INDIA AND AFGHANISTAN
- Signaling long-term commitment to Afghanistan’s future — be it under Taliban or other political forces – India recently announced about 150 projects worth $80 million (about Rs 592 crore) in the conflict-ridden country.
- Since 2002, India has so far committed $3 billion (about Rs 2,200 crore) towards rebuilding and reconstruction of Afghanistan.
- India also committed to build a new dam, which will provide drinking water to 2 million residents of Kabul
- Builds on the 202-km Phul-e-Khumri transmission line of 2009, through to provide power to the Kabul city.
India’s current development programmes in Afghanistan are centered around five pillars:
- large infrastructure projects;
- human resource development and capacity building;
- humanitarian assistance;
- high-impact community development projects; and
- enhancing trade and investment through air and land connectivity.
Completed Projects from Indian Side
- Large infrastructure projects completed include construction of 218 km road from Delaram to Zaranj (on Iranian border) which provides alternative connectivity for Afghanistan through Iran;
- Salma dam; and Afghan Parliament building which was inaugurated in 2015
- More than 65,000 Afghan students have studied in India under various scholarship programmes
- 15,000 students are presently studying here;
- 3,000 scholarships have so far been granted to young Afghan women to pursue higher studies in India.
- Through Chabahar port, we have provided an alternate connectivity to Afghanistan that has helped transport 75,000 tonnes of wheat and also able to send more than 20 tonnes of life-saving medicines and other equipment to address the Covid-19 challenge.
Back to Basics
- Bilateral relations between Afghanistan and Indiahave remained strong and friendly over the decades.
- India and Afghanistan had been historical neighbours, and share cultural ties through Bollywood and cricket.
- Relations between the people of Afghanistan and India traces to the Indus Valley Civilisation.
- During the U.S.-led invasion of Afghanistan in 2001, India offered intelligence and other forms of support for the Coalition forces.
- India has provided $650–750 million in humanitarian and economic aid, making it the largest regional provider of aid for Afghanistan.
- The Indian Army’s Border Roads Organisation constructed a major road in 2009 in the remote Afghan province of Nimroz, connecting Delaram to Zaranj. This has proved a viable alternative route for the duty-free movement of goods through the Chabahar port in Iran to Afghanistan.
Importance of Afghanistan to India
- Connecting link to Central Asia
- Terrorism as a common threat
- Involvement of Foreign powers in Afghanistan and its impact on India
- India’s involvement in Afghanistan – gives ‘regional leader’ status to India
- India is deeply involved in Afghanistan both bilaterally and regionally as well as part of its peace process. India’s involvement is characterized by Soft diplomacy. India seeks to involve itself through soft power rather than militarily as India believes that it wins the hearts and minds of Afghans.
- It is a concept given by Joseph Nye in the context of excessive use of military power by US and its futility in making any tangible gains for the country. Joseph Nye suggests US to go for Soft Power.
- Soft power means, achieving an action, through co-opt in (willing acceptance), which is sustainable and is more beneficial.
- India looks forward to “walk hand in hand with the people of Afghanistan and the world community to work towards a peaceful, prosperous, sovereign, democratic and united Afghanistan”.
- Afghanistan’s growth has been constrained by its landlocked geography and “India need to address that” — an oblique reference to Pakistan blocking transit access. “Through Chabahar port, India have provided an alternate connectivity to Afghanistan that has helped transport 75,000 tonnes of wheat during the Covid pandemic. India also able to send more than 20 tonnes of life-saving medicines and other equipment to address the Covid-19 challenge
- There are no requests from the UN Security Council Permanent members for the delisting of the Taliban’s top leadership from sanctions thus far, officials said here. They also refuted reports that the next meeting of UN’s 1988 Sanctions Committee, due next month, would lift restrictions on.
- Committee, as the resolution 1988 committee is referred to, is due to be held in “mid-September”, ahead of an important meeting to discuss the renewal of the mandate of the UN Assistance Mission in Afghanistan (UNAMA), which expires on September 17.
- The United Nations Assistance Mission in Afghanistan (UNAMA) is a UN Special Political Mission established to assist the state and the people of Afghanistan in laying the foundations for sustainable peace and development.
- UNAMA was established on 28 March 2002 by United Nations Security Council Resolution 1401.
- Its original mandate was to support the implementation of the Bonn Agreement (December 2001).
