more than 50% of the country and are getting stronger and bolder by the day.
  • They are also engaged in direct talks with China, Russia, the Central Asian states and others. The Americans, represented by former diplomat Zalmay Khalilzad, have begun sustained dialogue with the Taliban.
  • The Taliban have refused to talk to the Kabul government so far, but as and when the Americans pull out, as they are justified in doing for reasons of their own national interest, they might agree to engage with the Ashraf Ghani government.
  • In any future scenario, the Taliban are guaranteed to play an important, perhaps even a decisive role in the governing structures of the country.

India’s engagement with Taliban

  • New Delhi has so far refrained from establishing formal contacts with the Taliban out of sensitivity for the Kabul government not wanting to talk directly to the Taliban as long as the Taliban refuse to acknowledge its legitimacy.
  • However, India must look after its own interests. Will a Taliban-dominated government in Kabul necessarily pose a serious security threat to us? While we are in no position to prevent such an eventuality, we would have alienated the Taliban by refusing to talk to them during the present phase.
  • Even Iran, a Shia regime, has established official dialogue with the Taliban, a staunchly Sunni movement. It would not be difficult for our agencies to establish contacts that would facilitate initiating an official dialogue with Taliban; if needed, Iran could help in this even if it might displease the Americans.
  • After all, the Americans have not always been sensitive to India’s concerns, in Afghanistan or elsewhere and Mr. Trump has publicly shown unawareness of India’s substantial development assistance to it.

A regional compact

  • At the same time, the international community ought to think of how to establish a mechanism which might offer a reasonable opportunity to the Afghan people to live in peace, free from external interference.
  • And perhaps the only way in which this could be done is to promote a regional compact among all the neighbouring countries as well as relevant external powers, and with the endorsement of the UN Security Council, to commit themselves not to interfere in Afghanistan’s internal affairs.
  • The most important country in this regard is Pakistan. Pakistan is highly suspicious, perhaps without any basis, of India’s role in Afghanistan. A multilateral pact, with India subscribing to it, ought to allay, to some extent at least, Pakistan’s apprehensions.
  • India will need to talk to China about cooperating in Afghanistan; Chinese President Xi Jinping and Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi already agreed in Wuhan, in April 2018, on working on joint projects there.
  • Pakistan should have no objection to formally agreeing to Afghanistan’s neutrality.

Bilateral Agreement on the Principles of Mutual Relations

  • There is the most relevant precedent of the Bilateral Agreement on the Principles of Mutual Relations, in particular on Non-interference and Non-intervention, signed in Geneva in 1988 between Pakistan and Afghanistan.
  • In that agreement, the parties undertook, inter alia, to respect the right of the other side to determine its political, social and culture system without interference in any form; to refrain from over throwing or changing the political system of the other side; to ensure that its territory was not used to violate the sovereignty, etc of the other side, to prevent within its territory the training, etc of mercenaries from whatever origin for the purpose of hostile activities against the other side.
  • As a document on non-interference, it could hardly be improved upon. Pakistan probably would agree to a document with Afghanistan in whose governance its protégé, the Taliban, will play an important role, which would broadly be similar to the one it had concluded with an Afghan regime which it did not approve of.
  • The Bonn Agreement of 2001, which made Hamid Karzai the interim chief of Afghan government, contains a request to the United Nations and the international community to ‘guarantee’ non-interference in the internal affairs of Afghanistan, a request not acted upon so far.


  • A regional pact on non-interference and non-intervention ought to be welcomed by all the regional states.
  • Russia has reason to worry about a lack of stability in Afghanistan because of its concerns regarding a spread of radicalism as well as the drug menace.
  • China has even stronger concerns, given the situation in its western-most region.
  • The U.S. might have apprehensions about China entrenching itself in strategically important Afghanistan, but there is little it can do about it; a regional agreement on non-interference might give the U.S. at least some comfort.


  • It is early days to conclude whether the situation in Afghanistan has entered its end game.
  • In any case, it would be prudent to assume that the U.S. will definitely leave Afghanistan in the next two years, likely to be followed by other western countries.
  • No other country will offer to put boots on the ground, nor should they; certainly not India. The only alternative is to think of some arrangement along the lines this article have suggested.
Foreign Policy Watch: India-Afghanistan

[op-ed snap] After the inevitable exitop-ed snap


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

From UPSC perspective, the following things are important:

Prelims level: Basic geographical aspects of Afghanistan, The Heart of Asia-Istanbul Process.

Mains level: The newscard discusses US withdrawal from Afghanistan and its impact on India


  • Despite the White House’s spirited denial of reports that it has issued no orders for the pullout of U.S. troops, the course seems set for a thinning of American presence in Afghanistan.
  • S. President Donald Trump had promised this during his campaign, and several advisers have said since then that he is keen to bring back most, if not all, troops before his re-election bid in 2020.


  1. Afghanistan is experiencing political, social and security instability, with extremists taking advantage of the turmoil in the country. The United States and its allies launched a military operation in Afghanistan in 2001, just after the 9/11 terror attacks. The mission in Afghanistan ended in 2014.
  2. On January 1, 2015, NATO announced its new mission in the country, called Resolute Support, to train and assist the Afghan security forces. Despite Washington’s efforts, the Asian state is still being hit by multiple attacks against its civilians and military targets.
  3. “As President, my greatest responsibility is to protect the American people, we are not in Afghanistan to control that country or to dictate its future,” said the President of the United States in 2009, announcing a “regional strategy” for Afghanistan after the worst year of the conflict.
  4. President of United States unveiled his new “regional strategy” for Afghanistan, it was in large part a reiteration of the above speech in terms of strategic objectives. By now 2016 has become the worst year of the conflict.

Shift in policy

  1. Mr. Trump had defined the strategy with following features:
  • that U.S. troops would remain involved in the country until “conditions”, not a timeline, mandated their return;
  • that the U.S. would put Pakistan on notice for its support to the Taliban.
  • a political settlement with the Taliban would only follow “after an effective military effort”; and
  • that the policy would hinge on further developing the strategic partnership with India.
  • It is easy to see that each element of the U.S.’s policy on the ground has shifted, if not been entirely reversed.
  1. The appointment of special envoy Zalmay Khalilzad in September to lead talks with the Taliban after a particularly brutal year shows that the U.S. is no longer waiting for military operations to take effect.
  2. According to the Special Inspector General for Afghanistan Reconstruction (SIGAR) report to the U.S. Congress, casualties of Afghan National and Defence Security Forces (ANDSF) in May-September 2018 were the “greatest it has ever been” compared to corresponding periods since 2001, and
  3. The United Nations Assistance Mission in Afghanistan “documented more civilian deaths in the first nine months of 2018 than they had during the same nine-month reporting period since 2014”.
  4. Khalilzad’s direct talks with the Taliban that cut out the National Unity government (NUG) in Kabul reportedly didn’t even have President Ashraf Ghani in the loop until after the first talks were held in Qatar — this reversed the previous U.S. position not to engage the Taliban until it engages the NUG.
  5. Far from the tough talk on Pakistan for support to the Taliban, Mr. Trump wrote a letter to Pakistan Prime Minister Imran Khan thanking him for his efforts.
  • The departure from the avowed U.S. position on an “Afghan-owned, Afghan-led” process has clearly ruffled feathers in Kabul.
  • In December, Mr. Ghani appointed two aides of former President Hamid Karzai known for their hardline position on the Taliban and Pakistan as his Defence and Interior Ministers.
  • Putting the seal on the clear drift in the U.S. Afghanistan and South Asia policy from the past was the exit of Defence Secretary James Mattis. He had pushed most strenuously to keep India in the Afghan game by swinging a waiver for India on Chabahar and Iran oil purchases.

