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Genesis of Indian Ambitions in Afghanistan: Implications for Pakistan

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Geographically, Afghanistan is a landlocked state, surrounded at the centre of energy rich Central Asia and energy starved South Asia. It shares its borders with economic vibrant China and emerging power of Russia through Central Asia. So its strategic importance attracts the regional and extra regional powers to enhance their influence in the region.

Historically, India and Afghanistan have shared close cultural and political ties. During 1940s Khan Abdul Ghaffar Khan played his role as active supporter for the Indian freedom struggle which led India in lobbying for Pashtunistan consisting of North West Frontier Province (now Khyber Pakhtunkhwa). India supported successive Northern Alliance (NA) governments in Afghanistan until the rise of the Taliban in the 1990s. Following the 9/11 attacks, US initiated Operation Enduring Freedom to overthrow Taliban in Afghanistan. India offered intelligence and other forms of support for the Coalition forces. After overthrow of Taliban, India established full diplomatic relations with the newly established democratic government and provided US$ 650–750 million in humanitarian and economic aid and became the largest regional provider of aid for Afghanistan’s reconstruction and development.

India is now aiming at securing a major role in post-withdrawal period in Afghanistan through active connivance of the US despite reservations by Pakistan. Afghanistan, a region of vast reserves of iron, copper, cobalt and gold, has already invited Indian companies to tap the nearly US$ one trillion’s worth of minerals. Indian economic ties with Afghanistan would also affect Pakistan’s commercial interests in Afghanistan as India can afford to spend a few hundred million dollars to subsidize its exports and capture these markets and those of Central Asian Republics (CARs). Pakistan, realizing the gravity of the escalating dangers to the security of the state and the economic viability of the country strongly condemns Indian ambitions in Afghanistan.

Doctrines behind Indian Ambitions

Indian ambitions in Afghanistan are not without a theoretical perspective and one can find this thought present in the writings of Kautilya who belongs to the realist school of thought, also known as Indian Machiavelli. In Arthashastra, a foundational text of military strategy written in Sanskrit around the 4th century BC, Kautilya says: “A king whose territory has a common boundary with that of an antagonist is an ally.” His theory is commonly summarized: “Every neighbouring state is an enemy and the enemy’s enemy is a friend.”

Gujral Doctrine, a foreign policy management strategy propounded by Inder Kumar Gujral presents the idea of peace with immediate neighbours but not with Pakistan. I. K. Gujral writes in his autobiography, Matters of Discretion, “We had to face two hostile neighbours in the north and the west, we had to be at ‘total peace’ with all other immediate neighbours in order to contain Pakistan’s and China’s influence in the region.”

Objectives of Indian Ambitions

Some of the objectives of Indian ambitions in Afghanistan are as follows:

  • To counter Pakistan’s interests in Afghanistan: Afghanistan shares 1400 km border with Pakistan. Apart from geographic contiguity, Pashtuns of Afghanistan share religious, ethnic, linguistic and cultural ties with Pakistani Pashtuns. Pashtuns living in close vicinity of Durand Line have blood relations and international border has never acted as a barrier in their cross border movement. Pakistan considers Afghanistan as its natural ally and a major component of its security.  So, Pakistan has been extending its political, technical and economic support to Afghanistan which is not liked by India.
  • To strengthen India’s economic and political standing in Afghanistan: India’s interests in post-9/11 Afghanistan have centred on three broad objectives: security concerns, economic interests, regional and global aspirations. It is pursuing “soft power” strategy toward Afghanistan. Its assistance has focused on building human capital and physical infrastructure, improving security, and helping the agricultural and other important sectors of the country’s economy. It is building roads, providing medical facilities, and helping with educational programmes in an effort to develop and enhance long-term Afghan capabilities. Thus India is transforming economic gains into political influence.
  • To play the role of a regional Godfather: India considers Pakistan as its arch rival since it refuses to accept India’s supremacy and wants relationship on equal basis. India wants to isolate Pakistan and make it irrelevant in the region. By helping rebuild a new Afghanistan, India strives for greater regional hegemony and hopes to counter Pakistan’s influence in the region.
  • To gain access to CARs for energy and trade routes: For India, Afghanistan is also a potential route for access to Central Asian energy. India, an observer in the Shanghai Cooperation Organization (SCO), has been pursuing better relations with CARs for energy cooperation. It gave a $17 million grant for the modernization of a hydropower plant in Tajikistan, and has signed a memorandum of understanding with Turkmenistan for a natural gas pipeline (TAPI) that will pass through Afghanistan and Pakistan.
  • To turn Pakistan into a captive Indian market and to encircle Pakistan: India has partially encircled Pakistan after occupying two-thirds Kashmir and substantially enhancing its naval presence in the Indian Ocean to turn Arabian Sea as its exclusive domain so as to quarantine Pakistan. After helping Iran in building Chahbahar Port and linking it with road infrastructure in Afghanistan, its strategic encirclement plan is near completion.
  • To continue its political, social, cultural and economic dominance and influence over Afghanistan.

