Afghanistan’s hot war is behind the rising Indo-Pakistan temperatures. This school of thought is being taken seriously by the Indian government. In its view, a thread connects India’s decision to provide arms to Afghanistan in December, the recent attack on the Indian consulate in Mazar-i-Sharif and possibly the Pathankot attack.
Pakistan’s military has been infuriated at India’s decision to provide four Mi-25 helicopter gunships to the Afghan national army, say senior Indian officials. The attack on the Mazar consulate in northern Afghanistan, reportedly carried out by Pakistani servicemen, was a direct response. The choice of Pathankot — a base for other Mi-25s — was probably influenced by the Afghan gambit.
Rawalpindi, it is believed, is sending clear and blunt messages to India to stop providing lethal weaponry to support the Kabul regime. New Delhi does not hide it is providing such arms to undermine Pakistani attempts to force Kabul into accepting a negotiated settlement with the Afghan Taliban.
Prime Minister Narendra Modi, just days after the first Mi-25s arrived in Afghanistan, said in Kabul, “Terror and violence cannot be the instrument to shape Afghanistan’s future or dictate the choices Afghans make.”
There is a link, says General Pravin Sawhney (retd), Afghan expert at the Vivekananda Foundation. “Though the helicopters may not seem much, they are symbolically powerful. Rawalpindi wants the Afghans to feel helpless.”
Omar Hamid, country risk manager for IHS Jane’s, adds, “Indian intervention beyond training and provision of equipment would be seen as a red line by Pakistan and the Afghan Taliban.”
But there will be a parallel game by Pakistan, says Sushant Sareen of the Institute for Defence Studies and Analysis, to “lean on the Afghans to distance themselves from India”. This will come into play, he feels, if the quadrilateral diplomatic talks between Kabul, Islamabad, Beijing and Washington begin to move forward.
India should brace for more attacks and diplomatic manoeuvring orchestrated by the Pakistani military. “Whatever the threat,” says Sawhney, “there should be no pulling back from Afghanistan.” A key signal India could send is to accept an Afghan request that it train pilots.