Isha khan’s Weblog

Is India Diminishing?
July 10, 2008, 10:21 am
Filed under: SubContinent

Is India Diminishing?

The deadly attack on the Indian embassy in Kabul on July 7th, 2008 may not only propel India deeper into the trenches of Afghanistan but also test its prowess as a regional power. The course of action that India takes in the following months may dictate whether or not it is still able to assert its influence in a unipolar world. In order to take those steps in Afghanistan, New Delhi needs to produce a long term policy, superseding any petty antagonisms, and execute its doctrine with the vigor and certainty worthy of the nation that had once led the non-alignment movement. However, India today lacks the military readiness or diplomatic shrewdness that it once had under the likes of Nehru and Indira Gandhi. Under the façade of industrial growth and Bollywood, India has fundamental problems that needs to be resolved if it is to be politically significant in the post cold war era.

By no means is India insignificant. Along side its recent acquisition of a nuclear deal with the United States, India has also successfully reached an agreement with the IAEA, limiting international monitoring of India’s nuclear program. Under the approval of being able to “take corrective measures to ensure uninterrupted operation of its civilian nuclear reactors in the event of disruption of foreign fuel supplies” and not having placed any nuclear reactors under international watch, India can potentially bolster its nuclear arsenal. More explicitly exhibiting its influence, India has sent peacekeepers to Sri Lanka and more than 3,000 aid workers to Afghanistan.. By maintaining close ties with Bangladesh and wooing the military junta of Myanmar, India is taking active steps to consolidate its influence over the region. In light of India’s active interest in becoming a powerful influence, the recent attack on its embassy in Afghanistan tests India’s ability to protect its interests in a conflict that has brought the world powers unto India’s historic turf.

India is no stranger to Afghanistan. It had maintained a cordial relationship and strong economic ties with Afghanistan prior to the Soviet invasion in 1979. It continued to maintain ties with the Soviet backed regime of Najibullah while the rest of South Asia severed their relations. As the Soviet Union withdrew and Najibullah’s regime waned, the increasing terrorist attacks on India, sanctioned by the Taliban, made India a key supporter of the anti-Taliban resistance. The hijacking of Indian Airlines flight 814 in 1999 and the bombing of the Bamiyan Buddha in 2001 marked key moments of tension between the Taliban and India. The civil war between the Taliban, backed by Pakistan, and the Northern Alliance allowed two rival nuclear powers to fight a quasi proxy war on Afghan soil. The ISI ( Inter-Services Intelligence, Pakistan’s intelligence service ) has allegedly aided in the terrorist attacks against India, including the most recent embassy bombing on July 7th. Reopening its embassy on the day Hamid Karzai became president, sending the Indo-Tibetan Border Police, and maintaining consulates in Jalalabad and Kandahar represented India’s commitment to reconstructing a crucial ally against Pakistan.

New Delhi sees suppressing the Taliban insurgency as undermining Pakistan’s influence and sovereignty by discrediting Islamabad in the eyes of the tribes in Waziristan. However, continuing its directionless policy of antagonism against Pakistan ultimately hinders India’s ability to achieve its goals of a stable Afghanistan. The geographic proximity of Pakistan and India to Afghanistan makes the two countries the most crucial actors in the stability of the troubled nation. This time there are no superpowers to play off of each other for India’s benefit. All the interests involved in the Hindu Kush revolve around stabilizing the region; Russia must prove its ability to protect its quasi client states in Central Asia from the instabilities of Afghanistan; China can only continue its economic expansion into Central Asia once Russia’s security assets are no longer necessary; Europe and the United States desperately needs to end the violence to be able to leave the bloody quagmire. Despite having the support of the international community for a more proactive presence in Afghanistan, India (in the same manner of dealing with the crisis in Jammu and Kashmir) failed to adopt a long term policy towards rebuilding Afghanistan and continues to merely react to day to day events.

The Taliban insurgency is not something that can be resolved through a mightier military opposition. Having been more or less militarily uninvolved, India is thus far unmarred by the guilt of “collateral damage”; however, the attack on the embassy may propel the Indian military to be directly involved. Afghanistan is a mine field of atrocity producing situations with ethno-religious sensitivity waiting to undo the efforts of the world powers. The presence of Indian forces in Afghanistan may be a liability more than an asset. What is required of India would be taking a greater role in the physical reconstruction and reestablishing the trade that existed prior to 1979. As a consequence of being physically separated, India will require Pakistan’s assistance for any meaningful contribution to the conflict resolution.

What is holding back India from achieving not only greater stability in Afghanistan, but also its promised role as a regional power is its antagonistic relationship with Pakistan. Historically, it had been the conflict with Pakistan that had always forced India off its middle path during the Cold War. Eventually India’s proximity to the Soviet Union brought the American Seventh Fleet to the Indian Ocean, compromising its sovereignty. The excessive hostility between the two countries had almost terminated India’s non-alignment doctrine. India must resolve its fundamental tension with Pakistan if it wishes to advance politically or successfully stabilize Afghanistan. Unfortunately, observing India’s recent track record, such an ambitious political move is near impossible.

In 1971, during the crisis of Bangladeshi independence, Indira Gandhi successfully isolated the United States in the UN Security Council with brilliant diplomacy and blocked any resolutions favoring Pakistan. When the conflict escalated, India acted swiftly and pulverized the Pakistani military force in fourteen days. None of the former shrewdness or poise is present in India’s actions today. Although sending armored divisions and flying sorties into Afghanistan is not advisable, not pursuing any policy out of fear of escalation is a pathetic exhibit by a country that claims to be a regional power. It seems as though the Taliban insurgency is the only group that is anything but exhibitionist in the region.

Indian inactivity looks more wretched when one considers its confused policy towards Myanmar and its abysmal human rights record. While India prides itself of being the largest democracy in the world, its policies towards Myanmar have done nothing to advance the cause of individual freedom. India has approached the military junta of Myanmar for greater military cooperation while continuing to support the opposition led by Aung San Suu Kyi, gaining the full support of neither groups. More appalling is the report by the Asian Center for Human Rights that details the abuse of prisoners in Indian prisons and the widespread use of torture and rape in the country. According to the well accredited report, 7,468 people have been killed in custody between 2002 and 2007 and an equal number of people have fallen victim under military or paramilitary custody. Deeply embarrassed, New Delhi has refused to allow the UN Special Rapporteur on Torture to further assess custodial torture. With international standing plummeting and stagnant foreign policy, India may well soon lose all political credibility and standing as a political power.

The world will have its critical eye on India as it reacts to the embassy bombing. India must show that it has taken an active initiative to not only be more proactive in South Asia but also to resolve its domestic problems and stand firm with the principles of democracy. India cannot continue to pursue a policy befitting a bygone era; if it wishes to be still politically viable in the near future, it must resolve the very issues that are holding it back and define a policy upon which the global powers involved in Afghanistan can follow. If India loses this opportunity, history will not be forgiving.

Posted by Isha Khan, who can be reached at


Leave a Comment so far
Leave a comment

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: