India – Afghanistan ; Impact of soft power. IR Topic for UPSC Current Affairs classes. EDEN IAS.

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India – Afghanistan ; Impact of soft power. IR Topic for UPSC Current Affairs classes. EDEN IAS.


Afghanistan has always been the playground of the ‘great game’, with different nations battling ideologically and strategically to control and guide Afghanistan. While the players of the game have changed over time, the nature of the game has always been not only about exercising hard power but also about soft power influence and its significance in winning the game in Afghanistan. Between India and Pakistan, the soft power great game has played out in favour of India, leaving Pakistan unquestionably behind in the race to gain dominance and extend influence in Afghanistan.


While Afghanistan is known for its geo-strategic importance and abundance of natural resources, India and Pakistan wish to strengthen their relationship with the nation due to various other factors. A stable Afghanistan is crucial for regional and domestic security and stability for India and Pakistan. Both countries feel that exercising their influence in Afghanistan will enhance their strategic space and significance.

To acquire a worthwhile image among the global powers and gain regional hegemony, India believes that first it must exert influence in South Asia. India has for long exercised and extended its influence through art, culture, music, films etc. India’s soft power diplomacy, particularly in Afghanistan involves winning “hearts and minds” and strengthening its cultural as well as political relations with Afghanistan, backed with the ideas of nation building and political stability. While one might say that India’s ulterior motive is to gain regional hegemony or become a global power, it cannot be denied that focusing on soft power methods has benefitted India in Afghanistan and is helping it build trust and support in the nation.

As a knee jerk reaction to India’s success, Pakistan has become overly concerned with the India-Afghan friendship. Although, Pakistan wishes to reduce the Indian influence and tilt Afghan support towards themselves, her narrow state visions have turned out to be self-defeating. Besides, being Afghanistan’s immediate neighbour, Pakistan has century old ties with the nation which it could use to influence Afghanistan. These include historical, cultural, religious, ethnic, linguistic and trading links that naturally tie Pakistan to Afghanistan. Pakistan has failed to capitalise on these advantages in order to strengthen its relations with Afghanistan. Pakistan primarily relies on military means and hard power and completely neglects the use of soft power methods such as art, culture, education to promote their foreign policy objectives. Moreover, the fact that various terrorist and extremist outfits harbor in Pakistan and the state is believed to support these organisations, plays to its disadvantage and tarnishes its image among other states including Afghanistan. As a result, Indian impact and the sway of soft power has resulted in a much greater acceptance and support in Afghanistan as compared to that of Pakistan.

India’s involvement and contribution to the development of cricket in Afghanistan has been one of its primary means of soft power influence in the nation. Interestingly, cricket in Afghanistan originated in the refugee camps in Pakistan that were occupied by Afghans escaping the war against the Soviets in the 1980’s. While Afghans took to cricket in a big way, the game faced the hurdles of development, funding and proper infrastructure. Indian contribution to the development of cricket in Afghanistan has been boon for both nations. Due to disturbed conditions within Afghanistan, the Afghan team was quite eager and grateful to choose India as their home base.

The relationship between Bollywood and Afghanistan is joined at the hip for a long time. The nature of this relationship is such that it creates a people-to-people bond that is greater than any governmental efforts. As a society that has been suppressed by the harsh rules of the Taliban, the Afghans love and cherish Bollywood films that display exaggerated images of Bollywood hero’s and revolve around fighting injustice. These films allow the Afghans to engross themselves into the fantasies of Bollywood and enjoy the extravagant lifestyle portrayed in the films. Stories such as the Kabuliwala by Rabindranath Tagore, display the cultural links between India and Afghanistan, further increasing the bond between the two nations. Indian cinema has always been a large market in Afghanistan. Moreover, Bollywood has always portrayed Afghans and particularly Pashtuns as the ‘good guys’

India has been heavily involved in and has largely contributed to the educational development in Afghanistan. The education sector in Afghanistan lacks proper infrastructure, suffers from a huge gender disparity and shortage of trained teachers. India has provided multiple scholarships to Afghan students with thousands of Afghan nationals studying in India. Vocational training and skill development classes are also provided to Afghan women and youth. India is currently building and upgrading the Habibia High School, a project that is worth more than 1 million USD. Through educational development, India has also tried to build ties with the ethnic communities of Afghanistan, specially the Pashtun community that is present on the Afghanistan-Pakistan border and serves as a buffer between Pakistan and India. Education as a soft power has worked in favour of India with regards to building trust and influence among the people of Afghanistan.


