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President Ashraf Ghani’s successful visit to Washington last month notwithstanding, the headlines out of Afghanistan since the end of international combat operations in December 2014 have mostly been grim. The Taliban have stepped up attacks since the start of 2015, and the self-declared Islamic State has spread to Afghanistan. During the March UN Security Council session held to renew the mandate of the UN Assistance Mission in Afghanistan, UN Special Representative Nicholas Haysom told the Security Council that the Islamic State banner might serve to unite disparate radical groups.
Unsurprisingly, Afghanistan’s neighbors fret about the regional spillover of a destabilized Afghanistan. New Delhi in particular, worries about a throwback to the 1990s, when regional terrorist networks used a chaotic, insecure Afghanistan as a base to plot attacks on India. The announcement of a new “South Asian subsidiary” of al-Qaeda, made by Ayman al-Zawahiri in late 2014, adds yet another wrinkle to this anxiety.
This sobering backdrop partly explains why President Barack Obama recently announced, in response to the urgings of Afghanistan President Ashraf Ghani, that the drawdown of U.S. troops would be delayed during 2015. But while slowing the pace of U.S. troop withdrawal may limit further deterioration of Afghan security this year, it does not address the current and future needs for increased support to Afghanistan and its security forces as they work to prevent the destabilization of their country.
In a Council on Foreign Relations Policy Innovation Memorandum released today, I argue that Washington needs to work more closely with India to stabilize Afghanistan. India, now Afghanistan’s fifth largest bilateral donor in terms of pledged assistance, has long played an important economic role in the country. India’s involvement with Afghanistan spans development assistance, infrastructure support, commercial engagement, and training programs. Four years ago, India became the first country to sign a bilateral security agreement with Afghanistan. But, as I note, there are areas where Indian expertise could help Afghanistan further, especially in consolidating democracy and boosting civilian security.
Of course, Pakistan will almost certainly object to additional Indian support to Afghanistan, as Islamabad has frequently done in the past. But an enhanced Indian role in Afghanistan’s stability—especially without “boots on the ground”—poses no real threat to Pakistani interests. Washington should make it clear to Islamabad that Indian support for Afghan stabilization should not be disrupted.
For more details on how Washington should work with New Delhi to further Afghanistan’s stabilization, read my Policy Innovation Memorandum here.
Top photo credit: Afghan President Ashraf Ghani meets Prime Minister Narendra Modi at the 18th SAARC summit. Photo by Narendra Modi licensed under CC-BY-SA 2.0.
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