WASHINGTON: India has not shown an inclination to pursue a deeper defence relationship with Afghanistan even as it has been the largest regional contributor to the war-torn country’s reconstruction, according to a US Congressional report.
US President Donald Trump in his South Asia speech in 2017 encouraged India to play a greater role in Afghanistan’s economic development, the latest report on Afghanistan by the independent Congressional Research Service (CRS) said.
“India has been the largest regional contributor to Afghan reconstruction but New Delhi has not shown an inclination to pursue a deeper defence relationship with Kabul,” according to the report dated May 1.
“This, along with other administration messaging, has compounded Pakistani concerns over Indian activity in Afghanistan,” said the bipartisan research wing of the US Congress which prepares period reports on issues of interest for the members of the Congress.
CRS reports are prepared for the US lawmakers to take informed decisions. These are not an official report of the US Congress.
Regional dynamics and the involvement of outside powers are central to the conflict in Afghanistan, it said.
The neighbouring state widely considered most important in this regard is Pakistan, which has played an active, and by many accounts negative role in Afghan affairs for decades, the CRS report said.
The CRS report said that Trump has directly accused Pakistan of “housing the very terrorists that we are fighting”.
Afghan leaders, along with US military commanders, attribute much of the insurgency’s power and longevity either directly or indirectly to Pakistan.
Experts debate the extent to which Pakistan is committed to Afghan stability or is attempting to exert control in Afghanistan through ties to insurgent groups, most notably the Haqqani Network, a US designated Foreign Terrorist Organization (FTO) that has become an official, semiautonomous component of the Taliban, it said.
US officials have repeatedly identified militant safe havens in Pakistan as a threat to security in Afghanistan, though some observers question the validity of that charge in light of the Taliban’s increased territorial control within Afghanistan itself.
Pakistan, it said, may view a weak and destabilised Afghanistan as preferable to a strong, unified Afghan state (particularly one led by a Pashtun-dominated government in Kabul; Pakistan has a large and restive Pashtun minority).
However, at least some Pakistani leaders have stated that instability in Afghanistan could rebound to Pakistan’s detriment; Pakistan has struggled with indigenous Islamist militants of its own, it said.
“Pakistan sees Afghanistan as potentially providing strategic depth against India, but may also anticipate that improved relations with Afghanistan’s leadership could limit India’s influence in Afghanistan.
“Indian interest in Afghanistan stems largely from India’s broader regional rivalry with Pakistan, which impedes Indian efforts to establish stronger and more direct commercial and political relations with Central Asia,” the CRS report added.