SOAS University of London

SOAS academic gives evidence to the Lords International Relations Committee as part of their inquiry into the UK and Afghanistan

6 November 2020

Dr Avinash Paliwal, Senior Lecturer in International Relations and Deputy Director of the South Asia Institute, has given evidence to the Lords International Relations Committee as part of their inquiry into the UK and Afghanistan.

Taking place on Wednesday 28 October, this section of the inquiry was looking into the positions of India, Iran and Central Asian countries towards the US-Taliban agreement and peace talks in Afghanistan and Iran and India’s policy towards Afghanistan.

Commenting on the relationship between Afghanistan and its neighbours Dr Paliwal described it as “structurally unequal” as Iran and Pakistan are more powerful countries in comparison to Afghanistan. Dr Paliwal also described the relationships as interventionist, stating “whether it is Iran, Pakistan or even other countries in the neighbourhood, a tendency to intervene in the domestic affairs of Afghanistan with higher frequency than those countries would do with other countries, whether they are in the neighbourhood or elsewhere.” 

During the session, Dr Paliwal mainly focused on India and its role in Afghanistan. Dr Paliwal stated that “regional powers have played out both their national insecurities and their regional geopolitical aspirations in Afghanistan, which often means that interventionism is of a sort that may or may not necessarily benefit the people of Afghanistan, but is seen through the prism of geopolitical state interest in the neighbourhood.”

Asked about India’s interests in Afghanistan and how it is building its influence in the region, Dr Paliwal said that “the most important aspect of India’s engagement and involvement with Afghanistan is its drive to ensure a strategic balance with Pakistan.” Dr Paliwal provided context to this by briefly describing the historical relationship between India and Pakistan since 1947. 

Dr Paliwal described that “in an ideal set-up, India would like to see a sovereign, stable, politically inclusive, democratic Afghanistan because that serves the purpose of India’s broader security and political interests in south Asia.”

Dr Paliwal also discussed the economic interests India has in Afghanistan, stating that “trade with India is very important for Afghanistan in the long term” and this had been impacted by Pakistan’s position against allowing Afghan exporters and traders to cross the Wagah border into India.

Dr Paliwal also discussed the amount of aid India has spent in Afghanistan and commented on the convergence or divergence of interests between India and the US on Afghanistan, stating that “India has collaborated with the US, the UK and larger NATO ISAF umbrella in ensuring that the democratic, human rights and women’s rights dividend has been capitalised on over the past two decades...A request often made by Washington DC and London is for India to focus more on the developmental sphere.”

However, Dr Paliwal also pointed out that India” is the only country that has not officially opened channels with the Afghan Taliban” taking a different position to that of the UK. 

Commenting on India’s approach to the US-Taliban deal in Doha, Dr Paliwal said “there is an understanding in India that we cannot, beyond a point, influence American policy towards the Afghan Taliban and the conflict processes, given that the US’s own national interests have kicked in. That is something India has accepted as a relatively peripheral player, if an important one, in Afghanistan’s conflict dynamics, but it constantly seeks guarantees from both the US and its other allies in the Western world that the issue of an Islamic republic and the gains made over the past two decades are not lost.”

Dr Paliwal also discussed the importance of Iran and Russia for India, and briefly commented on UK-India relations in the context of Pakistan and Afghanistan. 

The full evidence can be found on the House of Lords committee website.