History over geography

SourceThe HinduIndian Express and Business Standard 

Relevance: This article explains the recent developments in Afghanistan.


The geopolitics that happened in Afghanistan provided a new strategic boost. This is the best chance for India to focus on maritime power and opportunity rather than overland threats


Please read the following two articles for a better understanding.

  1. The script of the new endgame in Afghanistan
  2. Return of Taliban has implications for India
  3. New Delhi’s Af-Pak: Old friends versus old foes: Should India accept Taliban, betray Afghans or support resistance movements like Saleh’s?
About Afghanistan (the global battlefield) and its geopolitics
India Afghanistan
Source: Maps of India

Afghanistan has always been the ultra-poor, deeply conservative, tribal, sparsely populated and loosely governed land-locked nation. At present, the nation lying between the warring great powers of the day. That makes it a battlefield for global powers. With enormous collateral damage and no benefits.

For instance, Imperial Britain and Czarist Russia in the 19th century, the Soviet Union and the US in the 20th century, the US and stateless pan-national al Qaeda in the 21st century.

Its location made it the “bali ka bakra” or sacrificial goat in the Great Game, the Cold War and the War on Terror.

Geopolitics since the entry of Pakistan:
  1. Pakistan came into being only in 1947 and inherited colonial India’s borders to the west. Pakistan’s only utility to the US-led Western Bloc was where it sat on the world’s map. Thus bringing Pak into the western formal military alliances.
    • This geography made it the frontline state in the first Cold War because it shared a long border, a religion, tribal ties and access to Afghanistan.
    • There are instances where the US conducted flying of U-2 spy planes over the Soviet Union from Peshawar.
  2. Pakistan became doubly important in 1971 as physical and political proximity with China. 
  3. Pakistan had lost its history-shaping geo-strategic blessing after the disintegration of the USSR. This was also when a US warming up to India and the de-hyphenation of its policy on the subcontinent began.
Read more: Afghan Peace Process and India – Explained, Pointwise
Geopolitics of India
  1. India inherited about 15,000 km of land borders. On the day it became independent, about a half of it was abutting Pakistan (East and West Pakistan). The next major boundary sharing between China. So, China emerged as a threat in less than a decade.
  2. Even after the creation of Bangladesh, India’s strategic thought became land border-oriented. India constantly thought of Pakistan, terrorism, China and became reactive and defensive.
  3. This took away India’s attention from the vast 7,500 km-plus coastlines.  India’s coast constitutes some of the world’s most important sea lanes, with enormous exclusive economic zones (EEZs) and island assets on the east and the west, a region of incredible opportunity.
  4. For 75 years, India’s strategic thinking has been so distracted by a land threat.
Geopolitics and the stability in Afghanistan
  1. Russia wants to ensure that the Talibani virus doesn’t infiltrate the Central Asian republics. As Russia is making cordial relations with them
  2. China also has similar concerns for the following reasons.
    1. China does not want the Taliban to tie up with the Muslim Uyghurs.
    2. A stable Afghanistan is vital for their mega CPEC investments.
  3. Pakistan has zero capacity to threaten India through Afghanistan. This is because of the following reasons.
    1. The US did not help Pakistan this time, as they helped the Taliban to defeat the US
    2. China wants peace and stability in Afghanistan, so any attempt to promote terror will negatively impact the development of Pakistan.
About the return of the Taliban and Geopolitics of India

The fall of Kabul and the consequent knock-on effects in the region will have several potential implications for India’s foreign policy and its strategic choices and behaviour.

The return of the Taliban to Kabul has effectively brought India’s ‘mission Central Asia’ to rest. This is because,

  • There is little physical access to India with the north-western landmass. Further, India’s interest also shifted towards Indo-Pacific
  • The developments in Afghanistan could nudge India to seek stability, if not peace, with Pakistan.

So India needs to set aside Pakistan and Afghanistan and start focusing on our maritime power and opportunity. This is India’s greatest opportunity in 75 years to shift its strategic gaze from the north to the south.

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