Ten years ago, on October 7, 2001, the US imperialists and their allies invaded Afghanistan, and they remain there to this day. In the name of waging “war against terrorism”, they have occupied the country, set up their chosen regime, bombed the villages and mountains, and killed and maimed tens of thousands of its people. A country famed for its ancient history and importance at the conjunction of several trade routes, has suffered untold damage, with much of its infrastructure and populated areas destroyed, and lakhs of its people forced to flee.
This is the context in which the Indian state and Indian companies are steadily expanding their presence in Afghanistan. Today, the Indian state has committed $2 billion in “development assistance”, and is the fifth largest foreign investor in Afghanistan. The Indian government boasts of its “ancient civilisational ties” with Afghanistan to assert its right to establish its foothold in occupied Afghanistan. It claims that it is helping to “build” Afghanistan. But it must not be forgotten that the growing Indian presence in Afghanistan is taking place under the aegis of the brutal occupying forces and, in fact, would not be possible but for the protection it is getting from the presence of the US and allied occupation.
The Indian state’s track record in this respect in Afghanistan has been very dishonourable. Back in 1979, it supported the invasion of Afghanistan by its ally, the Soviet Union under Brezhnev. India then went on to increase its presence in the country under the conditions of Soviet occupation which lasted about ten years. When the Afghan people through their struggle forced the invading troops to withdraw, and the Soviet-backed regime of Najibullah was overthrown, this was a major setback for the Indian state’s strategic interests in Afghanistan. Since then, it has sought a way to recover its position in Afghanistan, first keeping up its ties with the Northern Alliance which was involved in a civil war with the Taliban government, and then using the opportunity provided by the US-led invasion of Afghanistan. It is known that Indian intelligence agencies provided support to this invasion, even though Indian troops were not directly committed due to the opposition of the Indian people.
Today, India is involved in major profitable construction projects in Afghanistan, especially the building of roads and bridges. The state’s Border Roads Organisation (BRO) has been involved, as well as a number of private companies, like C & C Constructions, which has built more than 700 km of roads, including a major one from Kandahar to Kabul, and has subcontracted with USAID, the World Bank and the Asian Development Bank. C & C is also building Afghanistan’s new parliament building at a cost of $125 million. Indians have also built a 400 Km-long power transmission line supplying electricity to Kabul. Due to repeated attacks on these projects, which have resulted in the deaths of Indian workers and engineers involved in them, ITBP forces have been sent from India to provide security.
A major interest of Indians in Afghanistan is gaining access to that country’s rich store of mineral and ore deposits. Currently, bidding is going on for the exploitation of the Hajigak mines, which has one of the world’s largest deposits of high quality iron ore. 15 of the 22 bidders are Indian companies, including the state-owned SAIL and NMDC as well as Tata Steel and JSW. Among the other mineral resources that are being eyed are copper and gold mines, as well as substantial uranium and lithium deposits.
Besides minerals, Afghanistan has largely untapped reserves of oil and natural gas as well. An American geological survey report of 2002 has estimated undiscovered gas reserves to be between 3.6 to 36.5 trillion cubic feet, while oil reserves are estimated to be between 0.4 to 3.6 billion barrels. These are concentrated in the Amu Darya basin in the west of the country and the Afghan-Tajik basin in the east. The Indian bourgeoisie, which seeks more and more fuel sources around the world to power its economic growth, has its eye on some of these oil and gas deposits in Afghanistan. At the same time, it is vitally interested in ensuring that Afghanistan provides a safe conduit for the supply of oil and gas from other parts of Central Asia to India. Ever since the US frowned on the project for building an Iran-Pakistan-India gas pipeline, India has paid greater attention to an alternative pipeline sourcing gas from Turkmenistan via Afghanistan and Pakistan (the TAPI pipeline).
In strategic terms, the Indian state is vitally interested in using a ‘friendly’ Afghanistan as a means to outflank Pakistan and to also keep Chinese interests in the region in check. Hostility with Pakistan has been a driving force behind Indian policy towards Afghanistan, and has been used to justify its most opportunistic moves there, including siding first with the Soviet occupation and then the US-led occupation of Afghanistan. The virulent India-Pakistan hostility has played a very negative role in Afghanistan’s recent history, preventing the development of normal mutually beneficial relations among all the countries of this region.
It is a great shame that of all the states in this region, it is the Indian state that is most worried about the possibility of the pullout of American and other foreign troops from Afghanistan. The Indian External Affairs Minister has actually urged the American government not to pull out in a hurry. This shows that the Indian state’s policy towards Afghanistan has nothing to do with ensuring peace and sovereignty of Afghanistan, but is driven solely by its narrow interests. The Indian working class and people must actively oppose and condemn this opportunistic policy. Our interests lie in the complete withdrawal of all foreign forces from that country and in the restoration of a free and sovereign Afghanistan, a country whose rich resources are used by their people first and foremost for their own well-being.