India Considers Deepening Ties with Afghanistan to Provide Military Assistance

India is contemplating whether to pay for the repair of grounded helicopters and transport airplanes from Afghanistan’s air force. Last year India sent a team of aviation experts to evaluate Afghanistan’s air force needs. Experts estimate that the cost of restoring the eleven Soviet-made Mi-35 helicopters and seven transport aircrafts will amount to 50 million dollars.

Afghanistan’s airforce dates from the Soviet era. Due to the sanctions against Russia established by President Obama and NATO, Western nations that currently fund the Afghan National Security and Defence Forces (ANDSF) initiative are unable to purchase the Russian-made hardware required for repair of the Afghan aircrafts.

India, however, is not bound by these restrictions. Bilateral relations between the Islamic Republic of Afghanistan and India have historically been strong. In 2011 the two nations signed a Strategic Partnership Agreement (SPA). This agreement facilitates various development projects in Afghanistan that aim to rebuild the nation’s infrastructure and institutions as well as invest in the country’s national resources.

Historically, aside from the delivery of four Mi-25 helicopters between December 2015-2016, India has been reluctant to provide military assistance to Afghanistan. By limiting its engagement to the economic realm, India attempts to avoid backlash from Pakistan.

Nonetheless, India’s cautionary engagement with Afghanistan does not seem to have won over Pakistan, which previously accused India of using Afghan soil to create instability within Pakistan. Strong Indo-Afghan relations have always been a pressure point for Pakistan, with former Pakistani President Pervez Musharraf asserting in 2011, "In Afghanistan there is some kind of a proxy conflict going on between Pakistan and India. India is trying to create an anti-Pakistan Afghanistan."

The recent wave of high-profile attacks and militant activities on Pakistani soil exacerbated the tensions between the two Islamic nations, with both India and Afghanistan accusing their common neighbour of not being able to prevent such acts. With respect to Pakistani-Afghan relations, Qadir Baloch Pakistan’s Minister for State and frontier regions added earlier this month, “Pakistan fully recognizes that peace in the region cannot be achieved without constructive bilateral ties. But, if Afghanistan [follows] Indian priorities for relations with Pakistan, it will not be acceptable.”

While providing military hardware to Afghanistan could be provocative to Pakistan, four helicopters is certainly not sufficient to aid an army that has been fighting militancy and terrorism in close to half of its 34 provinces. The U.S. encouraged increased military cooperation from India, suggesting it will prevent terrorists from getting a permanent foothold in Afghanistan, as well as foster greater stability within the region. India will decide whether to approve the proposal for the military equipment repair after the government completes its final budget.