Present Scenario in Afghanistan

  • The internal situation in Afghanistan is aggravated now by the uncertainty of the democratic process.
  • Parliamentary elections were held in October after being delayed by more than two years, but even their preliminary results haven’t yet been declared, casting doubt on the government’s ability to conduct elections.
  • Presidential elections have been postponed till July, despite the constitutional clause that they were to be completed by April 22, 2019.
  • Meanwhile, Mr. Ghani has been unable to keep his commitment to hold a Loya Jirga (grand council of representatives) to turn Chief Executive Abdullah Abdullah’s post in the NUG into an executive Prime Ministership.

US withdrawal vis-à-vis–India

For India, these developments may appear discouraging, but a more pragmatic view is necessary to deal with all possible outcomes.

  • The U.S.’s eventual pullout as Afghanistan’s peacekeeper is inevitable, and it would make more sense to prepare for it than to deny it will happen.
  • New Delhi was caught off guard in 2010 when Mr. Obama planned the drawdown and discouraged India from a stake in projects there in an effort to placate Pakistan.
  • Trump’s administration has no doubt been much more welcoming of Indian investment in Afghanistan, but that itself is symptomatic of his desire to pare down “Pax Americana” in every part of the world.
  • The removal or reduction of the U.S. presence from most theatres of action has created space for regional players: leaving Syria to Iran and its allies; Yemen to Saudi Arabia; Afghanistan to players like Russia, Pakistan and Iran; and Pakistan to China.

Some other hard truths must be faced:

  • India cannot replace Pakistan’s position geographically, nor can it ever offer the U.S. or any other force what Pakistan has offered in the past, including bases and permission for U.S. forces to bomb its own territory.
  • Pakistan’s problem is that it sees its relations with Afghanistan through the prism of its relations with India. It seeks a veto on Afghanistan’s relations with India which the Afghans will not accept.
  • Changing this dynamic requires getting rid of the military’s stranglehold on Pakistan’s India and Afghan policies.
  • The decision to abandon the SAARC in favour of groupings like BIMSTEC (Bay of Bengal Initiative for Multi-Sectoral Technical and Economic Cooperation), BBIN (Bangladesh, Bhutan, India, Nepal) and IORA (Indian Ocean Rim Association) may have provided some short-term returns in “isolating Pakistan”, but it has had the effect of cutting Afghanistan loose from Indian leadership of South Asia as well.

Way Forward

  1. India’s best course with Afghanistan remains its own regional strategy, not becoming a part of any other country’s strategy.
  2. Close bilateral consultations like this week’s visit to Delhi of National Security Advisor Hamdullah Mohib, are the basis of India’s ability to help Afghanistan according to its needs, not India’s ambitions, and the reason for the immense popularity and goodwill India continues to enjoy in Afghanistan.
  3. Finally, it is necessary to recognise the cyclical nature of interventions in Afghanistan, which has been called the “graveyard of empires” for forcing all world powers to retreat at some point or the other.
Foreign Policy Watch: India-Afghanistan

[op-ed snap] Searching for an elusive peaceop-ed snap


Mains Paper 2: IR | Effect of policies & politics of developed & developing countries on India’s interests

From the UPSC perspective, the following things are important:

Prelims level: Quadrilateral Coordination Group, Kabul process

Mains level: Security situation in Afghanistan and India’s role in redevelopment as well as peace process


Russia’s involvement in Afghanistan

  1. Russia hosted a regional conference on Afghanistan to nudge the reconciliation process between the Taliban and the Afghan authorities
  2. Representatives from Afghanistan, China, Pakistan, Iran, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan, Uzbekistan, Kazakhstan, Turkmenistan, the U.S. and India were also present at the meeting, making it the first time that all stakeholders were present in the same room
  3. The Taliban were represented by their political council chief
  4. With this meeting, Russia has sent a clear signal that it is back in the game in Afghanistan

Taliban reconciliation

  1. The idea of reconciliation with the Taliban has been around for over a decade
  2. As the Taliban insurgency grew 2005 onwards, the British, deployed in Helmand, soon found merit in doing side deals with local Taliban commanders by turning a blind eye to opium production in the area
  3. With the help of the Germans and the Norwegians, they began to persuade the U.S. to work for a political outcome
  4. After being elected in 2008, President Barack Obama ordered a full-scale review of the U.S.’s Afghanistan policy
  5. Operation Enduring Freedom formally ended in December 2014, handing over primary responsibility for combat operations to the Afghan security forces even as the insurgency gained ground
  6. The U.S. had realised that it had run out of options
  7. Coming to power in 2014 after a bitterly contested election, Afghan President Ashraf Ghani moved to improve relations with Pakistan, even calling on then Army Chief, Gen. Raheel Sharif, at the GHQ, to push for reconciliation
  8. In December 2015, Russia publicly acknowledged that it had “communication channels with the Taliban for the exchange of information” and “a shared interest with the Taliban to counter the threat posed by the IS”
  9. A new initiative (Quadrilateral Coordination Group) involving the U.S., China, Pakistan and Afghanistan was launched in January 2016
  10. After a couple of meetings, there was a roadmap; Pakistan was to use its influence to get the Taliban to the negotiating table
  11. Mr. Ghani launched the Kabul Process for Peace and Security Cooperation, and in February, made an unconditional dialogue offer to the Taliban

Taliban continues to expand

  1. Today, the Afghan government controls barely half the country, with one-sixth under Taliban control and the rest contested
  2. Most significant is the ongoing depletion in the Afghan security forces because of casualties, desertions and a growing reluctance to join. U.S. President Donald Trump’s South Asia policy announced last August
  3. The policy aimed at breaking the military stalemate by expanding the U.S. and NATO presence, putting Pakistan on notice and strengthening Afghan capabilities has clearly failed

Way forward for India

  1. Since July 2011, India has supported an ‘Afghan-led and Afghan-owned’ peace process
  2. During Russian President Vladimir Putin’s India visit, both countries expressed their commitment to the Moscow Format
  3. India doesn’t have the leverage to play spoiler but its presence is recognition that its economic cooperation programmes make it the most widely accepted development partner
  4. Pragmatism dictates that India remain engaged with the multiple processes underway
  5. Peace remains elusive but India’s engagement demonstrates the commitment to the idea of a stable, independent and peaceful Afghanistan
Foreign Policy Watch: India-Afghanistan