- The Bonn Agreement (officially the Agreement on Provisional Arrangements in Afghanistan Pending the Re-Establishment of Permanent Government Institutions) was the initial series of agreements passed on December 5, 2001 and intended to re-create the State of Afghanistan following the U.S. invasion of Afghanistan in response to the September 11, 2001, terrorist attacks.
- The United Nations has been involved in the region since 1946 when Afghanistan joined the General Assembly. Agencies such as UNICEF have been operating in Afghanitan since 1949.
INDIA AND AFGHANISTAN
- As the Taliban push ahead with military offensives across Afghanistan, preparing to take over after the exit of US and NATO forces, India faces a situation in which it may have no role to play in that country, and in the worst-case scenario, not even a diplomatic presence.
- That would be a reversal of nearly 20 years of rebuilding a relationship that goes back centuries. Afghanistan is vital to India’s strategic interests in the region. It is also perhaps the only SAARC nation whose people have much affection for India.
India’s Investment in Afghanistan
- India built vital roads, dams, electricity transmission lines and substations, schools and hospitals, etc. India’s development assistance is now estimated to be worth well over $3 billion.
- The 2011 India-Afghanistan Strategic Partnership Agreement recommitted Indian assistance to help rebuild Afghanistan’s infrastructure and institutions; education and technical assistance for capacity-building in many areas; encourage investment in Afghanistan; and provide duty-free access to the Indian market. Bilateral trade is now worth $1 billion.
Projects across the country
- Speaking at the Afghanistan Conference in Geneva in November 2020, External Affairs Minister of India said “no part of Afghanistan today is untouched by the 400-plus projects that India has undertaken in all 34 of Afghanistan’s provinces”.
- SALMA DAM: Already, there has been fighting in the area where one of India’s high-visibility projects is located — the 42MW Salma Dam in Herat province. The hydropower and irrigation project, completed against many odds and inaugurated in 2016, is known as the Afghan-India Friendship Dam.
- ZARANJ-DELARAM HIGHWAY: The other high-profile project was the 218-km Zaranj-Delaram highway built by the Border Roads Organisation. Zaranj is located close to Afghanistan’s border with Iran. The $150-million highway goes along the Khash Rud river to Delaram to the northeast of Zaranj, where it connects to a ring road that links Kandahar in the south, Ghazni and Kabul in the east, Mazar-i-Sharif in the north, and Herat in the west.
- PARLIAMENT: The Afghan Parliament in Kabul was built by India at $90 million.
- STOR PALACE: Restoration of Stor Palace in Kabul, originally built in the late 19th century, and which was the setting for the 1919 Rawalpindi Agreement by which Afghanistan became an independent country.
- POWER INFRA: Other Indian projects in Afghanistan include the rebuilding of power infrastructure such as the 220kV DC transmission line from Pul-e-Khumri, capital of Baghlan province to the north of Kabul, to beef up electricity supply to the capital.
- HEALTH INFRA: India has reconstructed a children’s hospital it had helped build in Kabul in 1972 —named Indira Gandhi Institute for Child Health in 1985 — that was in a shamble after the war. ‘Indian Medical Missions’ have held free consultation camps in several areas. India has also built clinics in the border provinces of Badakhshan, Balkh, Kandahar, Khost, Kunar, Nangarhar, Nimruz, Nooristan, Paktia and Paktika.
- TRANSPORTATION: According to the MEA, India gifted 400 buses and 200 mini-buses for urban transportation, 105 utility vehicles for municipalities, 285 military vehicles for the Afghan National Army, and 10 ambulances for public hospitals in five cities.
- India has contributed desks and benches for schools, and built solar panels in remote villages, and Sulabh toilet blocks in Kabul.
- India had concluded with Afghanistan an agreement for the construction of the Shatoot Dam in Kabul district, which would provide safe drinking water to 2 million residents.
- Last year, India pledged $1 million for another Aga Khan heritage project, the restoration of the Bala Hissar Fort south of Kabul, whose origins go back to the 6th century. Bala Hissar went on to become a significant Mughal fort, parts of it were rebuilt by Jahangir, and it was used as a residence by Shah Jahan.
WHAT DOES US DEPARTURE FROM AFGHANISTAN MEAN FOR SOUTH ASIA?
- As the last American troops begin to leave Afghanistan and the US turns away from the Middle East to the Indo-Pacific, there is a scramble to redo the foreign policy maths in the region.
- Since it replaced Britain as the major external power in Greater Middle East half a century ago, America has been the pivot around which the regional politics has played out.
