Publication War / Peace - South Asia Afghanistan after the US Withdrawal

How will its Indian neighbour respond?

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Series

Policy Papers (en)

Author

Subir Bhaumik,

Published

August 2021

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Only available online

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Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi shakes hands with Afghan President Ashraf Ghani before a meeting at Hyderabad House in New Delhi, India, 19 September 2018. picture alliance / Photoshot | Partha Sarkar

India strongly supported the US-driven, NATO-led ISAF mission in Afghanistan right from the time of the post-9/11 military intervention that drove the Taliban out of power. For Delhi, the foreign military intervention led by the Bush Administration helped save Afghanistan from becoming a hub of radical Islamist terrorism in the strategically important South and Central Asian region.

Subir Bhaumik is a veteran BBC and Reuters Corrrespondent in South Asia and author of five books on the region. He is a former Fellow at Oxford and Frankfurt universities and at the East-West Centre, Washington, and currently the editorial director of The Eastern Link.

Since most of these radical Islamist forces were proxies of Pakistan’s powerful Inter-Services Intelligence, beginning in the late 1980s when the Soviet withdrawal became imminent, India sought to build a counterweight by developing close links with anti-Taliban and anti-Pakistan groups within the Afghan resistance. Indian military and intelligence advisers were secretly deployed in support of the forces led by Ahmed Shah Massoud, one of the three Afghan warlords said to have been recruited by the Indian external intelligence agency Research and Analysis Wing (RAW). In fact, these warlords were to later form the US- and NATO-backed Northern Alliance as it sought to drive the Taliban out of power and move against the Al Qaeda bases inside Afghanistan, details of which had been provided by a CIA mole inside the terror group before its suicide bombers struck the Twin Towers in New York.

India‘s position began to shift last year, when New Delhi participated in the commencement ceremony of the intra-Afghan talks in Doha in September 2020. India realizes that it has no military options in Afghanistan. Its army is too thinly stretched across the borders with China and Pakistan (and in internal security operations in Kashmir and the Northeast) for a “boots on the ground” operation in Afghanistan. What are the country‘s strategic objectives, and what options could it pursue in the future, now that the US has its allies have withdrawn and the Taliban is again on the march?

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