India should stay away from the US’ “Over-The-Horizon” plans for Afghanistan

Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov told the Rossiya-24 TV channel that “I’ve heard that they have been trying to persuade India to grant the Pentagon some opportunities on the Indian territory.” He was referencing the rumours that the US wants India to host offensive military infrastructure to carry out so-called “over-the-horizon” attacks in Afghanistan. This is a scenario that India should stay far away from because it entails enormous strategic risks for its security.

First, hosting US bases would violate India’s neutral foreign policy and ruin its multi-alignment vision of balancing between Great Powers. Second, this would immediately provoke concerns from China that such infrastructure could be used to assist India in any potential clash with the People’s Republic, thus worsening regional security. Third, the Taliban might consider India a legitimate target if US-based forces there end up attacking the group one of these days.

It also deserves to be mentioned that the US still wouldn’t be able to strike inside Afghanistan without passing through Pakistani airspace, which Islamabad is unlikely to allow from Indian territory. This observation suggests that basing US forces there on an “over-the-horizon” pretext might simply be a ruse for advancing those two countries’ ulterior motives connected to containing China. India has the right to formulate its policies however it wants, but it also shouldn’t be misled by the US into endangering its strategic security.

The wisest course of action would be for Indian authorities to publicly comment on these rumours as soon as possible, considering that they were just referenced by one of the most credible diplomatic sources in the world, the Foreign Minister of their country’s unique and privileged strategic partner. Lavrov wouldn’t have publicly brought this up unless there was a reason for him to do so, considering how sensitive that issue is. Observers can therefore conclude that there’s likely some serious substance to such rumours.

It can’t be known for sure, but it might be the case that the US is trying to negotiate a quid pro quo whereby it waives its threatened sanctions against India for its purchase of Russia’s S-400s in exchange for the country hosting offensive military infrastructure under the pretext of facilitating “over-the-horizon” attacks in Afghanistan. If that’s what’s really going on behind the scenes, then India risks being manipulated by its new American ally in ways that are actually intended to worsen relations with Russia.

To explain, the Eurasian Great Power would likely re-evaluate everything that it’s thus far taken for granted when it comes to its partner’s claims that its military cooperation with the US isn’t aimed against any third country. Russia and India have tried to work out their differences over the latter’s participation in the US-led Quad, but Moscow might no longer trust New Delhi if it turns out that the South Asian state ends up hosting American bases under whatever the pretext may be, which would surely prompt Chinese condemnation.

From the Russian perspective, that scenario might signal that India is no longer neutral and interested in pursuing a balanced foreign policy but that it’s decisively chosen to side with the US against China in ways that threaten to destabilize Eurasian security. The optics of Russian arms like the S-400s being used by India to defend possible US bases there against China in the event of a hot war between these two neighbours are politically uncomfortable, to put it mildly, especially in the context of the Russian-Chinese Strategic Partnership.

That’s not to suggest that Russia would politicize its arms sales to India by threatening to delay shipments or even outright withhold them, but just that it would put Moscow in a challenging position. The Kremlin wouldn’t ever countenance cutting off sales to India, nor could it financially afford to, which could lead to a significant foreign policy dilemma that might even evolve into a strategic crisis in the worst-case scenario. It could be this chain reaction of events that the US hopes to catalyze by conning India into hosting its military forces.

India shouldn’t risk putting Russia in such a position, to say nothing of endangering its own strategic security interests. Its leadership should promptly make an official statement about the rumours surrounding the US’ attempts to get their country to host its military forces. The sooner that this is cleared up, the better. The longer that India’s position remains ambiguous, the greater the chances of mutual trust with Russia being damaged. Hopefully, some formal clarity on this ultra-sensitive issue will soon be forthcoming.

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Andrew Korybko
Andrew Korybko
Andrew Korybko is a Moscow-based American political analyst specializing in the relationship between the US grand strategy in Afro-Eurasia, China's Belt & Road Initiative, and Hybrid Warfare. *Views are personal.
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