[op-ed snap] Bear stridesop-ed snap


Mains Paper 2: IR | Effect of policies & politics of developed & developing countries on India’s interests

From UPSC perspective, the following things are important:

Prelims level: Not much

Mains level: Afghnistan problem and India’s role in redevelopment as well as stability efforts


Afghanistan dynamics changing fast

  1. Set to overtake Syria as the deadliest conflict this year, Afghanistan is pivotal to the evolving re-alignments in India’s immediate neighbourhood
  2. The escalating violence and the increasing divergence of the US and Pakistan’s approaches to the Afghan endgame serve as immediate catalysts
  3. A meeting of the spy chiefs of Russia, China, Pakistan and Iran in Islamabad earlier this year reflected the shifting strategic compass in Afghanistan
  4. Afghanistan is fast emerging as the theatre for strategic balancing as various powers jockey for influence and equilibrium

China’s increasing role in Afghanistan

  1. The US’s 2014 drawdown left a power vacuum in the volatile region, increasingly filled by China with the bait of its Belt and Road Initiative (BRI)
  2. Aimed at expanding its strategic footprint alongside its economic clout, the initiative posed direct challenges to US interests
  3. The US’s plummeting relationship with Pakistan exacerbated the situation
  4. The $60 billion China-Pakistan Economic Corridor sealed the Chinese foothold

Power games

  1. As a means to counter the expanding Chinese influence, the US sought to leverage its growing proximity with India
  2. This drew Russia, the other major player in the region, into the fray
  3. Fearing the spillover of Afghan instability to Central Asia, along with the closeness of its erstwhile strategic partner India to the US, Russia injected a new dynamic to the shifting calculus

Russia’s interest in Afghanistan

  1. As a power seeking to reclaim its lost grandeur, the changing regional equations offered Russia a unique opportunity to gain symbolic ground while securing its diplomatic, security and economic interests
  2. As a player in the Afghan conundrum, Russia could position itself as a stabilising force
  3. It has elevated its diplomatic stature by pursuing peace-building efforts through multilateral conferences and reviving the Shanghai Cooperation Organisation Contact Group on Afghanistan
  4. It also tried to bring the Taliban to the negotiating table
  5. Russia opted to back the Taliban to undercut the ISIS. This also fits with Russia’s larger geopolitical aim of pushing the US back
  6. It has sought to re-brand itself as a “noble investor”, pouring millions into Afghanistan’s infrastructure, transport and mining sectors

Way Forward for India

  1. Both China and Russia are averse to air-tight alliances, yet the convergence of strategic interests could shape a new regional architecture
  2. New Delhi will need to perfect its tightrope-walking skills
Foreign Policy Watch: India-Afghanistan

[op-ed snap] Seeking a managed exitop-ed snap


Mains Paper 2: IR | Effect of policies & politics of developed & developing countries on India’s interests, Indian diaspora

From UPSC perspective, the following things are important:

Prelims level: NATO

Mains level: US’s Afghan policy and its implications on India


Afghanistan President’s short India Visit

  1. Afghanistan President Ashraf Ghani was in New Delhi on September 19 for a day-long working visit
  2. The visit was of a low-key nature
  3. Pro forma references to the Strategic Partnership and the New Development Partnership were made but there were no new announcements
  4. India reiterated its support for ‘an Afghan-led, Afghan-owned and Afghan-controlled peace and reconciliation process’ with the Taliban though it is clear that the strings are being manipulated from other capitals

No impact of changed US policy

  1. A year after U.S. President Donald Trump unveiled his new Afghanistan policy, the stalemate continues
  2. The objectives of the U.S. policy announced last year were to break the military stalemate on the ground by expanding both the presence and the role of the U.S. and NATO forces in Afghanistan
  3. Incidents of violence and civilian casualties keep going up
  4. The Taliban leadership and the Haqqani network retain their sanctuaries in Pakistan and enjoy the support of the Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI)

What were the changes in US policy?

  1. Operational constraints in terms of calling for surveillance and air support were eased
  2. The Obama approach of announcing timelines for withdrawing U.S. troops from Afghanistan was replaced by a conditions-based approach
  3. Pakistan was put on notice and US President Trump was critical about Pakistan’s duplicity in being “a non-NATO ally” and providing safe haven to insurgent groups
  4. Earlier this month, the U.S. announced that it was cancelling $300 million in military aid to Pakistan

Why US’s Pakistan policy has failed repeatedly?

  1. The Pakistani military and the ISI do not support the idea of a territorially united, peaceful and stable Afghanistan
  2. Pakistan’s security establishment does not find such a shift in its interest
  3. The ISI is unlikely to support the idea of a complete Taliban takeover in Afghanistan
  4. This is because, after the jihad in the 1980s, when the Mujahideen leaders finally took control in Afghanistan in 1992 after the Najibullah government fell, they stopped listening to the ISI even as they started fighting among themselves
  5. This led to the emergence of the Taliban, assisted and nurtured by Pakistan
  6. The ISI prefers a controlled instability in Afghanistan where the Taliban enjoys some power but wants more as this keeps the group dependent on the ISI

US’s dependence on Pakistan

  1. The U.S. is unable to get out of this bind as long as it maintains a significant military presence in Afghanistan and therefore remains dependent on communication and supply routes through Pakistan
  2. It is unable to take stronger measures such as directly targeting the insurgent safe havens in Pakistan, terminating its status as “a non-NATO ally”, sanctioning specific military officers or considering placing Pakistan on the list of ‘state sponsors of terrorism’
  3. The U.S.’s dependence provides the security establishment in Pakistan a degree of influence in the corridors of power in Washington

Talks with Taliban

  1. The U.S. opened direct talks with the Taliban two months ago
  2. In the past, the U.S. had refrained from doing so, maintaining that this would undermine the legitimacy of the Kabul government
  3. The US has also expressed concern about the growing presence of the IS
  4. The IS argument was used by Russia to open up direct talks with the Taliban more than a year ago
  5. Iran has its own channels to the Taliban
  6. Concerned about Uighur militants, China is planning to train and equip an Afghan brigade to be deployed in Badakshan even as it seeks Taliban help in securing its China-Pakistan Economic Corridor projects
  7. This has given the Taliban a new legitimacy — exactly as Pakistan had wanted

Way Forward

  1. Realising that the end game is approaching, the Taliban too has changed tack
  2. In the areas under its control, instead of destroying the schools, clinics and courts, it is running them by co-opting or replacing local officials who remain on the government’s payroll
  3. It realises that it needs to emerge from being a shadowy underground insurgency and demonstrate governance skills
  4. The U.S. also appears to be seeking a managed exit, leaving after a successfully conducted election so that the blood (2,400 U.S. lives) and treasure (nearly $1 trillion) can be justified as having delivered an honourable outcome
Foreign Policy Watch: India-Afghanistan

CPEC being extended to Afghanistan: report


Mains Paper 2: IR | India & its neighborhood- relations

From UPSC perspective, the following things are important:

Prelims level: CPEC, Asian Competitiveness Annual Report, Boao Forum for Asia

Mains level: Chinese advancement in the neighborhood of India and associated concerns

CPEC extension

  1. The China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC) is being extended to Afghanistan
  2. This was revealed in the Asian Competitiveness Annual Report
  3. The report was released on the sidelines of China’s Boao Forum for Asia (BFA) annual conference

Inclusion of Afghanistan in CPEC & India’s concerns

  1. China in December had unveiled its plans to extend the CPEC
  2. India has protested to China over CPEC, which is being built through Pakistan-occupied Kashmir (PoK)


Boao Forum for Asia (BFA)

  1. The BFA was formed by China in 2001 on the lines of the World Economic Forum in Davos
  2. The Boao Forum for Asia is a non-profit organization that hosts high-level forums for leaders from government, business, and academia in Asia and other continents to share their vision on the most pressing issues in this dynamic region and the world at large
  3. It holds its meeting every year
  4. Boao Forum has its fixed address in Bo’ao, Hainan province, China, although the Secretariat is based in Beijing
  5. Pakistan is one of the 26 countries of this Forum
Foreign Policy Watch: India-Afghanistan

India backs Kabul’s peace offer


Mains Paper 2: IR | India & its neighborhood- relations

From UPSC perspective, the following things are important:

Prelims level: Kabul Conference, Quadrilateral Coordination Group (QCG)

Mains level: Peace process in Afghanistan and India’s role in it

Direct talks with Taliban

  1. India welcomed Afghanistan President Ashraf Ghani’s outreach to the Taliban at the Second Kabul Conference
  2. He reiterated the Afghan government’s call to armed groups to cease violence and join national peace and reconciliation process
  3. Representatives from over 20 countries and international organizations attended the meeting

India’s stand

  1. India backs the peace talks but wants action against any members of the Taliban and their sponsors who don’t join the process
  2. The government’s position is consistent with India’s support to an “Afghan-led, Afghan-owned and Afghan-controlled reconciliation process
  3. India has always held reservations about the success of talks with the Taliban, especially the Quadrilateral Coordination Group (QCG) that had included the U.S., China, and Pakistan as well


Kabul Conference (The Kabul Process for Peace & Security Cooperation)

  1. It is an Afghan-led and Afghan-owned inclusive peace process
  2. Kabul Process meeting is a gathering of 23 nations, the EU, UN and NATO, which is intended to discuss security and political issues in the country
  3. The Purpose of the Kabul conference is to place the Afghan Government as the key driving force for achieving peace, with the earnest support of regional and international partners
  4. The Government of Afghanistan had convened the first meeting of the Kabul Process for Peace and Security Cooperation on 6 June 2017 in Kabul
  5. It had invited states of the region, who took the center stage at this gathering, along with key members of the international community
Foreign Policy Watch: India-Afghanistan

China to fund base in Afghanistan

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Mains Paper 2: IR | India & its neighborhood- relations

From UPSC perspective, the following things are important:

Prelims level: Uyghur militants

Mains level: China’s increasing presence in India’s neighborhood

Afghan counterterrorism base in Badakshan

  1. China will fund construction of an Afghan counterterrorism base in Badakshan province to block cross-border infiltration of the ethnic Uyghur militants
  2. The precise location of base, in northern Afghanistan, is yet to the determined
  3. The Chinese side would cover all material and technical expenses for this base — weaponry, uniforms for soldiers, military equipment and everything else necessary for its functioning

China will increase presence in Afghanistan

  1. The largest group of Uyghur militants already resides in Badakhshan, from where they can rapidly shift to China
  2. Chinese official stated that counter-terrorism focus would not only be confined to Badakshan but should be extended to Afghanistan’s entire northern region
  3. China was willing to strengthen pragmatic cooperation in areas of military exchange and anti-terrorism

Worry for India?

  1. China has already been increasing presence in Indian Ocean region
  2. With CPEC and now military base in Afghanistan, it will also circumvent India on northern side land border
Foreign Policy Watch: India-Afghanistan

CPEC’s extension not targeted at India, says China


Mains Paper 2: IR | Bilateral, regional & global groupings & agreements involving India &/or affecting India’s interests

From UPSC perspective, the following things are important:

Prelims level: CPEC

Mains level: China’s rising influence and interference in India’s neighborhood

India should not exercise influence

  1. Without naming India, China on Wednesday said that no country should exercise its influence to undermine the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC)
  2. CPEC could include Afghanistan as its new member

India’s opposition

  1. India opposes CPEC as it infringes on its sovereignty on account of its passage through Pakistan occupied Kashmir (PoK)

CPEC is for mutual benefit, says China

  1. CPEC is not directed at any third party, and we hope to bring benefits to third parties and the whole region
  2. Afghanistan is willing to integrate into the regional connectivity approach and they are willing to integrate into the CPEC

Read background of the issue here

Foreign Policy Watch: India-Afghanistan

China opens door for Afghanistan’s participation in CPEC

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Mains Paper 2: IR | Bilateral, regional & global groupings & agreements involving India &/or affecting India’s interests

From UPSC perspective, the following things are important:

Prelims level: CPEC, BRI, Gwadar and Chahbahar port

Mains level: China’s efforts to counter India’s neighborhood first policy

Possible inclusion of Afghanistan in the China Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC)

  1. Chinese Foreign Minister made the remark of opening the door for Kabul’s entry in an expanded CPEC in the backdrop of the first foreign minister’s trilateral dialogue of China, Pakistan, and Afghanistan
  2. This move is likely to irk India

CPEC: India-China at loggerheads

  1. India has opposed CPEC, which passes through Pakistan occupied Kashmir (PoK), on grounds that it infringes its sovereignty
  2. China has called CPEC a “flagship project” of its Belt and Road Initiative (BRI), aimed at building connectivity along the Eurasian corridor

Why the inclusion of Afghanistan?

  1. The proposal for landlocked Afghanistan’s access to the port of Gwadar — the starting point of CPEC — may be intended to balance if not undermine the trilateral agreement among India, Iran, and Afghanistan, which gives Kabul access to the Iranian port of Chabahar
  2. China’s de facto mediation between Pakistan and Afghanistan is being domestically seen as a test case for similar efforts in other global hotspots
Foreign Policy Watch: India-Afghanistan

Ready to give more security help to Kabul, says India


Mains Paper 2: International Relations.

The following things are important from UPSC perspective:

Prelims: Not much.

Mains level: India- Afghanistan relations are important from mains perspective after release of USA new South Asia policy, this article talks about the outcome of latest meeting between the leaders of the countries. The new developments between the countries can be cited in the GS mains answers.




