Iran, Afghanistan & India : An Approaching Nuclear Détente by Avijeet Kumar Biswas
IndraStra Global

Iran, Afghanistan & India : An Approaching Nuclear Détente by Avijeet Kumar Biswas

By Avijeet Kumar Biswas

Last Year Afghanistan went through two major changes and challenges: the presidential election—a historical first time peaceful presidential transition, and the transfer of responsibility for security from ISAF-NATO to the Afghan Security forces. Despite the contentious election and unwillingness of the former President Hamid Karzai to sign the Bilateral Security Agreement (BSA) with the United States, a compromise was finally reached whereby a unity government was formed with Ashraf Ghani as the President and Abdullah Abdullah as the Chief Executive Officer, and the BSA was concluded.

Afghanistan has begun to take baby steps in forming a democratic nation; along with safeguarding the already gained political reforms, there is a need for further reforms to lay the groundwork for prosperity.  Discharging of good governance and to take stake of the security situation are two major challenges facing Afghanistan. The US has been so far the major donor to this cause spending approximately USD 753 Billion between 2001 and 2014.With the withdrawal of majority of its security forces and despite the assurance of future financing, US may not be able to sustain its spending. The declining level of Americans who see the war in Afghanistan as worth the cost may further lead to US’s diminishing level of engagement.

Whether or not US fully engages Afghanistan, the neighboring states and the extended neighborhood would be crucial in the way situations in Afghanistan take shape. If we were to briefly take note of the nations involved, it would seem that Russia is unwilling to get directly involved owing to its bitter experience in the past; China’s engagement is mostly restricted to the economic domain although lately there have been news about Chinese involvement in mediation between the Taliban, Afghanistan and Pakistan; the weak central Asian nations may not be able to provide any direct help; Pakistan has its own internal issues and harbours Taliban causing much tension with their Afghan counterparts; Iran and India on the other hand have the capabilities and are involved in several developmental work and are seen by Afghans as reliable allies.

Both Iran and India have historical links with Afghanistan, and both have much in stake in its future course. Iran backed the Northern Alliance in ousting the Taliban in 2001 and played a significant role in the Bonn Conference. Both nations have invested heavily in the reconstruction of Afghanistan post 2001. As the nuclear negotiations between Iran and major powers have been developing in the positive direction, it opens up new opportunities for all three nations.

Iran has a common and a stable boundary with Afghanistan. Although in recent time Iran has been accused of supporting the Taliban, the support is temporary, and may cease to exist with the successful conclusion of the nuclear negotiations. Despite its proximity to Afghanistan, Iran relation has been short of proactive; international sanctions are partly responsible but Iran’s own engagement is inconsistent in nature and falls short of expectation. With the possible resolution of the nuclear standoff, rise in cooperation including in the security sphere can be expected. A closer relation would help in ameliorating issues such as repatriation of Afghan refugees numbering around 2 million back to Afghanistan, water sharing, and drug trafficking among others. Iran can improve its connectivity with the Central Asian nations through Afghanistan, and help other nations access Afghanistan through its land and sea port.

Afghans view India’s engagement in their nation in a very positive light. India’s aid, assistance, sacrifices and unwavering posture over the years regarding its opposition towards Taliban have nurtured a relation of trust and respect. In the security sphere India has been training several Afghan Security force candidates and has signed the Strategic Partnership Agreement. India has also been involved in training Afghan bureaucrats. The greatest weakness in the bilateral relationship lies in the absence of direct land or sea connectivity between the two nations. India’s soft approach in regard to its security concerns even when its embassy was attacked by terror groups supported by rogue Pakistani intelligence agency, its overall Afghan policy guided by Pakistan’s concern and reluctance in taking lead role by using its leverage are other significant weaknesses. The new government at the Centre in India have taken a proactive stance in its neighborhood policies. The decision to build the Chabahar Port despite US’s caution against strengthening ties before the conclusion of the final nuclear agreement, reflects on India’s seriousness on the matter.

Unlike his predecessor, Ghani has been more open to the idea of reaching out to Pakistan and the suspension of a request for Indian arms for the Afghan forces in February this year can be seen as a move to build bridges with Islamabad.China too has been beefing up its role in Afghanistan. Ghani’s visit to India in 27-28,April should revitalize the relation although the visit came after China and Pakistan, clearly reflecting Afghan Government’s foreign policy pivot. With a nuclear détente on the horizon and India’s investment in Chabahar port in Iran in order to develop a viable alternative route to Afghanistan and from there to mineral rich Central Asian Nations would benefit all three nations and help build a deeper bond among them and thus making Pakistan’s restriction to connectivity irrelevant. With this available route India should seize all opportunities to support Afghanistan and beef up its strategic cooperation.

Iran and India have much to gain from a stable Afghanistan. Neither nations would like to see a Taliban comeback or Al-Qaida gain roots. During their tenure Taliban saw Shias as heretics and maintained a very tense relation with Iran, and its relation with India was guided by Pakistan. A resolution to the nuclear standoff would help India resume its business with Iran and heighten activity in the region. Afghanistan has come a long way since the ousting of the Taliban regime, but there have been rise in Taliban attacks and the Afghan Government is preparing itself to bring Taliban into the negotiation table. Pakistan and China would play their cards and India and Iran must see to that the negotiations do not compromise on the core values of the Afghan constitution and that their investments and interests are safeguarded. It is time for both Iran and India to make full use of their potential in Afghanistan and by working together they can contribute in-bringing stability to the broader region.