Interpreting Russian-Indian Interests In Afghanistan

Russian Ambassador to India Nikolai Kudashev’s interview with ANI revealed a lot about these two countries’ interests in Afghanistan. His main remarks as quoted by the outlet below, after which the author’s interpretation of each will immediately follow:

* “I am not aware of the situation (concerning alleged Pakistani military support to the Taliban’s Panjshir operation); naturally dangers emanating from civil conflict of Afghanistan are enormous; thus it is our anticipation that Pakistan will be among one to contribute to predictability, stability in Afghanistan, to avoid possible civil conflict and to secure the environment when Afghanistan cease to be the hotbed of terrorism in central and south Asia.”

– Russia doesn’t give credence to those unsubstantiated reports at this time and is also cognizant of how important bilateral ties with Pakistan presently are, especially with respect to their bilateral coordination in Afghanistan, which is why Amb. Kudashev is so cautious about the way that he answered this question. Moscow also has very high hopes of Islamabad playing a major role in post-war Afghanistan and envisions the Russian-Pakistani partnership securing their mutual interests in peace, development, and stability there.

* “We don’t want soil of Afghanistan should be used as a source of terrorism. These are the very basic values which bring Russia and India together. I don’t see much of the difference in our position as ambassador to India.”

– This is a diplomatic way to deflect from the difference between these two countries’ positions towards Afghanistan’s de facto Taliban-led government. Both still officially regard the group as terrorists, but Moscow is pragmatically engaging with them in the interests of peace and security while New Delhi is reluctant to.

* “As far as the phenomenon of terrorism is concerned, I do share my concerns with India. There is a danger of terror emanating and spread to Russian territory, and the territory of Kashmir may be. This is a matter of common concern, and this is a matter of congenial dialogue between Russia and India within multiple frameworks, the framework of bilateral counter-terror working groups.”

– Indians might interpret this as Amb. Kudashev giving credence to their expectation that Taliban fighters backed by Pakistan might infiltrate the portion of Kashmir under their country’s control or train militants from that region, but he’s probably just speaking broadly about Afghan-emanating terrorist threats and is most likely referring to the ideological dimension of regional groups being inspired by the Taliban’s recent successes.

* “We must give people of Afghanistan some creative solutions which are better than what terrorists offer. Let’s offer solutions better, more promising and more attractive than what terrorists do. If you want to offer sources of income, let’s offer the development programmes. If you want to offer a connectivity solution, let these solutions be better than terrorists do.”

– Russia hopes that it and India can jointly reconstruct post-war Afghanistan though the subtext is that New Delhi would first have to improve its ties with the Taliban. Should that happen, then India could include Russia in its plans to expand New Delhi’s $3 billion development programs there while Russia could find a way to incorporate Indian economic interests into the planned Pakistan-Afghanistan-Uzbekistan (PAKAFUZ) railway.

* “We are in close touch bilaterally, regionally, SCO, in Afghanistan contact group, within BRICS, within G20, multiple forums. Russia and India are global powers; this issue will figure in each and every format. I have already said I’m not ambassador to Afghanistan; I’m the ambassador to India.”

– Amb. Kudashev is emphasizing India’s growing global role and the close coordination between their two countries in all forums, especially whenever any of those touch upon the topic of Afghanistan. He wants Indians to know that Russia respects their country’s concerns and pays great importance to them.

* “What is that we need in Afghanistan – security, predictability, inclusive government which satisfies the needs of the Afghan people. Whether we are concerned with the resurrection of terrorism, yes, we are (on the) same (page) as you do. What is it we can do? We could face this threat and make our best to prevent it and (make) situation in and around Afghanistan inclusive.”

– Once again, shared concerns about terrorism, in general, are the most common factor connecting Russian and Indian interests in Afghanistan, after which comes their desire to see an inclusive government that leads to Kabul’s new leaders behaving more predictably. The remarks about making the situation around Afghanistan “inclusive” might also imply Russia’s hopes that India won’t object to Pakistan playing a major role there.

* “Afghanistan, its people need time to introspect, they need time to recuperate, they need some time to celebrate and rest, just give them some time and give them a ray of hope.”

– Amb. Kudashev is reminding Indians that it’ll take time for the post-war situation in Afghanistan to clarify. He also wants them to know that many Afghans genuinely support the Taliban and are thus celebrating its victory.

Differences in Indian and Pakistani positions on Afghanistan

A few notable differences between the Russian and Indian positions towards Afghanistan can be intuited from Amb. Kudashev’s interview. Here’s a list of the main ones followed by some well-intended suggestions about what can be done to reconcile their positions according to the author’s interpretation of Russian interests:

* Pakistan’s alleged role in militarily supporting the Taliban’s Panjshir operation
– In the event that the Indian government formally makes such accusations, it shouldn’t expect Russian backing.

* India is uncomfortable with Pakistan’s role in post-war Afghanistan
– India must accept that Pakistan is a legitimate stakeholder there and mustn’t agitate against it.

* The future of Afghan-emanating terrorist threats is unclear
– India shouldn’t expect Russia to share its concerns about Pakistani-backed Taliban meddling in Kashmir.

* The Taliban’s contemporary connection to terrorism
– Indian officials can learn from their Russian counterparts’ earlier claims that the Taliban fights against ISIS-K.

* PAKAFUZ’s expected role in Afghanistan’s post-war reconstruction and regional connectivity
– India should acknowledge this project’s importance and find ways to involve its Afghan-based companies in it.

* The effectiveness of Russian-Indian interactions on Afghanistan in various forums
– Differences between their positions mustn’t handicap multilateral forums’ effectiveness on Afghanistan.

* The de facto Taliban-led Afghan government’s hoped-for “inclusiveness” isn’t clearly defined
– Russia and India shouldn’t let their potential differences over this issue impede pragmatic ties with the group.

* Differing expectations about the timeline for Afghanistan’s stabilization
– India should be patient, gently encourage the political process, and acknowledge the Taliban’s popularity.

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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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