The outcome of the meeting between the Afghan President and the Indian Prime Minister

  1. The government agreed to provide security-related assistance based on needs of Afghanistan’s defence and police forces.
  2. The Indian leadership expressed its support for the negotiated political reconciliation with the Taliban, by saying that it should be Afghan-led, Afghan-owned and Afghan-controlled and insisted on the renunciation of violence and terror.
  3. It, however, did not insist on respect for Afghanistan’s constitution.
  4. Both sides agreed that the recent convergence and alignment of views at regional and international arenas have created opportunities for bringing peace, security and stability in Afghanistan.
  5. It was agreed to further deepen the bilateral strategic dialogue and consultations at all levels in order to achieve the shared objectives.
  6. The New Development Partnership, launched at the meeting of the Strategic Partnership Council was assessed as a significant step in building upon the highly successful development cooperation of the past 16 years.
  7. The new-generation India-assisted projects, including in the fields of health, agriculture, drinking water supply, education, renewable energy, infrastructure development, skill development and capacity building, among others, will further contribute to Afghanistan’s reconstruction, economic development and effective governance.
  8. On connectivity, the establishment of the air freight corridor was acknowledged as an important factor in providing Afghan farmers a direct and easy access to the Indian market.


Foreign Policy Watch: India-Afghanistan

NSA Ajit Doval visits Kabul, both sides welcome new US strategy



Mains Paper 2: India and its neighborhood- relations

The following things are important from UPSC perspective:

Prelims: Not much

Mains level:  Points from this news item can be used as a value addition in any question involving India Afghanistan relations.




  1. National Security Adviser Ajit Doval visited Afghanistan, days after US President said that he has started to develop a much better relationship with Pakistan .
  2. Doval’s schedule was kept under wraps to avert any incident.
  3. According to the sources, US Defense Secretary James Mattis was the target of a failed rocket attack near a key Afghanistan airport in September, although the attack occurred after he had left the airport.

The Joint Statement

  1. Afghanistan and India in a joint statement said both sides welcomed the opportunities created by the new US strategy for bringing peace and security in Afghanistan.
  2. It has also prompted closer security and development cooperation between India and Afghanistan.
  3. The statement said that both sides emphasised that bilateral and sincere regional cooperation is important for peace, security and stability in the region.
  4. India is committed to not only continuing but also broadening its development efforts in Afghanistan.

While announcing the new policy for Afghanistan, USA had praised India for its development efforts in the war-torn country and acknowledged that Pakistan does not like Indian investment in Afghanistan.

Foreign Policy Watch: India-Afghanistan

India signs MoU to train Afghan police


Mains Paper 2: IR | Bilateral, regional and global groupings and agreements involving India and/or affecting India’s interests

From UPSC perspective, the following things are important:

Prelims level: Not Much

Mains level: Indo-Afghanistan relationship is very crucial, due to Pakistan concerns over India’s presence in Afghanistan.


Memorandum of Understanding

  1. India and Afghanistan has exchanged a memorandum of understanding
  2. The MoU will see Afghan police forces trained in India for the first time
  3. The MoU on Technical Cooperation on Police Training and Development will see India expand its capacity building of Afghan troops to include policemen and security forces
  4. Afghan troops are facing the brunt of Taliban attacks in the country, under a UN Development Programme project

India’s support for Afghanistan

  1. India has reiterated India’s commitment to extend full support to Afghanistan’s efforts for building a peaceful, united, prosperous, inclusive and democratic Afghanistan
Foreign Policy Watch: India-Afghanistan

[op-ed snap] Raja Mandala: New foray into the great gameop-ed snap

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

From UPSC perspective, the following things are important:

Prelims level: Not much

Mains level: Factors that restrain India from intensive engagement on the security front in Afghanistan



  • The question of a larger Indian role in securing Afghanistan is expected to figure in the talks between the US Defense Secretary James Mattis and the Indian leadership.


  1. The developments in Afghanistan in the 1970s and 1980s saw the United States deepen its partnership with Pakistan to the dismay of India.
  2. Since the early 2000s, when the US warmed up to India, Afghanistan remained an area of disagreement.

Recent developments

  1. In a major speech on the new administration’s policy towards South Asia, Donald Trump demanded that Pakistan end its destabilisation of Afghanistan by providing safe havens to the Taliban and other terror networks.
  2. Trump’s emphasis in the speech was indeed on India stepping up its economic and development assistance to Afghanistan.
  3. India and the US are fully aware that without stronger external military support to Kabul, the talk of development could become increasingly futile
  4. The 2011 Strategic Partnership Agreement between Delhi and Kabul explicitly called for security cooperation, including the transfer of military equipment.

Factors that restrain India from intensive engagement on the security front in Afghanistan

  1. Delhi did not want deeper security cooperation with Afghanistan that could cast a shadow over its ties with Pakistan.
  2. A second constraint has been geography. The lack of physical access has imposed substantial limitations on Delhi’s military role in Afghanistan
  3. US resistance to a larger Indian security footprint in Afghanistan
    • The US was convinced that any Indian military role in Afghanistan would grate Pakistan’s political sensitivities.
    • But Trump has now actively encouraging India to take greater responsibilities in Afghanistan.
  4. Trump’s Indo-Pak inversion may or may not be sustainable over the long-term.
    • Many in Washington would want to go back to the default option of avoiding confrontation with Pakistan in Afghanistan.
Foreign Policy Watch: India-Afghanistan

[op-ed] Solving the Afghanistan riddleop-ed snap

Image Source


Mains Paper2: International Relations

The following things are important from UPSC perspective:

Prelims: Not much

Mains level: The article talks about US recent Afghan policy, important aspects of Indo-Afghan relations nad whether India-Pakistan relations are responsible for present situation in Afghanistan or not.



  1. Recent announcement of US Afghan Policy. The policy envisages  more pressure on Pakistan, no early U.S. withdrawal from Afghanistan, robust military action on counterterrorism and a greater role for India. 
  2. The US has never been so critical of Pakistan publically.
  3. The issue today is how the U.S. strategy differs from the past in terms of addressing concerns regarding Pakistan’s role in Afghanistan, particularly in view of a shift in Pakistan’s strategic priority towards China.
  4. Present Situation in Afghanistan continues to be fragile, though Taliban has made some gains but at the same it is not a cohesive movement and has several divisions in it.
  5. Also, since 1747, Afghanistan’s territorial borders have remain unchanged unlike those of Pakistan and Central Asian Republics.

India-Afghanistan ties

  1. On January 4, 1950, India signed a Treaty of Friendship with Afghanistan which also permitted opening of consulates in each other’s country. 
  2. Afghanistan signed its first strategic partnership agreement with India in 2011.
  3. India’s assistance to Afghanistan amounts to $2 billion and it covers  broad spectrum of areas like  political, security, trade and economic cooperation and capacity development.
  4. India has always wanted a democratic, stable and strong Afghanistan able to decide its own future and it supports its quest for reconciliation.
  5. Various surveys show that the Afghan people ranked Indian assistance as the most suitable because of the positive role India played in the development programme of Afghanistan and they appreciate that India has never interfered in their internal affairs.
  6. India can assist Afghanistan in training and supplying them much-needed spare parts.

Making situation better in Afghanistan

  1. Asia is a region of energy and it needs to be exploited for the benefit of Afghanistan and surrounding areas.TAPI( Turkmenistan Afghanistan Pakistan India) pipeline is an example.
  2. SAARC and SCO should encourage regional economic cooperation and completion of Cahbahar will help Afghanistan in trade with other countries.

