India, Russia mull over meeting Afghan defence requirements

Russia and India are extremely concerned that the security situation in Afghanistan might worsen in the aftermath of withdrawal of International Security Assistance Force (ISAF). Source: Reuters/Vostock Photo

Russia and India are extremely concerned that the security situation in Afghanistan might worsen in the aftermath of withdrawal of International Security Assistance Force (ISAF). Source: Reuters/Vostock Photo

Delhi and Moscow are working to reach a deal under which Russia would supply some military hardware to Kabul for which the payment would be made by India.

India and Russia are holding talks for meeting the defence requirements of Afghanistan where the security situation is likely deteriorate in the aftermath of US troop pullout from the war-torn country this year. Delhi and Moscow are working to reach a deal under which Russia would supply some military hardware to Kabul for which the payment would be made by India.

Afghan President Hamid Karzai had made a request to Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh for supplying military equipments to Kabul during his last official visit to lndia in order to improve its defence capabilities to meet the security challenges following planned NATO troops’ withdrawal. Kabul wants the transfer of these military equipments for its armed forces under the strategic partnership agreement signed with India.

However, India, the world’s largest arms importer, has its arsenal largely equipped with weaponries of Soviet and Russian origin. India cannot re-export Russian made weapons to a third country under an existing bilateral agreement .That is why Delhi and Moscow are working for an understanding under which Russia-made military hardware would be supplied to Kabul for which Delhi would foot the bill. Some of the Russian-made arms can be re-exported to Kabul under concurrence from Moscow.

Afghan security teams have visited India with their wish-list and made an assessment of the kind of equipment they need. Kabul apparently has expressed its desire to have battle tanks, field guns, military aircrafts, armoured vehicles and, trucks. The Indo-Afghan negotiations on these issues are believed to be in an advanced stage. Under the Indo-Afghan Strategic Partnership Agreement signed in 2011, India is already providing some military training to Afghan armed forces.

Afghanistan is keen to have Russian made military hardware as its armed forces are well-acquainted with Russian weaponries for decades. The USSR and Afghanistan had historically close military ties and the Afghan army was trained and equipped by the Soviets for a long time in the past. That is why the current Afghan government and military leaders have demonstrated their preference for Russian weapons and defence systems. Russia and Afghanistan currently develop their  defence ties under a bilateral  military-technical cooperation  agreement. It is also under discussion to have some weapons sourced from Central Asian countries, whose defence forces are equipped with Russian armaments and military systems .

This type of tripartite arrangement facilitating military supplies to Afghanistan is not the first of its kind. Under a deal between Moscow and Washington, Russia has supplied military hardware including military helicopters to Afghanistan for which bills were footed by the US. Even NATO forces have used Russian helicopters in Afghanistan.

However, some experts cast doubt that any agreement for this kind of arrangement can be signed unless and until Afghanistan completes the process of inking a bilateral security arrangement with US, which seems to be facing difficulties.

Indo-Russian military cooperation in the Afghan direction is not going to be confined to military supplies alone. Both countries are reported to have already taken decision to renovate a Soviet military hardware maintenances facility in the suburbs of Kabul.

Both the strategic partners, having strong stakes in Afghanistan are extremely concerned that the security situation in the country might worsen in the aftermath of withdrawal of International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) and believe that the pull out is being conducted in a hurry.

Though India and Russia have close affinity of views on Afghan issue, they seem to differ in their assessment of planned US military presence in Afghanistan in the form of a military base. Russia is completely opposed to the idea of a foreign military presence in Afghanistan without a UN mandate.

India and Russia are concerned about Taliban staging a comeback to the country. The Taliban–led Afghanistan in late 1990s was a breeding ground of international terrorism that had caused huge problems for India in Kashmir and for Russia in Chechnya .Obviously they would not like a situation in which the Taliban would recapture power in Afghanistan.  In the back drop of attempts for having negotiations with the Taliban abroad, both countries strongly advocate that the peace and reconciliation process in Afghanistan should be exclusively Afghan-led and Afghan-owned.

Professor Arun Mohanty is Chairman of the Centre for Russian and Central Asian Studies, JNU and Director of the Delhi-based Eurasian Foundation.   

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