26 December 2015

India Walks The Talk In Afghanistan How India has shown that it is prepared to walk the talk towards a sovereign, stable and peaceful Afghanistan.

Khyber Sarban, Khyber Sarban is a policy commentator in Afghanistan and has been an adviser in Afghanistan's Independent Directorate of Local Governance.
25 Dec, 2015
Finally the much-awaited gift, the new Afghan Parliament, was unveiled during Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s visit to Afghanistan. It is a symbolic gesture from India, the world’s largest democracy, to Afghanistan, a resilient country with the tradition of ‘Jirga’.

It is a known fact that India and Afghanistan are bound by geographic and civilizational ties. In modern times, these go back to the resistance against the British in the Indian subcontinent and part of Afghan land; the establishment of the provisional government of India in Kabul in 1915, the cooperation between Mahatma Gandhi and Khan Abdul Ghaffar Khan, and Subhas Chandra Bose’s journey to Soviet Union via Afghanistan. The India-Afghanistan political relationship for the past century has been cordial and cooperative with the exception of the Taliban period when Pakistan’s practice of ‘strategic depth’ led to shrinking Indian presence and closure of the Indian embassy in Kabul in 1996.

Luckily, the post 9/11 period restored the state-to-state and people-to-people ties and elevated them to new heights. The comeback stands out for its remarkable achievements varying from building infrastructure to capacity building in education, health, energy, telecommunication and many more.
Despite the momentum built during the past decade, the year 2015 has been a year of ups and downs for both Afghanistan and India-Afghanistan relations. India, a key regional-and-traditional ally of Afghanistan, upset by Ashraf Ghani’s overtures to Pakistan, shunned frequent requests by the Afghan government to restart the ‘strategic dialogue’. The Indian consortium led by the Steel Authority of India (SAIL) backed off from its earlier commitment to invest 10.8 billion $ in an iron ore project in Afghanistan.

However, after a brief bubble, the Afghanistan–India ties are back on track. During a visit of Afghan National Security Advisor Hanif Atmar and Deputy Foreign Minister Hekmat Khalil Karzai in November, the ‘strategic dialogue’ restarted. The Afghan government has officially repeated its 2012 request for the military aid. The recent delivery of three Mi25 shows the revival of military cooperation between the two countries. The announcement of one thousand Indian scholarships to Afghanistan confirms the continued assistance on civil front. The completion of Salma Dam in Herat highlights India’s contribution in building Afghan infrastructure. The construction ceremony of TAPI (Turkmenistan-Afghanistan-Pakistan-India) pipeline further strengthens the trade ties. All in all, these projects are perhaps the only solace for the resilience of the Afghan nation and the continued commitment from India amid continuous threats and terror from Pakistan.

The latest in this sequence is the new Afghan parliament, a state-of-the-art building, inaugurated on Friday by the Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi. The corner stone of the project was laid in 2005 during a visit by the then Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh. During a second visit in 2011, President Hamid Karzai and Prime Minister Manmohan Singh signed the ‘Agreement on Strategic Partnership between Afghanistan and India’. With an eye on the post 2015 scenario, this accord was meant to be an important stepping-stone for strengthening future political, commercial, economic and cultural cooperation as well as training and equipping Afghan security forces. The Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh repeated:

“I have come to Afghanistan to renew these ties of friendship, solidarity and fraternity.…… India will stand shoulder to shoulder to Afghanistan after the planned withdrawal of International Security Assistance Force’s (ISAF) from Afghanistan.”

This strategic partnership as well as gifting of the Parliament building to Afghanistan were bold and farsighted moves, and the geopolitical shifts in the region allow for such ties to develop more than ever and for a variety of reasons.

Firstly, Afghanistan is in a precarious situation and thus needs a continuous support on all fronts. Let us admit first that Afghanistan, due to its political transition will not be in a position to take a steadfast stance against those pushing it towards Pakistan and its ilk. Therefore, the more convergence there is between Delhi-Washington-Brussels the better it is for Kabul and Kabul-Delhi ties. India and Afghanistan ties should stay on course irrespective of how the Pakistan-Afghanistan imbroglio plays out.

Keeping Pakistan’s track record in mind, its five LUMS (Lahore University of Management Sciences) scholarships are not going to compete with India’s vast footprint in building capacity in Afghanistan. Therefore it is unnecessary for both India and Afghanistan to tie their bilateral ties to Pakistan and its paranoia.

Secondly, in the post-Karzai period there is an attempt to institutionalize and categorize the Afghan Foreign Policy (Neighboring Countries, Islamic Countries, US, Canada & Japan, Asian Countries, International Institutions). But regional and global geopolitics are way too complex to allow for such a categorized implementation without having the proper tools to find the necessary balance. Meaning, India will hold a prominent position in the Afghan Foreign Policy.

Thirdly, Afghanistan has always been an important geographic corridor for commerce and trade. For Afghanistan to reestablish that corridor function, it will have to complete the following three transitions a), political b) security transition, and c) economic. Truth is that Afghanistan, on its own is unable to do this and needs long-term allies in the region. The best option in the region therefore is India. The recent construction ceremony of TAPI (Turkmenistan-Afghanistan-Pakistan-India) pipeline and the nascent completion of Chabahar Port will help Afghanistan to not solely remain dependent on a single country for its transit, exports and imports. Ashraf Ghani’s clear message to Pakistan ‘Take Tajikistan, but Give Afghanistan to India’ is a perfect example of his view about long-term India-Afghanistan economic ties.

Fourthly, the changing regional dynamics and the growing threat of extremism to Central Asia, Russia and China have increased the chances of regional cooperation on Afghanistan and the region. This in itself is a reason for India, a key regional player, to step up its efforts and join hands with both Afghanistan as well as reach an understanding with Russia and China regarding Afghanistan in combatting terrorism as well as in paving way for durable economic development.

Undoubtedly, there will be security challenges and threats emanating from Pakistan and the terror outfits sponsored by it. However, backing off due to security threats is giving space and moral victory to these terrorist outfits rather than being committed to fighting them. Perhaps thinking about security mechanism for safeguarding Indian investment is another area for enhancing security cooperation between the two countries.

We can safely say that the inauguration of the new Afghan Parliament has laid the foundational basis of a historic/ renewed long-term India-Afghanistan state-to-state relation that will prove beneficial to both the nations as well as the region in large.

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