Another important Indian contribution has been in health and medical care in Afghanistan. India has bestowed an amount of 5 million USD for the Afghan Red Society Programme to treat congenital heart disease in children. Medical tourism has become a large market between India and Afghanistan, enhancing the people-to-people interaction between the two. New Delhi adopted a more liberal visa policy in 2014 for Afghan nationals making it easier for Afghan patients to travel to India due to lack of proper facilities in their own land. Both private and government hospitals in India welcome the inflow of foreign patients and provide them with complete assistance. There are various interpreters who help the patients converse with the hospital staff and some of the staff is also well trained in foreign languages. India’s hospitable and welcoming approach to Afghan patients has increased the influx of patients from Afghanistan. Simultaneously, Pakistan has been losing Afghan patients to India. Afghans have stopped seeking medical care in Pakistan due to their strict border management policy, stringent visa policy for Afghans and constant security checks at the border. Moreover, although the cost of medical treatment is increasing in India, the increase is more rapid in Pakistan. Thus, India’s comparatively liberal polices in terms of healthcare have attracted Afghans, further widening the relationship between the two nations.


  • Afghanistan lies at the crossroads of the Middle Eastern, Central Asian, and South Asian security environments. It was crafted not as a nation-state but as a buffer zone intended to separate the then dominant regional powers Britain, Russia, and Persia.
  • Today, Afghanistan is more of a connector between the surrounding security environments than an insulator.
  • It draws together various security-related issues (for example, narcotics trade and terrorism) and spills them over to all bordering regions.
  • Furthermore, today‘s  regional  powers  in  the  broader neighbourhood  around  Afghanistan—Iran,  Pakistan, India,  Russia,  Uzbekistan,  China,  and  Japan—are  all involved in the country‘s affairs.
  • The geo-political position of Afghanistan, because of the various developments in the neighbourhood, had gradually emerged as a third and major aspect governing Indo-Afghan relations.
  • In the light of India’s deteriorating relations with China on one hand and constant apprehension of a misadventure by Pakistan, Afghanistan becomes indispensible for India
  • Given that a  politically and  economically  stable Afghanistan  is  a  strategic  priority  for  India,  India maintains  that  the  ongoing  effort  to  help  Afghanistan emerge from war, strife and privation is its responsibility as  a  regional



To   a   large   extent,   India‘s   approach   towards Afghanistan   has   been   a   function   of   its Pakistan policy. It is important for India that Pakistan does not get a  foothold  in  Afghanistan  and  so  historically India  has attempted  to  prevent  Pakistan  from  dominating Afghanistan.  India would like   to   minimize   Pakistan‘s involvement   in   the   affairs   of   Afghanistan   and   to ensure that a   fundamentalist regime of the Taliban variety does not take root again.  Pakistan, on  the other hand,  has  viewed  Afghanistan  as  a  good  means  of balancing  out  India‘s  preponderance  in  South  Asia.

Good  India-Afghanistan  ties  are  seen  by  Pakistan  as detrimental to its national security interests   as  the  two  states  flank  the  two   sides  of   Pakistan‘s  borders.  A friendly  political  dispensation  in  Kabul  is  viewed  by Pakistan as essential to escape the strategic dilemma of being caught  between  a powerful  adversary  in India  in the East and an irredentist Afghanistan with claims on the Pashtun  dominated  areas  in  the  West.