Scholastic Opinion of Afghan Situation

India has been given a tag by the US as the Regional Hegemon of South Asia. Its role in Afghanistan has often been seen as a hegemonic tendency and the pillars of Indian foreign policy in the region are supported by the US. In the German Institute of Global and Area Studies (GIGA) working papers, Dr. Melanie Hanif (research fellow at GIGA) says while discussing the Indian involvement in Afghanistan, “India as a rising regional power is the only country in the region that might possess the capabilities, the willingness, and the legitimacy for a long-term engagement in Afghan security.”

Daniel S. Markey in his book, No Exit from Pakistan: America’s Tortured Relationship with Islamabad, writes: “An unstable Pakistan that feels jilted by the United States would be an albatross around India’s neck and a costly obstacle to America’s ambition for a peaceful, prosperous region in which India plays a major, if perhaps independent-minded, role.”

According to some Indian scholars, Indian presence in Afghanistan can prevent the jihadi elements that are trained in Afghanistan to operate in Indian occupied Kashmir. Editor of Strategic Affairs Journal Pragati, Fushant K. Singh says: “An Indian military involvement in Afghanistan will shift the battleground away from Kashmir and the Indian mainland. Targeting the jihadi base will be a huge boost for India’s anti-terrorist operations, especially in Kashmir both militarily and psychologically.

On the contrary, General Stanly Mcrystal, former Commander of ISAF, believes that Indian presence in Afghanistan will create security concerns for Pakistan. He states, “Increasing Indian influence in Afghanistan is likely to exacerbate regional tensions and encourage Pakistani countermeasures.” [1]

Manifestation of Indian Ambitions in Afghanistan

Political/Diplomatic Manifestation:

  • Pakistan specific consulates in cities of Afghanistan; Mazar-i-Sharif, Herat, Kandahar and Jalalabad.
  • The NA political leaders are pro-India.
  • India is the 5th largest bilateral donor in Afghanistan after the US, the UK, Japan and Germany.
  • Indian high level political engagement with Afghanistan is reflected in the large number of high level bilateral agreements between both the states.
  • India is helping Iran in building Chahbahar Port and linking it with Hajigak road infrastructure in Afghanistan asserting political power.
  • Afghanistan’s new parliament building in Kabul is being constructed by an Indian company and it will be completed by 2015.
  • India is eying at Afghanistan’s vast reserves of iron, copper, cobalt and gold.

Military Manifestation:

  • Afghan forces are trained in art of guerrilla warfare by India.
  • RAW rejuvenated KHAD, renamed as RAAM, and also helped in setting up Central Directorate of Intelligence in Afghanistan.
  • Afghanistan and India signed Strategic Partnership Agreement (SPA) in 2011 to train Afghan military officers and provide light-weapons useful for counterinsurgency operations.
  • 350 Afghan army officers receive annual training in India, with a total of 1,400 already trained since 2003.
  • According to a recent agreement between Afghanistan and India, India will raise the number of ANSF members it trains each year to some 1,000 soldiers. For the first time, this training will include a group of 60 Afghan Special Forces, who will receive training at India’s military facilities in the Rajasthan desert.
  • Indian intelligence officials are working in Afghanistan disguised as diplomats and have a vast network to destabilize FATA and Balochistan.
  • Deployment of the paramilitary Indo-Tibetan Border Police at the Indian consulate in Herat.

Economic Manifestation:

  • Indian government invested $300 million in the Salma Dam project in Herat province.  The hydroelectric dam will serve as a power generator for the region as well as an irrigation tool for agricultural land in the area.
  • Indian investment of $100 million to build Chahbahar Port.
  • It invested over $136 million to construct Ring Road Highway in Helmand province that will connect Chahbahar with Kabul and named this corridor as the International North South Trade Corridor (INSTC).
  • Indian companies have already been invited by Kabul to tap one trillion dollars’ worth of minerals.
  • India constructed 218 km Delaram-Zaranj road project to bring Afghanistan and Iran into economic alliance.
  • India and Afghanistan constructed 202 kms road along DC transmission line from Pul-e-Khumri to Kabul and a kv substation at Chimtala, bringing Uzbek electricity and lighting up the city of Kabul throughout the year.
  • India joined the ambitious $7,500m TAPI (Turkmenistan, Afghanistan, Pakistan and India) pipeline initiative, which was envisaged to carry 30,000m cubic feet of gas from the Daulatabad field in Turkmenistan via Afghanistan and Pakistan into India.
  • The decision to admit Afghanistan as a full member of the South Asia Association for Regional Cooperation (SAARC) at its 14th summit in New Delhi in April 2007 was as much strategic as it was commercial.
  • On the commercial front, with the passage in 2006 of the South Asia Free Trade Agreement (SAFTA), which eases tariff barriers, subcontinental trade is expected to benefit.

Soft Power Projection:

  • Offering free medical care and medicines in clinics across Afghanistan.
  • Under humanitarian assistance, India supplies 100gms of fortified biscuits every day to each of the nearly two million school children in 33 of the 34 provinces of Afghanistan under a school feeding programme administered through the world food program.
  • India announced the gift of 2, 50,000 metric tons of wheat to assist Afghanistan tide over its food shortage.
  • The Indian missions in the five major cities are providing free medical consultations and medicine to over 30,000 Afghanis every month.
  • An innovative scheme focusing on small and community based development projects with a short gestation period and having a direct impact on community life was unveiled. So far 101 such projects have been initiated.
  • In education and institution development, India is providing university scholarships, sponsored by the ICCR for under graduate and post graduate studies for Afghan students in India.
  • More than 20 Indian civil servants served as coaches and mentors under capacity for Afghan public administration programme supported by UNDP and the governments of Afghanistan and India.
  • Confederation of Indian Industry (CII) built India-Afghanistan vocational training centre to train Afghan youth.
  • India NGO, SEWA built a women’s vocational training centre in Bagh-e-Zanana in Kabul to train Afghan women.
  • India has assisted in expansion of Afghan National TV network and communication lines.
  • India has also encouraged Afghanistan efforts at capitalizing on its unique geographical location at the heart of the Asian continent by supporting regional initiatives like the Istanbul process and Regional Economic Cooperation Conference (RECCA) that seek to assist Afghanistan’s development through cooperation in various sectors of economy.
  • India-educated Hamid Karzai becoming its first president and re-elected twice, Afghan foreign ministers frequently making visits to India and New Delhi being chosen as a destination overlooking other 6 geographical neighbours.
  • India provides 2000 scholarships to Afghans annually for schooling and training in Indian institutions
  • Migration process is easy for Afghan refugees.
  • Bollywood culture is growing in Afghan cities.
  • Memorandums of Understanding (MoUs) between Bureau of Indian Standards (BIS) and Afghan National Standardization Authority (ANSA).
  • Rebuilding of Air links, power plants and hydro-electric power projects.

Implications for Pakistan

Security Dilemma: Historically, Pakistan has focused its defenses on eastern border but since India is enhancing its presence at the western border, Pakistan has to reconsider and redesign its military strategy. Hostile India on east, pro-India Afghanistan on western border and Indian intelligence network in Afghanistan are posing security threat. For Pakistan there is serious competition, even challenges from other regional players already present in Afghanistan, one of them being India. Shah Mahmood Qureshi, the then Foreign Minister of Pakistan, stated in October 3, 2009.

