One of the effects of the Western military drawdown from Afghanistan has been to strengthen Russian-Indian security ties. Whereas New Delhi has tried in recent years to diversity its defense relationships, including by seeking out better ties with the United States, the need to prevent the pro-Pakistani Taliban from returning to power in Afghanistan has given a second wind to its security alignment with Moscow. Until now, their mutual engagement regarding Afghanistan was mostly diplomatic. But media reports have now emerged of a new arms-transfer arrangement in which India will buy weapons from Russia for delivery to the Afghan military and join with Russia to help cover the costs of restoring Afghanistan’s own Soviet-built arms industry.
Russia and India share several goals regarding Afghanistan. They both want to prevent the return of the Afghan Taliban to power. During the 1990s, the Taliban, both as a guerrilla force and then as a ruling party, sponsored terrorist operations against Indian and Russian targets as well as against neighboring countries in Central Asia. For the past decade, Moscow and New Delhi have been free-riding on the U.S. and NATO combat missions in Afghanistan, but now they fear that the coalition’s drawdown will result in a deteriorating security situation there.
Yet neither Russia nor India wants to employ their own combat forces in Afghanistan. The Russians have yet to recover from the disastrous Soviet military occupation of Afghanistan of the 1980s, which paved the way for the growth of radical Islamist movements throughout Eurasia. The Indians have had their own unfortunate military experience in Sri Lanka, where they became bogged down in a frustratingly protracted counterinsurgency. As a result, both Russia and India have adopted strategies that prioritize providing indirect support for the Afghan National Security Forces (ANSF) and nonmilitary economic aid.