It is essential to take action against terrorism and insurgency and treating Taliban’s Quetta Shura and the Haqqani network as one.

  1. Efforts relating to counter narcotics needs to be redoubled because Afghanistan remains the world’s largest producer of opium accounting for 90% of the world’s supply.
  2. Regional powers must work closely without interfering internally for a stable Afghanistan. India needs to coordinate with Russia and Iran.

India-Pakistan relations and its impact on Afghanistan

  1. Unfair attempts have been made to link the Afghan issue with India-Pakistan relations. There is no connection.
  2. Pakistan-Afghanistan relations since 1947 have always been thorny and replete with problems except during the brief Taliban era. 
  3. India and Afghanistan have never exploited their friendly bilateral relations to harm Pakistan. This is clear from-
  • In both the 1965 and 1971 wars, Afghanistan was non-committal and did not support India.
  • On the Kashmir issue, Afghanistan has not publicly supported India.
  • India has not entered the debate on the Durand Line.
  1. Neither India nor India-Pakistan relations were responsible for the situation which prevailed in Afghanistan following the departure of the Soviet troops.
  2. The U.S. operation to kill Osama bin Laden and the recourse to drone attacks in Afghanistan were due to the situation prevailing there, which had nothing to do with India or India-Pakistan relations.
  3. When in 2010 Pakistan shifted over 100,000 of its security forces from its eastern border to its western border with Afghanistan, India did not exploit the situation.
Foreign Policy Watch: India-Afghanistan

India steps up development partnership with Afghanistan

Image result for India - Afghanistan relations

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

From UPSC perspective, the following things are important:

Prelims level: Not much

Mains level: India – Afghanistan relations



  •  US President Donald Trump urged India to do more in Afghanistan on “economic assistance and development”

India – Afghanistan development partnership

  1. India on Monday stepped up its development partnership and committed to 116 new projects in Afghanistan
  2. The projects will be in the areas of education, health, agriculture, irrigation, drinking water, renewable energy, flood control, micro-hydropower, sports infrastructure and administrative infrastructure.
  3. New Delhi also agreed to strengthen security cooperation and pointed out that the countries must stay united in dealing with the challenge posed by “cross-border terrorism” – an oblique reference to Pakistan.
  4. India agreed to extend further assistance for the Afghan National Defence and Security Forces in fighting the scourge of terrorism, organized crime, trafficking of narcotics and money laundering
  5. The two sides also signed four pacts, including one on vehicular movement to boost overland transit and another on a fresh batch of development projects by India in Afghanistan.
  6. Afghanistan strongly supports India’s membership of the UN Security Council and other groupings and hoped that it would back Kabul’s entry into the Shanghai Cooperation Organisation (SCO).
Foreign Policy Watch: India-Afghanistan

[op-ed snap] Afghanistan and a new hyphenationop-ed snap

Image result for US-India Afghanistan

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

Once you are done reading this op-ed, you will be able to attempt the below.

“The new US-India partnership over Afghanistan, along with the cooperation in the Indo-Pacific region, would serve New Delhi’s economic and strategic interests well” Discuss

From UPSC perspective, the following things are important:

Prelims level:  Durand Line

 Mains level: US-India partnership over Afghanistan



  • US President Donald Trump’s speech outline his administration’s approach to the complex situation in Afghanistan

It made three key arguments:

  1. Threats emanating from Afghanistan and the “broader region” pose a clear and present danger to the US
  2. A rapid US disengagement would create a vacuum for terrorists to fill, which is “predictable and unacceptable”
  3. US needs an “honourable and enduring outcome worthy of the tremendous sacrifices” that it incurred in men and material over 17 years.

Trump identified three pillars to deal with this reality:

  1. Diplomatic, economic, and military instruments of US power to leverage a “successful outcome”;
  2. To jettison the Obama administration’s approach where the timetable for entry and exit of US forces was announced in advance, and instead use the element of surprise by deploying forces at a time, place and duration of Washington’s choosing, and measure effectiveness on conditions on the ground
  3. To change the approach on how to deal with Pakistan” while building on the “strategic partnership” with India.

Why Pakistan is important?

  1. US cannot achieve its objectives in Afghanistan without the support of the Pakistan military.
  2. Porous Durand Line and the logistics-heavy requirements of the US military, which makes supplies through Pakistan (in the absence of an alternative route) indispensable.

 China’s role

  1. Even if the US was able to neutralize Pakistan, China is a key player in Afghanistan and has the potential to be a spoiler of US and Indian interests.
  2. For “successful outcome” in Afghanistan, US has to appreciates the Chinese threat to its objectives and device a policy to manage Beijing’s assertiveness in both the South China Seas and South-Central Asia

Way forward

  1. New hyphenated US-India strategic partnership can play a crucial role.
  2. India, in close coordination with the US and its allies, could spearhead the development agenda in Afghanistan. 
  3. New Delhi needs to play a bridging development role with Western donor countries, which it is reluctant to do.
  4. It would secure India’s development assistance and investment, and also ensure the sustainable development of Afghanistan.
  5. Given the Trump administration’s abhorrence of Iran, even when it might serve Washington’s agenda in Afghanistan, India could become a conduit; especially in partnership with other US allies—notably Japan and South Korea—who are also keen on business with Tehran.
  6. Here, an India-Japan-South Korea consortium (with the US as an absent partner) could revive the Chabahar route to Afghanistan and, manage the crucial supply chain to support US operations in the region.
  7. It will make the China-Pakistan economic corridor redundant, thus giving Washington an upper hand in dealing with both China and Pakistan.
Foreign Policy Watch: India-Afghanistan

[op-ed snap] The Trump discontinuityop-ed snap

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

Once you are done reading this op-ed, you will be able to attempt the below.

“Trump’s new Afghan strategy could be a game-changer for South Asia. There is an opportunity for India.”Critically analyse ?

From UPSC perspective, the following things are important:

Prelims level: Not much

Mains level: India- Afghanistan relation-opportunities and challenges



  1. India has been quick to welcome President Donald Trump’s new assertive policy in Afghanistan
  2. But the question is whether Washington has the political will to carry through the promised pressure on Pakistan to stop hosting terror sanctuaries on its soil.

US policy- Realisations and cautions

  1. It is important for Delhi to note the shift in Washington’s thinking on the Indian role in Afghanistan.
  2. Bush Administration’s strategic warmth towards India was expansive.
  3. It wanted to help accelerate India’s rise and invested enormous political capital in getting the world to lift a four decades-old nuclear blockade against Delhi.
  4. It cautioned Delhi against too large a role in Afghanistan.
  5. According to Obama Administration, answer to Afghanistan might lie in promoting a resolution of Pakistan’s Kashmir dispute with India.
  6. It required intensive diplomacy from India to fend off these initiatives.
  7. Washington believed that India’s rivalry with Pakistan is part of the problem in Afghanistan.
  8. Trump might be betting that by invoking a larger Indian role in Afghanistan, he might add to the pressures on Pakistan to cooperate with the US.