“If you want Pakistan focused more on the [threat from Afghanistan in the] west, then we have to feel more secure on the east. There is a linkage there.”

Furthermore, Indo-US, Indo-Afghan and Afghan-US strategic partnerships are directed against Pakistan with ulterior designs and hence a huge threat to Pakistan’s security.

Diplomatic Maneuvering: India is acting as a spoiler and is continuing to devise strategies to keep Afghanistan and Pakistan destabilized and on warpath. Indo-Afghan nexus will become an impediment for Pakistan’s outreach to CARs and will also place India in an advantageous position to maintain status quo over unresolved core issues.India- Iran friendship, India’s economic ties with China and assistance to Afghanistan is a means of encircling Pakistan diplomatically. Indian muscle-flexing is disturbing regional balance of power which will destabilize region in coming years.

Economic Debilitation: Indian access to Afghanistan and Central Asian markets through Pakistan would flood our markets with cheap Indian goods and cripple our manufacturing industries, and would also fulfill India’s dream of monopolizing the economics of South Asia and Central Asia.

Unable to compete with India, it will adversely impact Pakistan’s manufacturing industries and will also negatively impact Pakistan’s trade with Afghanistan and with CARs. Road/rail connectivity will allow landlocked Afghanistan an alternative outlet and will reduce Afghanistan’s dependence on Pakistan and reduce latter’s leverage over former.Delaram-Zaranj road project is aimed to bring Afghanistan and Iran into an economic and strategic alliance and to isolate Pakistan.

India Sponsoring Terrorism in Pakistan: The pro Indian Afghan establishment is not a friend of Pakistan either, nor is the anti-Iran Jundullah or the Lashkr-e-Jhangvi entities. Deadly proxy war is being waged in FATA and Balochistan by the Indians. Indian sponsored weaponry was also recovered from terrorists during Zarb-Azb Operation by Pakistan Army in North Waziristan.

Indian intelligence Network: Indian leverage in Afghanistan will create space for Indian intelligence agencies to continue clandestine operations against Pakistan.

Pakistan: Countering Indian Ambitions

In order to counter Indian Ambitions, Pakistan should do following:

  • Pakistan as a key facilitator for Afghan Peace Process and development: Peace in Afghanistan is necessary for peace in Pakistan and vice versa.Pakistan should focus on encouraging and facilitating an intra-Afghan dialogue aimed at national reconciliation and a broad-based Afghan government in cooperation with Iran, Turkey and other regional countries.
  • Cultural ties with Afghanistan: Pakistani Pashtun community hascultural ties with Afghan people. Pakistan should improve bilateral relations by more focusing on cultural and economic exchanges and by provision of   facilities to Afghan refugees.
  • Alliances with China and Iran: Pakistan should take China and Iran into confidence and jointly work out a strategy to counter Indian moves.
  • Skillful diplomacy- Pakistan needs tostay relevant in the “endgame” by retaining its links with Pakistan friendly elements in Afghanistan.
  • Projection of soft power: Pakistan is already engaged in number of development projects in Afghanistan like Torkham-Jalalabad Road, Jinnah Hospital Complex in Kabul, a department at the Kabul University called Allama Iqbal Faculty of Arts, Silk Road and CEO forums. Afghanistan cricket team was trained in Karachi. Higher Education Commission of Pakistan allocates special quota for Afghan students. Over 30,000 Afghan students have graduated from Pakistani universities. Pakistan has been home to world’s largest refugeesfrom Afghanistan.
  • Building ties with Russia: Pakistan can build closer ties with Russia with the help of China and further cementing relations with Iran would help Pakistan from getting isolated and remaining relevant in the region.


India is advancing its ambitions in Afghanistan in the economic, strategic and social spheres, and thus posing a threat to regional peace and stability. In spite of all the Indian moves, Pakistan still enjoys a position of great significance for peace and progress in Afghanistan.

William Dalrymple, in his famous book The Deadly Triangle: India, Pakistan and the Future of Afghanistan, has rightly said “If you grow vipers in your back yard, you’re going to get bitten”. Afghanistan is Pakistan’s backyard and Pakistan does not want the growth of wipers there to bite it and to damage its interests.


[1] “McChrystal and India” September 24, 2009, available at

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