Russia, India: Coming Together Again Over
March 12, 2010 | 1642 GMT
Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin
and his Indian counterpart, Manmohan Singh, in New Delhi on March 12
Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin
visited India to talk about the two countries’ shared interest in
Afghanistan. Moscow and New Delhi have a history of aligned interests in
the country, which will move the two closer together as the United States
prepares for an eventual withdrawal of its forces from Afghanistan.
Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin
visited New Delhi on March 11 to discuss, among other things,
Afghanistan. During his visit, he is working with the Indians to
formulate a common strategy for dealing with that country. Ahead of
Putin’s visit, Russian Ambassador to India Alexander Kadakin said it was
time for NATO forces to withdraw from Afghanistan. He added that though
Russia understands that may not happen immediately, both Russia and India
are preparing to cooperate with one another to lay the groundwork for
their policies in Afghanistan in anticipation of an eventual U.S.
With the United States turning its
attention away from Iraq, Afghanistan is fast becoming — for the moment —
a focal point of international attention. Washington is in the process of
committing a total of nearly 100,000 troops to the campaign there for the
next 12 to 18 months, and it remains the single most important focus of
the NATO alliance. But while the U.S. focus has been in the process of
shifting to Afghanistan for two years now, other countries such as India,
Russia and Iran are beginning to focus their attention to the war-torn
country for reasons of their own.
The nature of this focus is twofold. First
there are international players, such as Iran, that benefit from the fact
that U.S. attention — particularly its ground combat capability — is
being absorbed by Afghanistan. Keeping the U.S. bogged down there creates
room for maneuver on other issues. Second, there are a number of
countries that have an interest in the future of Afghanistan and that
will need to position themselves to take advantage of the duration of the
expected U.S. commitment, a pivotal time for Afghanistan in terms of
shaping the long-term realities of the country.
Enter the Russo-Indian alignment on
Afghanistan. Much like Iran, Russia sees benefits in having the U.S.
bogged down in Afghanistan. Russia’s current drive to consolidate
control over its periphery benefits greatly from the American
distraction in the Middle East and South Asia. Logistical challenges for
the United States in Afghanistan have created new levers for Moscow as
Washington has sought supply routes through the former Soviet Union.
But Russia also must consider the
long-term perspective on Afghanistan, a tumultuous country that borders
its near abroad. To ensure it does not face challenges in a
post-withdrawal period, Russia will need to be prepared to deal with an
American-Pakistani-Saudi-Turkish understanding and immense influence in
As Russia is seeking to counterbalance the
United States in Afghanistan, India is seeking to counterbalance
Pakistan. India has no border with Afghanistan, and it does not have many
tools with which to challenge Pakistan’s influence there head-on, so it —
like Russia — has less influence in the country than it would prefer. A
government in Kabul friendly to Islamabad emboldens Pakistan by giving it
a secure border, allowing it to focus all its free attention to its east,
whereas an Afghan government friendly to New Delhi weakens Pakistan.
Alliances between countries have a way of
recurring throughout history because of the fundamental geopolitical and
geographic factors that define a region. Russo-Indian cooperation on
Afghanistan is no exception. New Delhi supported the Marxist governments
of Kabul that existed during the 1980s at a time when a
U.S.-Pakistani-Saudi alliance was supporting Islamist insurgents in
bleeding the Red Army.
When the Taliban rose to power in the
midst of the intra-Islamist civil war that erupted following the fall of
the Marxist regime in 1992, both India and Russia, along with Iran
supported the anti-Taliban forces — largely made up of Tajiks, Hazara and
Uzbeks — that formed the Northern Alliance against the Taliban. The three
countries’ common interest in opposing the rise of a Pashtun-dominated
government in Kabul led them to support the same groups: The enemy of
their common enemy became their common proxy. And just as Russia, Iran
and India found themselves seeking a common strategy in the 1990s in the
wake of Afghanistan’s descent into civil war, so, too, will these
countries seek to set themselves up as partners in their current attempts
to influence the situation in Afghanistan.
Even together, Russia, Iran and India face
a more powerful bloc with more influence than they could hope to achieve.
But they are not without influence — not only among the ethnic minorities
but also among the Pashtuns who were formerly affiliated with the Marxist
regimes and through aid monies. (India is the largest regional donor to
Afghanistan.) The U.S.-Pakistani-Saudi-Turkish alignment also is leaning
heavily on Pakistan to use its immense influence to move forward with
their plans for Afghanistan. Because this entails a deeper Islamist
influence, both Russia and India will look to cooperate over doing what
they can to limit that accommodation, which puts them on a potential
collision course with American efforts there.
At the heart of the issue is transnational
Islamist militancy, which is the central thread of the common Russian,
Iranian and Indian self-interest in Afghanistan. Pakistan has long
cultivated militancy in the Pashtun regions on both sides of the
Afghan-Pakistani border. Islamabad keeps these groups on hand as leverage
against New Delhi — it was from these groups that the 2008 Mumbai attacks
Similarly, Moscow’s painful — and recent —
memories of Chechen militancy have given rise to deep-seated fears about
militancy along its periphery (not to mention that it was the Taliban
regime in Afghanistan that was the only “government” to recognize Chechen
“independence”). More important though, the Russians are worried about the
spillover of Islamist militancy from Afghanistan in Turkmenistan,
Uzbekistan, and Tajikistan – a more immediate threat given the shared
borders. Now the U.S.-Pakistani-Saudi-Turkish axis is seeking, to one
degree or another, to facilitate the political accommodation of Taliban
and other Islamist groups into the regime in Kabul — the very groups over
which Russia, Iran and India harbor the deepest concern.
Please feel free to distribute this
Intelligence Report to friends or repost to your Web site linking to www.stratfor.com.
This analysis was just a fraction of what
our Members enjoy, to start your Free Membership Trial Today!
If a friend forwarded this email to you, click
here to join our
mailing list for FREE intelligence and other special offers.
"I have been
a member for about three weeks and find your updates and analyses
outstanding. I have referred a number of friends to the site and recommended
they become a member. Very nice work."
"Without peer in open source
—Gen. Thomas Wilkerson USMC (retired)
CEO United States Naval Institute
"I think you do a great job with what
you produce. Keep up the great writing and analysis, it's as good or
better than a great deal of the classified intel briefings I used to
Brigadier General (retired)
"As a subscriber paid up for the next
few years, I find your thinking very refreshing and very rewarding for me
personally. I have always thought the mainstream news media were a day
late and a dollar short on most subtle issues. And of course elected
political leaders were only interested in discussing issues in a way that
would help their re-election chances."
SVP Capital Markets
"Kudos to you guys for another
excellent piece. Your premium subscription is my most important out of
pocket professional expense. Your insight and analysis — and willingness
to admit your infrequent missed forecast — makes STRATFOR the best daily
resource I have."
—Jay A. Carroll
Lt. Col. & Certified Protection Professional
unsubscribe, please click here