The signs of a policy review in Delhi regarding the Afghan situation are encouraging. The National Security Advisor Ajit Doval has criticized the signing of the recent agreement between the spy agencies of Afghanistan and Pakistan – Afghan National Directorate of Security [NDA] and Pakistan’s Inter-Services Intelligence [ISI].

Doval said in media comments,

  • What Pakistan wanted was to get an assurance and put pressure on Afghanistan, so that they will not allow their territory to be used for any security related work by India. That is the crux of it. This is based on a faulty assumption that India probably uses Afghan soil or Afghan nationals for its security purposes.

Doval’s remarks hint at disapproval, and, while restrained in tone, the point has been made that India sees no need for the Afghan government to have entered into such a deal with Pakistan which impacts Indian interests.

Second, India has decided to abandon the $10 billion investment plan for the development of the Hajigak iron ore mines in Afghanistan. This is a sensible decision, because it was a wild flight of fancy on the part of the mandarins in South Block to have conceived such a hare-brained idea at all in the first instance. India has no access route to Afghanistan (and won’t have one in a foreseeable future), and, Delhi is in no position to stabilize that country’s security environment.

The new sense of realism is gratifying. At any rate, with the steep fall in the price of iron ore in the world market, Hajigak would have become a white elephant for the Indian investors and, therefore, cutting losses and exiting at this stage itself is the right thing to do.

Third, former Afghan President Hamid Karzai passed through Delhi and met Modi on Saturday en route to China on a 4-day visit. Eyebrows will be raised, because Karzai is increasingly assuming the controversial role of a “dissident”. He has been openly critical of Ghani’s Pakistan policies and has questioned the need of the NDS-ISI tie-up.

Of course, Delhi has a sense of nostalgia for the Karzai era. It is evident from the Indian readout on Modi’s conversation with Karzai. According to the Afghan media, Karzai “demanded India to extend all possible cooperation in… security institutions so that Afghanistan should be able to defend itself.”

But the Indian policies should move on. The primacy should be on government-to-government relations with Kabul and Ghani is Afghanistan’s elected president today. An impression gained ground in the Indian mind that Ghani “tilts” toward Pakistan. This misperception overlooks the ground realities and the compulsions working on Ghani.

When Karzai left office, he wasn’t on talking terms with President Barack Obama and if he hopes to stage a political comeback, Washington will block his passage. Does he think China or India can help?

Finally, it is a good thing that Doval is traveling to Moscow today to attend a meeting of the NSCs of the BRICS countries, where he hopes to discuss the Afghan situation with his Chinese and Russian counterparts. On the issue of international terrorism and religious extremism, India’s “natural allies” are China and Russia.

But, coming back to the NSD-ISI tie-up, there is no need for India to resort to panic reaction. If the Pakistani intentions are good, the tie-up will endure and it may do some good to regional security; or else, it is a matter of time before it flounders and Pakistan faces a big backlash for leading Ghani up the garden path.

There are worrying signs that Pakistan is up to old tricks and is slyly backing out of the deal with Ghani on the peace talks involving the Taliban. Caveats are being added by the day. (See the Op-Ed in Dawn newspaper by a well-known establishment figure in Islamabad.)