Foreign Policy Blogs

US looking to increase Indian role in Afghanistan

The meeting between Prime Minister Manmohan Singh and President Obama on the sidelines of the Nuclear Security Summit last week, seems to have produced positive results for India. The US ambassador to India, Tim Roemer will be travelling to Afghanistan to view first-hand the “critical” work being done there by India. He told the Times News Network, “India’s role in Afghanistan is very critical. President Barack Obama has personally said this to Prime Minister Manmohan Singh and conveyed gratitude for the contribution.” He further said, “India’s role has been a great success. The US is looking for additional role for India in Afghanistan. It may include civil services and anti-corruption projects.” 

India is the second largest contributor of humanitarian aid in Afghanistan, and has spent almost $2 billion on reconstruction and rehabilitation efforts. It does not however, have any military presence other than security personnel deployed for the safety of Indian workers there. But Pakistan views India’s presence in Afghanistan as a deliberate attempt to undermine Pakistan’s importance for its Western neighbor. I have previously written about Pakistan’s suspicions about India using Afghanistan as a base to spy on Pakistan. It claims that IndiaUS looking to increase Indian role in Afghanistann presence in Afghanistan is undermining the stability of the region, and India should therefore walk out of that country. Last October, Milton Bearden (ex-CIA officer) had endorsed the Pakistani position during his testimony before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee and recommended reduced Indian presence in Afghanistan. This had raised concerns on the Indian side that the Obama administration would be swallowing Pakistani positions/views to the detriment of Indian interests. Soon after that Pakistan became even more vehement in its demands for India’s withdrawal from the region.    

Today’s endorsement by the US of Indian efforts in Afghanistan and their continuation is sure to assuage Indian concerns about Indo-US relations under the Obama administration. The US’ increasing proximity to China, and its dependence on and support of Pakistan had made the Indian side vary of President Obama’s attitude towards India. According to Ashley Tellis, “the Indians are concerned that the Obama administration, unlike the Bush administration, views India as part of the South Asian problem, which includes the war in Afghanistan and instability in Pakistan.” It will also help that the US has agreed to keep a close watch on weapons supplied to Pakistan and any misuse (read diversion toward use against India) of such weapons.

It will be no surprise if Pakistan loudly protests this US endorsement, and attempts to blackmail the US with reducing efforts against the Taliban. But the US will have to stay firm on its position. And India will have to ensure that the US does so. PM Singh seems to have been assertive of Indian interests in Afghanistan, and should continue to do so. In his piece in the Guardian on Sunday Dominique Moisi said that India is “impaired by its lack of practice to exercise power on a grand scale” and it lacks the ambition to be a player like China. India needs to prove that wrong in Afghanistan.



Manasi Kakatkar-Kulkarni

Manasi Kakatkar-Kulkarni graduated from the University of Maryland’s School of Public Policy. She received her degree in International Security and Economic Policy and interned with the Arms Control Association, Washington, D.C. She is particularly interested in matters of international arms control, nuclear non-proliferation and India’s relations with its neighbors across Asia. She currently works with the US India Political Action Committee (USINPAC).