The newspapers here in Delhi reported yesterday that two Indian soldiers were killed by a suicide in Afghanistan in the SouthWestern province of Nimroz. It’s a particularly interesting fact because the presence of Indian troops in Afghanistan has gone unreported in the West (perhaps some of the journalists in Kabul need to get out of town more) and is little talked about here.
In fact there are at least 1,000 Indian paramilitary soldiers of the ‘Indo-Tibetan Border Police’ and the ‘Border Roads Organization’ — an adjunct to the Indian military similar to the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers — operating in Afghanistan.
These forces are not part of NATO/ISAF and have little or no contact with NATO or U.S. commands. Their official mission is the protection of Indian construction teams and businesses, India being one of the larger aid donors and investors in Afghanistan, up there with Iran. Two Indian contractors have been abducted and beheaded by militants in the last two years.
The road on which the suicide bomber struck runs between Zaranj (capital of Nimruz) and Delaram. It is being rebuilt as a joint Indian-Iranian project in a province where ISAF has not established a Provincial Reconstruction Team.
Moreover, as Pakistani officials like to point out when confronted with evidence of the ISI’s support of the Taliban, India also maintains four large consulates in Afghanistan largely staffed by intelligence agents and paramilitary soldiers.
Just as Pakistan has long sought to make Afghanistan into a kind of colony in order to have what its generals call “strategic depth” against India, so has India long cultivated friendship with Afghanistan in order to encircle Pakistan and to extend its influence in Central Asia. (Indeed ‘non-aligned’ India was one of the only countries in the world to recognize the Soviet-installed communist regime in Kabul.)
There has been little prospect of Indian forces there helping the NATO-U.S.-Afghan effort against the Taliban. The top brass in the Indian military see Afghanistan as belonging to their expanding sphere of influence –there’s a lot of intoxicated talk of ‘superpower’ status here these days — and they dislike the U.S. and foreign military presence there. However if Taliban forces begin deliberately targeting Indian forces, it’s at least possible that that could change.