Given its Pashtun-ethnic linkage with Afghanistan, Pakistan considers its role to be a privileged one in the affairs of Afghanistan.  Given these conflicting imperatives, both India and Pakistan have tried to neutralize the influence of each other in the affairs of Afghanistan. Both are stuck in a classic security dilemma in so far as their policies towards Afghanistan are concerned.  Any  measure  by either  Pakistan  or  India  to  increase  its  own  security causes the other to  act in  response, thereby causing a deterioration in the overall regional security environment.


India  is  a  developing country,  still  it  is  providing  large amount  of aid  to Afghanistan.  There are many political reasons behind this  aid  program.  All major  regional actors are occupied with the task of making their places in the territory by using different ways and means; India is trying to do this by involving itself into Afghanistan. There is race going on between India and China for dominance in the region.  China  is  an  emerging superpower;  India‘s intensifying  efforts  in Afghanistan  make  it  prominent  in region and to  limit China‘s influence  in  the region.  China is  growing  its  influence  in  Afghanistan  to  utilize unexploited  resources.  India  is  providing  assistance  in many projects of reconstruction to counter the influence of China  in the region. After 9/11  attacks and launch of ―Operation  Enduring  Freedom‖  by US,  provides  India  an opportunity to pursue its foreign policy goals of attaining hegemonic position in the region.


India‘s   other   major   interest   is   to   make   sure   that  extremism   remains   under  control  in  its neighbourhood  and  its  struggle  against  extremism  is  also  closely  intertwined  with  the  rise  of extremism  in  Pakistan  and  Afghanistan.

Any  breeding ground  of  radical  terrorists  has  a  direct impact  on  the security  of  India,  resulting  in  a  rise  in  infiltration  of terrorists across borders as well attacks. It is vital for both India and Afghanistan that the latter would never again emerge as a safe haven for terrorism and extremism.

A friendly Afghanistan where religious extremism continues to flourish is seen by Pakistan as essential to keep the pressure on India in Kashmir by providing a base where militants could be trained for fighting against the Indian forces.  The  Militants fighting  in  Kashmir  have not  only drawn inspiration from the Afghan resistance against the Soviets  but  has  also  drawn  resources  and  material support from Pakistan. Kashmiri militants were among the thousands of ―volunteers from   various   Islamic  countries  that   participated   in   the   war   against   the  Soviet forces. They went back indoctrinated in a version of Islam that destined their victory over the ―infidels as well as with important knowledge  of guerrilla  warfare. India  rightly  perceived  that  the  victors  of  mujahedeen against  the Soviet Union  would fundamentally  alter the direction of Islamic extremism as Afghanistan would end up playing a crucial role in the shaping of an Islamic geo-politics  sitting  as  it  does  astride  the  Islamic  heartland involving South and Central Asia as well as Middle East


Afghanistan is also viewed as a gateway to the  Central Asian region where India hopes to expand its influence. Afghanistan  is  the  gateway  of  oil  rich  Central  Asian Republics  (CARs)  but  India  does  not have  direct  land passage towards CARs; it has to depend on Afghanistan to access CARs.  The penetrating influence of India has advantage for India that it acts like a bridge to enter into CARs.  Convivial  relations  with  Afghanistan  and  its association  in  almost  each  field  of  Afghanistan  give prospect  of  developing  good  ties  with  CARs.  ―India‘s diversifying  and  developing  economy  demands exploration of energy resources, and CARs have rich oil, gas  and  hydrocarbon  resources.

Furthermore,  Central Asia is crucial for India not only because of its oil and gas reserves that India wishes to tap for its energy security but also  because other  major powers  such as  the  US, Russia  and  China  have  already  started  competing  for influence  in  the  region.  The  regional  actors  view Afghanistan as  a potential source  of instability  even as their  geo-political  rivalry  remains  a  major  cause  of Afghanistan‘s  troubles.  India  was forced  to increase  its military  profile  in  Central  Asia  after  the  diplomatic humiliation  it  had  to  endure  in  1999  when  an  Indian Airlines flight from Kathmandu was hijacked by Pakistan-backed  terrorists to Kandahar  in Southern  Afghanistan.

