The second suicide bomb attack on the Indian embassy building in Kabul is a stark reminder that few countries have as much at stake in the present war in Afghanistan as India. There is a simple historical fact: the Taliban’s rule in Afghanistan coincided with the worst years of the Kashmir insurgency. This was no coincidence. The Taliban allowed militant groups to set up safe havens on Afghan soil and tap the country’s heroin exports for funding. They also provided a tangible example of how insurgents could use religion and rifles to come to power. This was the earlier ‘Af-Pak’ equation, one that allowed Pakistan to wage asymmetric warfare against India at little cost. Despite claims to the contrary, there is no hard evidence that if the present Taliban formation were to come to power, it would not again convert Afghanistan into a hub of global terrorism.
While the embassy attacks and the killing of Indian workers in Afghanistan are a reminder of the Taliban’s enmity, the truth is that there are few countries where India has as strong a positive association. Polls have shown that India is among the most favourite nations with the Afghan public. In Afghanistan’s August election, both of the main candidates saw India as a friend — a rare state of affairs in South Asia. It is not as if India has a perfect record when it comes to Afghanistan. For example, it made a poor decision to support the Soviet invasion. Nonetheless, India has become the preferred land of exile and nation of example for Afghan leaders.
Both realist and idealist motivations merge when it comes to India’s interest in Afghanistan. Unfortunately, India’s own political and strategic limitations mean it is reduced to a largely humanitarian role in Afghanistan — and one fundamentally dependent on the United States, eventually creating a stable and independent Afghan polity. Which is all the more reason India must use every opportunity to assert its Afghan role. Foreign Secretary Nirupama Rao’s decision to fly to Kabul after the blast is a good gesture. But India should also consider increasing its aid commitments and its paramilitary deployments. Under no circumstances should those responsible for the attacks come to believe that acts of terror will make India sacrifice its national interest.