Afghans’ request to India for deployment of one division solders as peacekeeping force ahead of a peace deal with Taliban, need be considered with utmost seriousness. Though the outcomes of foreign intervention in Afghanistan, be it British, Russian or American are historically disastrous and also India’s bilateral arrangement with Sri Lanka for peacekeeping operation with LTTE did not go down well, India’s peacekeeping operation across the globe as a part UN Peacekeeping contingent is impeccable!
Failure of foreign powers’ campaign may be attributed to various reasons. Besides the indomitable fighting spirit of afghans, none of the foreign power came to Afghanistan for peacekeeping but other ulterior motives. They lack the goodwill of majority afghans, not having proper logistic supply chain, in some case fighting a proxy war against another superpower etc. What ever people might say, they never tried to build Afghanistan!
India has already invested billions of dollars in Afghanistan as humanitarian / reconstruction aid, be it hydro-Electric power generation, Parliament Building, Hospitals, Schools etc. earning goodwill across the society including Taliban! Incidentally there is already a substantial ITBP contingent deployed in Afghanistan to protect these assets, construction personnel as well our embassies in multiple locations. We also provide Afghanistan army and police them with training as well as supply of arms and ammunition including Helicopter Gunships (MI 24 / 35).
Strategically it is in India’s interest to keep Afghanistan stable, friendly and as a strategic partner. Since Afghanistan is not so friendly with Pakistan for harboring Jihadis, the Durand line is always volatile and forced Pakistan to deploy a substantial force (a couple of divisions) which could have otherwise been deployed against India. If the peace settlement is not proper and the Afghanistan goes under Taliban control, not only India losses all the fruits of the investment made and goodwill generated but Pakistan will have the advantage of freeing deployed forces from Durand Line and use them against India and also pump in Afghan Taliban across Kashmir!
Even with two front engagement, it is possible for India to deploy a division, may be a couple more, if we want to project us as a net security provider and play our cards well with USA, Russia and China. This could be an opportunity to reset our relation Central Asian countries as well as solving vexing POK problem once and for all.
USA always wanted boots on the ground from India, which ways always rightly declined. Now, USA will be too happy if we agree to provide peacekeeping force. Only we need to make them agree to keep the CHABAHAR port along with the railway connection up to Afghanistan (HERAT) undisturbed, for maintaining our land-sea supply line intact. Deployment of Su30MKI with BRHMOS at THANJAVUR Air base could easily provide the air cover for our sea-lane. USA is not slapping any sanction on India for the development of the CHABAHAR port since it is taking India’s help is dispatching some of its supply through CHABAHAR port only.
We are having excellent relation with Northern Alliance, who are mostly ethnic Tajik, for a long time and to maintain air supply, RAW struck a deal with Tajikistan in nineties, to use their cold war vintage disused air base at FARKHOR which is 130 km from their Capital, DUSHANBE and only 2 km from Tajik-Afghan border. India repaired the airbase as well as constructed and operate a hospital nearby where leader of Northern Alliance, Ahmed Shah Masoud was brought when he was fatally wounded by Taliban’s suicide attack.
Similarly, India also repaired and made it operational another disused cold war vintage air base at AYNI which is 10 km from DUSHANBE. India wanted to use both these air bases and deploy one squadron MIG 29. Though Tajikistan was willing, they could not give the clearance due to Russian pressure. Things are now, however, a little different since we are also a formal member of SCO and Russia is very much dependent on us for big ticket defense purchase. So, a nod from Russia could make the deal and India could deploy MIG 29 or SU30MKI as the case may, be to provide the aircover for our assets and deployed forces in Afghanistan. We are already having a longstanding very friendly relation with Russia which is likely to develop further if Russian intention of promoting India as provider of training and spares for the defense equipment supplied by Russia in the region, fructifies.
China really does not know what to do with CPEC! After spending so may billions of dollars, it will be a tough decision to abandon the project but keep it going is also not easy! Beside economic slowdown, trade war with USA, fallout of Coronavirus spreading from WUHAN ( according to some sources it could be some Biological Weapon leaked from WUHAN Laboratory and the death and economic damage could be substantial ), CPEC passing through geographically unstable region, disputed region (GILGIT and BALTISTAN, POK) claimed by India, both starting point ( KASHGAR, XINJIANG) and end points (BALOCHITAN) are in disturbed region, no chance for Pakistan paying the debt! Instead of all these, if China’s main aim for CPEC is to avoid chock point at MALACCA, it will be much better if China mend its relation with India and make the corridor through India, using ports in eastern India (Kolkata) or / and western India (Gujarat). Since roads and infrastructure are mostly there, investment would be substantially lower and could be met from balance of payment offset!
If this could be negotiated, GILGIT and BALTISTAN could be easily occupied by India with tacit help from Russia and USA and China being remaining neutral. India’s only land border with Afghanistan is at GILGIT and BALTISTAN with WAKHAN Corridor (a buffer region, created by British India Empire in 1865 to separate it from Russian Empire) of Afghanistan! Instead of Russia, transporting natural gas through pipeline up to VLADIVOSTOK and then to ship to Chennai port, it will be much easier to make a pipe line directly via GILGIT and BALTISTAN! So, with proper diplomacy, Russia could be more than willing to help India take over GILGIT and BALTISTAN purely on economic consideration. Since USA is already availing India’s help in transporting some goods via CHABAHAR, they will be more than happy if it could be transported via direct land rout i.e. via GILGIT and BALTISTAN and WAKHAN Corridor. Transportation via India will be much safe and could also be cheaper. It is very sad that our the then political leaders did not have the vision to understand the importance of GILGIT and BALTISTAN during the first war with Pakistan in 1947-48!
To act as a net security provider of ASEAN countries, India is already upgrading its tri-service facilities at ANDAMAN & NICOBAR beside stationing SU30 MKI with BRAHMOS at THANJAVUR Air Base. India’s decisive action in deploying peacekeeping force in Afghanistan will only reinforce its standing.
Now, it is for the political leadership to take the call with proper inputs from the newly created post of CDS! Naturally as a part of the UN Peacekeeping Force, it will have the proper mandate, legitimacy as well as cost compensation. Economic downturn, however, could be a big stumbling block for taking a far-reaching strategic decision.