Pakistan’s reaction and future possible actions

  1. Despite all the talk of playing the China card against the US, Pakistan is acutely conscious of the dangers of being treated as a rogue state by the West
  2. Rawalpindi has chosen to avoid, for now, a public argument with Washington.
  3. It will not be easy, however, for Pakistan to abandon its investments in cross-border terror.
  4. It would try and finesse the issue of terror sanctuaries. Rawalpindi will offer some cooperation in countering terror and make new promises to bring the Taliban to the table.
  5. It will urge US pressure on India to start talks on Kashmir.

India’s strategy towards Afghanistan-Way forward

  1. Delhi’s current emphasis must be on taking advantage of the Trump discontinuity in the American policy towards the Subcontinent.
  2. A positive Indian approach would involve three elements — economic, security and diplomatic.
  3. India must ramp up its economic diplomacy in Afghanistan to bring immediate benefits to Kabul amidst the deteriorating conditions in the country.
  4. Delhi must step up security cooperation with Afghanistan, especially in the training of its police and armed forces and intelligence sharing.
  5. On the diplomatic front, India must counter the emerging argument that Trump’s new approach will intensify the “Indo-Pak rivalry” in Afghanistan and the old one that Kashmir holds the key to peace in Afghanistan.
  6. Delhi must remind the world of India’s commitment to regional cooperation with Afghanistan and Pakistan, in an atmosphere free of terrorism
Foreign Policy Watch: India-Afghanistan

[op-ed snap] Indo-Afghan trade: Castles in the air?op-ed snap

Image result for India-Afghanistan air corridor
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Mains Paper 2: IR | India and its neighborhood- relations.

Once you are done reading this op-ed, you will be able to attempt the below.

Explain the significance of India-Afghanistan air corridor and how India can deepen its trade links with Afghanistan?

From UPSC perspective, the following things are important:

Prelims level: Zaranj Delaram highway, Doshi-Charikar power project, Chabahar port (Mapping)

Mains level: India-Afghanistan relations



  • Two months after the India-Afghanistan air corridorwas inaugurated it has been hit by a shortage of cargo planes

Significance of India-Afghanistan air corridor

  1. It is game changer to get around Pakistan’s obstructionist behaviour in delaying truck shipments from Afghanistan to the Wagah border.
  2. Ghani himself developed the plan showed Kabul’s commitment to securing its trade links with India

India-Afghanistan cooperation

  1. India offered $2 billion as development aid to Afghanistan.
  2. There are few new infrastructure projects that the government has taken up in the past few years. Such as Zaranj Delaram highway (which connects to Iran), the Herat dam, the Doshi-Charikar power project, and the construction of Afghanistan’s parliament complex
  3. India’s plans for the Chabahar port in Iran and the trilateral agreement to develop transit trade.

 Project delays

  1. The trilateral agreement has yet to be ratified in Iran
  2. Tenders by India Ports Global Limited to develop berths as well as the railway line connecting Chabahar to the Afghan border at Zahedan continue to be delayed.
  3. There has not been sufficient follow-through on the Turkmenistan-Afghanistan-Pakistan-India gas pipeline after its inauguration in 2015.

Way forward

  1. India’s dealings with both Afghanistan and Iran should not be just about circumventing Pakistan.
  2. They should open up important new connectivity and commerce avenues, as well as develop markets in Central Asia, and through them to Russia and Europe.
  3. Regional connectivity needs more administrative will than just ribbon-cutting ceremonies
Foreign Policy Watch: India-Afghanistan

Modi, Ghani to discuss terror, defence

  1. Event: Heart of Asia conference on Sunday
  2. India and Afghanistan, the co-chairs of this year’s conference, will seek to corner Pakistan on their common problem of cross-border terrorism
  3. A major focus for the conference will be developing trade routes to Afghanistan
  4. There is major competition brewing between India’s plans for the Chabahar port in Iran and China and Pakistan’s development of the Gwadar Port
  5. India is part of a trilateral trade agreement between India, Iran and Afghanistan which involves the Chabahar port
  6. In time the port will connect to the International North South Transport corridor (INSTC) of railway and roadways to Russia, Central Asia and Europe
  7. India is seeking to attract other countries to the project
  8. However, work on the Chabahar port has yet to take off, and the trilateral agreement has not been ratified yet
  9. On the other hand CPEC has made considerable progress


The Chabahar port project demonstrates a fatal weakness of India’s foreign policy – execution. While we are part of a no. of organisations in our neighborhood from SAARC to BIMSTEC, none of them have achieved their goals due to a lack of execution of projects by India.

All terms mentioned in this article have been in the news for many years. If you have been studying well and revising your notes, there should be nothing new here. Scroll down in the India-Afganisthan story to revise this topic.

Foreign Policy Watch: India-Afghanistan

[op-ed snap] The message from Amritsarop-ed snap

  1. Aim: to speed up reconstruction in war-torn Afghanistan and bringing peace and normalcy to the nation
  2. Participants (14 states): Afghanistan, Azerbaijan, China, India, Iran, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyz Republic, Pakistan, Russia, Saudi Arabia, Tajikistan, Turkey, Turkmenistan and the United Arab Emirates
  3. HoA process, originated under the aegis of the Istanbul Conference in November 2011
  4. Istanbul Conference: underscored need for regional cooperation and confidence-building to resolve problems facing Afghanistan
  5. Anchor the state’s development in a regional environment that is stable, economically integrated and conducive to shared prosperity
  6. New Delhi: underscored the need for improving connectivity in the region to help Afghanistan harness its trade and transit potential
  7. Timing of the conference: when India is looking to isolate Pakistan regionally and globally
  8. Both Indian PM and Afghan President Ashraf Ghani will try to put up a united front vis-a-vis Pakistan
  9. Afghanistan’s state of affairs: Ghani’s government is struggling to hold key districts
  10. It has failed to hold overdue parliamentary elections amid a worsening security situation
  11. S. is withdrawing its troops
  12. India vs China on Afghanistan pitch: Modi to inaugurate the new parliament building last year
  13. New Delhi to gift Mi-24 attack helicopters to Afghan forces
  14. India also signed the TAPI pipeline agreement to showcase its continuing commitment to Afghanistan’s economic viability
  15. China is enhancing its role in training of Afghan military and civilian personnel
  16. With increasing extremism and separatism in Xinjiang, China sees security in Afghanistan as key to its stability


  1. TAPI pipeline: Turkmenistan–Afghanistan–Pakistan–India Pipeline (TAPI), also known as Trans-Afghanistan Pipeline, is a natural gas pipeline being developed by the Asian Development Bank.
  2. The pipeline will transport Caspian Sea natural gas from Turkmenistan through Afghanistan into Pakistan and then to India. Proponents see it as a modern continuation of the Silk route


Since India holds this year’s Heart of Asia conference, it becomes an important topic for this year’s Prelims

Foreign Policy Watch: India-Afghanistan

India scaling up military assistance to Afghanistan

  1. What: India is quietly moving to qualitatively scale up military assistance in terms of long-term spares and support
  2. This involves a trilateral framework with Russia, Afghanistan and India
  3. It is likely to be discussed by Afghanistan President Ghani and PM Modi on the sidelines of the 6th Heart of Asia conference in Amritsar this week
  4. India will mainly supply spare parts for helicopters and transport aircraft. These parts will be purchased from Russia
  5. This effectively formalises the trilateral mechanism which was mooted in 2014 in the backdrop of withdrawal of troops by NATO
  6. It did not make progress at that time due to reluctance of the then UPA government
  7. India in a major policy shift, agreed to transfer four Mi-25 attack helicopters from its inventory last year

Importance for mains: It demonstrates a more active role in Afg by India. Previously, India hesitated to help Afg due to objections from Pak.