India  had  to  negotiate  a  deal  with  the  Taliban  that involved the release of the aircraft in exchange for three hardened  militants held  by India.  India then  decided to set  up  its  first  military  base  abroad  in  Farkhor  in Tajikistan, close  to the Afghan border, that was used to provide assistance to the  Northern Alliance fighters and later  to  provide  assistance  to  the  Post-Taliban government  in  Kabul.  This base  has  been  operational since May  2002.  This  military base  shows India‘s  strong physical  presence  in  the  region  to  keep  check  on Pakistan and China.  As  the  geo-political  importance  of  Central  Asia  has increased  in  recent  years,  all  the  major  powers  have been keen to expand their influence in the region and India is  no exception.

It  shares many of the  interests of other major powers such as  the US, Russia  and China vis-à-vis Central Asia, including access to Central Asian energy resources, controlling the spread of radical Islam, ensuring political stability, and strengthening  of regional economies.  But  unlike  China  and  Russia,  its  interests converge with that of the US in  Central Asia and some have even suggested that it is in the US interests to have a  greater  Indian  presence  in  Central  Asia  to  counter growing Chinese or Russian involvement


A  major  factor  behind  India‘s  pro-active  Afghanistan agenda has  been  India‘s attempt  to carve  out for itself a greater role in regional affairs, more in consonance with its  rising  economic  and  military  profile.  India wants  to establish its credentials as a major  power in the region that is willing to  take responsibility for ensuring  stability around  its periphery.

By merging  as a  major donor  for Afghanistan, India is trying to project itself as a significant economic  power that  can provide necessary  aid to  the needy  states  in  its  neighbourhood.  It has been contended that  India‘s ―proactive  foreign policy vis-à-vis Afghanistan has been predicated upon New Delhi‘s keenness to be of use to American regional policy ―to  the detriment of a  traditional  ―independent  Indian  approach towards its neighbours.

It  is  not  clear,  however, what alternative   policy   India  can   pursue   given   that  America‘s  ―war   on terror– its strategic priority–has at its  centre  the  goal  of   achieving   Afghanistan‘s  stabilization. Though  India‘s  interests   are  best served  in  helping  the  US  achieve  that  aim,  India  will have  to   make  some   difficult  choices  now  that  the  US commitment  to  create  an  enduring  environment  in Afghanistan  has  waned  and  it  plans  to  leave  before achieving its long-term objectives. India will find the going tough if the US decides to revert back to its policy of the 1990s  when  despite  convergent  security  interests,  it failed  to  develop  an  effective  counter-terrorism partnership with India.


Afghanistan is of crucial for Indian expanding economy. Geographically,  Afghanistan  provides  the  path  way  to CARs.  Good bilateral  relations with Afghanistan  will  be beneficial  for  India‘s  steel  industry  because  of  huge and precious  iron  reserves  of  Afghanistan.  India‘s future energy security largely depends on Afghanistan, which is the gateway to energy-rich Central Asia.

New Delhi has been playing a significant role in the process of reconstruction and development, building and strengthening state institutions, capacity building and skill enhancement in Afghanistan.  By pledging  around US$ 2 billion for reconstruction and development, India is the  largest  regional  donor  to  Afghanistan.  New Delhi believes inclusive development is essential to establish a viable and peaceful statehood in Afghanistan

Clearly, India’s use of soft power over hard power in Afghanistan has greatly benefited the nation and its relationship with Afghanistan. Soft power plays an important role in developing friendly and diplomatic relations with nations and cannot be neglected. This is not to say that hard power should be completely neglected. A balance and combination of hard and soft power is required to achieve the required goal. If Pakistan wishes to influence and have stable relations with Afghanistan, it ought to use soft power means rather than solely relying on hard power and military tactics.



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