The article below has been published in The Statesman (New Delhi, Tuesday June 30, 2015, page 9) under the title "Can India be Benign Presence in Central Asia."
There is an amazing phobia amongst strategic thinkers in Delhi and the government about 'boots on the ground' in Afghanistan. It results from a misunderstanding of the situation as it applies to India. The British (so it is generally felt) had their comeuppance in Afghanistan, forgetting that they fully turned around Afghanistan to suit their interest in the Great Game vis-a-vis Russia and were able to enforce the Durand Line. Russia and the US-NATO have suffered heavy casualties and had to pull back in turns (the latter has a small residual force in 2015). All three world powers of the day were invaders, fully committed for their writ to run in Afghanistan. From time to time they were able to influence the choice of the head of government in Afghanistan.
Should, India, however, think of putting boots on the ground in Afghanistan it would be an alltogether different ball game, to use an useful American cliche. Firstly, India is the only country that is considered a benign influence by practically all Afghans as well as the Central Asian Republics. That it does not have geographical contiguity, the means or the desire to be other than a benign presence adds to that perception. More importantly, if India did send in some force to retrieve a modicum of its geostrategic space, naturally depending on the circumstances, it would be fighting on the side of the Afghans against the latest invaders trying to re-occupy Afghanistan; in the present case the Pakistan military-ISI, Saudi Arabia and now China backed Taliban. That the US and Britain have acted as facilitators to first get Mr. Ashraf Ghani elected as president after sufficient ballot rigging (as in universally conceded) and then nudging him towards Pakistan after forestalling India is something they might come to rue at a later date. In its dealings with the US and UK, India must keep this aspect in mind, without unduly colouring its other geo-economic and geostrategic dialogues with these countries, it merely being a continuation of their support for Pakistan against India over the last six decades. The most charitable view would be that 'old habits die hard'.
Reverting to the possibility of India being obliged to put boots on the ground, the government of the day would be giving sufficient thought to several related aspects including timing, locations, strength, viability, sustainability and the like. Naturally countries that would be supportive of the effort would largely be Central Asian Republics and Russia; there being recent ambivalence in Iran whether to back the Taliban against the salafist ISIS or Daesh that is trying to raise its head in Afghanistan and has already found support from some sections of the Taliban. For the CARs and Russia memories would be fresh* about the Taliban offensive that could have taken place in Central Asia after the winter of 2001 had 9/11 not intervened. It needs to be recalled that after the assassination of Ahmed Shah Masood, Gen. Musharraf had concentrated an entire Pakistani brigade in Kunduz with heavy artillery to overrun the rest of Northern Afghanistan by December of that year as a prelude for the Taliban to debouch into Central Asia. They had already created havoc in the Ferghana Valley and Juma Namangani of the IMU (Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan) had grown stronger with each passing day. The Russian mechanised division on the Tajik border, the only barrier to the Taliban advance was understaffed, with massive equipment defficiencies, as Mr.Putin had not yet consolidated power. 9/11 put paid to all those plans. India and these countries have to prepare for worst case scenarios, however unlikely it may appear at this time. Practically all the CARs would be wholly receptive and looking forward to Mr. Modi's visit for reviewing the entire spectrum of geostrateic and geo-economic relations with India. It is worth repeating that of all the countries in the region India is the only country of consequence whose presence would be welcome and considered benign.
* For details refer to the author's books "Restructuring Pakistan
" and "Dealing with Global Terrorism: The Way Forward
". Details on site www.vinodsaighal.com
New Delhi, Monday 29 June 2015.