Foreign Policy Watch: India-Afghanistan

India-Afghanistan Motor Vehicles Agreement & the issues

  1. Obstacle: Pakistan’s non-cooperation is the reason behind failure to conclude the motor vehicles agreement
  2. No infrastructure project that connects Afghanistan with India is being allowed to pass through Pakistan
  3. Mr. Ghani has threatened to stop land-based trade between Pakistan and Central Asia if Islamabad continues to prevent Afghanistan from accessing the Indian market
  4. Significance: Pakistan’s cooperation is vital because it is the shortest overland route between India and Afghanistan
  5. The people on the ground, and especially Afghan farmers, would benefit more if the motor vehicles agreement could be carried forward
Foreign Policy Watch: India-Afghanistan

Cabinet clears extradition treaty with Afghanistan

  1. The treaty would provide a legal framework for seeking extradition of terrorists, economic offenders and other criminals from and to Afghanistan
  2. Aim: To boost security and legal cooperation, would help deal with terrorism
  3. Earlier: During the February visit of CEO Abdullah Abdullah, both sides sealed the MoU on visa-free entry for holders of diplomatic passports
Foreign Policy Watch: India-Afghanistan

U.S. open to greater role for India in Afghanistan

  1. Context: U.S. Special Representative for Afghanistan and Pakistan Richard Olson’s visit to India last week
  2. What? The U.S. is now more open to a larger role for India in Afghanistan
  3. Why? Due to its frustration over Pakistan’s failure or unwillingness to deliver on the promises it has been making with regard to the peace process
Foreign Policy Watch: India-Afghanistan

We’re in Kabul to contribute, not compete: PM

Mr. Modi was addressing the Afghan Parliament after inaugurating its building built by India at a cost of $90 million in the presence of Afghan President Ashraf Ghani.

  1. Declaring that India was in Afghanistan to contribute and not to compete and to lay the foundations of the future and not light the flame of conflict.
  2. PM opened the ‘Atal block’ on the Parliament premises named after the former PM Atal Bihari Vajpayee.
  3. PM Modi said efforts were under way to improve Afghanistan’s connectivity by land and sea, including through Chahbahar in Iran.
  4. PM Modi told Parliament that every youth in Afghanistan should see a future in which IT stood for information technology, not international terrorism.
Foreign Policy Watch: India-Afghanistan

India to host Heart of Asia conference in 2016

As one of the 14 member countries of Istanbul Process, India has volunteered to host the sixth meeting next year.

  1. This was one of the main outcomes of the recently concluded 5th edition Heart of Asia conference in Islamabad, Pakistan.
  2. The stated aim of the conference is to foster ongoing efforts towards regional cooperation and connectivity with a view to promoting long-term peace, stability and development in Afghanistan and the wider region.
  3. The conference ended with a commitment from member states to address the menace of terrorism and to foster close economic cooperation to stabilise the war-torn country.
Foreign Policy Watch: India-Afghanistan

Pakistan invites India for key Afghan meet

  1. Pakistan has invited External Affairs Minister for a crucial regional conference here on Afghanistan.
  2. The ‘Heart of Asia’ conference will be held in December, where representatives from Azerbaijan, China, Iran, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Russia, Saudi Arabia, Tajikistan, Turkey, Turkmenistan and the UAE are expected to attend.
  3. India is likely to send a high-level delegation headed by the minister given the conference’s importance.
  4. The move that could provide an opportunity for the two neighbours to mend their frosty ties.
Foreign Policy Watch: India-Afghanistan

Taliban Conundrum – Afghanistan on edge againop-ed snap

  1. Mullah Mansour, the new Taliban chief would find it tough to follow Mullah Omar as he is yet to convince Taliban cadres and Afghan Shura.
  2. The hardcore insurgents will lose motivation to fight, if they come to know about any external links of Taliban leader.
  3. The new Taliban chief’s main obstacles are to maintain unity among its cadres, win support of Afghan Shura and shed its image of being too close to Pakistan.
  4. The Pakistan govt. should rethink its policy and invest in the people of Afghanistan and institution-building in the country.
Foreign Policy Watch: India-Afghanistan

Taliban after Mullah Omarop-ed snap

  1. The two decade long intimate relationship between Taliban and Pakistan, makes it an important external player in Afghanistan.
  2. The rise of new leader Mansour has given rise to dissent within Taliban, and Pakistan is making all efforts to curb that.
  3. A Haqqani leader has been appointed deputy commander by Taliban. Actually, Haqqani is a true arm of Pakistan’s ISI.
  4. Pakistan wants to continue its dominance over internal affairs of Afghanistan, which are further facilitated by its geographical position.
Foreign Policy Watch: India-Afghanistan

[op-ed snap] New Kabul Pactop-ed snap

  1. Former President Karzai was seen to be favourably disposed towards India while Ghani is viewed by many as too reliant on Islamabad & Beijing.
  2. There are fears that Pakistan’s increasing role in Afghanistan will allow the Taliban to consolidate its position.
  3. The Strategic Partnership Agreement (2011), which focussed on defence cooperation, was not high on the agenda this time.
  4. India seems to have reconciled itself with Ghani’s outreach to Islamabad and Rawalpindi.
  5. Delhi is also hopeful that China will use its influence to control the rise of Islamist jihadi forces and bring stability to the region.
Foreign Policy Watch: India-Afghanistan

Pak. must open Wagah for trade: Ghani

  1. Afghanistan is upset with Pakistan over its refusal to allow direct trade with India via the Wagah border.
  2. Pakistan must accept the “national treatment” clause agreed to in the Afghanistan Pakistan Transit and Trade Agreement (APTTA), signed in 2011.
  3. It gives each country equal access up to the national boundaries of both.
  4. At present, Pakistan allows Afghan trucks carrying goods meant for India only up to its last checkpoint at Wagah.
Foreign Policy Watch: India-Afghanistan

Modi, Ghani talk trade, terror

  1. India keen on inclusion in Afghanistan-Pakistan Transit Trade Agreement.
  2. The energy of Central Asia will flow to South Asia, where pipelines, fibre optics, railways, and connectivity, air, ground and virtual will connect us.
  3. Two things in a distant future – Clear a motor vehicles agreement soon, as well as expedite the development of the trade route from Afghanistan to India via Iran’s Chabahar port.

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