- Israel’s security, ensuring oil supplies, competing with other powers, making regional peace, promoting democracy, and stamping out terrorism are no longer compelling factors demanding massive American military, political and diplomatic investments in the region.
Role of Regional Actors
- As America steps back from the Middle East, most regional actors either need alternate patrons or reduced tensions with their neighbours.
- Although China and Russia have regional ambitions, neither of them brings the kind of strategic heft America brought to bear on the Middle East all these decades.
- Turkey has figured that its troubled economy can’t sustain the ambitious regional policies.
- After years of challenging Saudi leadership of the Islamic world, Erdogan is offering an olive branch to Riyadh.
- After years of intense mutual hostility, Saudi Arabia and Iran are now exploring means to reduce bilateral tensions and moderate their proxy wars in the region.
- Saudi Arabia is also trying to heal the rift within the Gulf by ending the earlier effort to isolate Qatar.
- These changes come in the wake of the big moves last year by some Arab states — the UAE, Bahrain, Morocco and Sudan — to normalise ties with Israel.
- India’s emphasis on good relations with all the regional actors without a reference to their conflicts has been vindicated by the turn of events.
- Barring Turkey, which turned hostile to India under Erdogan, India has managed to expand its ties with most regional actors.
- Hopefully, the new regional churn will encourage Turkey to take a fresh look at its relations with India.
Effects on India-Pakistan
- The regional reset in the Middle East has coincided with efforts by Delhi and Rawalpindi to cool their tensions.
- The ceasefire on the Line of Control in Kashmir announced at the end of February appears to be holding.
- The US withdrawal from Afghanistan poses major challenges to the Subcontinent.
- India and Pakistan, for very different reasons, would have liked to see the US forces stay forever in Afghanistan.
- For India, American military presence would have kept a check on extremist forces and created conducive conditions for an Indian role in Afghanistan.
- For Pakistan, American military presence in Afghanistan keeps the US utterly dependent on Pakistan for geographic access and operational support.
Impacts on other country
- Violence in Afghanistan will increase.Since the announcement of an exit date, Afghanistan continues to witness deadly attacks across its provinces. For instance, multiple blasts outside a girl’s school in Kabul recently.
- America’s military presence in Afghanistan has suppressed many terrorist groups that threaten China directly or indirectly in Central Asia. It would now leave Beijing vulnerable to its spillover effects, particularly in the restive Xinjiang province.
- The prospect of trans-border links between the Taliban and other extremist forces in the region is a challenge that South Asian states will have to confront sooner than later.
- Soaring levels of violence in Afghanistan and attack on the former president of Maldives, underlines South Asia’s enduring challenges with terrorism.
- Unless the South Asian states collaborate on countering extremism and terrorism, every one of them will be weakened.
- India and other countries like China, Russia need to embrace a key lesson from over four decades of war in Afghanistan.
- They must step up to support a sovereign Afghan state that can police itself and protect Afghanistan from invasions in the form of proxy wars.
- Such a state can best guarantee the security interests of its neighbours and protect the region from the devastating impact of a precipitous US withdrawal rooted in the fallacious notion that, unlike Al-Qaeda’s global terror network, local groups such as the Taliban are not a threat to Washington and the international order.
NEW PEACE INITIATIVE
- Recently, US Administration’s new peace initiative, unveiled over the last few days, could mark the beginning of a new chapter in Afghanistan’s violent contemporary history that has played a major role in South Asia’s regional and international relations.
- Given India’s growing stakes in Afghanistan, New Delhi will take a strong interest in the ambitious new US framework and the multiple challenges that are likely to come up in its implementation.
Five important elements stand out:
- First, Biden’s peace plan has kept open the possibility that the 2500-odd US troops, currently deployed in Afghanistan, might stay on for a while.
- Second, Washington is pressing the Taliban to accept an immediate agreement to reduce violence for 90 days that will provide the space for the peace initiative. This would help prevent a decisive spring offensive by the Taliban with the support of Pakistan.
- Third, Khalilzad has handed over a set of written peace proposals to both Kabul and the Taliban.
- Fourth, the US is asking Turkey to convene a meeting of the government in Kabul and the Taliban to finalise a peace settlement. This new role for Turkey in the Afghan peace process comes as a surprise for many but Pakistan might welcome it, given the current close ties between Islamabad and Ankara.
- And fifth, the Biden Administration is asking the United Nations to convene a meeting of the foreign ministers from China, Russia, Pakistan, Iran, India and the United States to develop a “unified approach” to peace in Afghanistan. The absence of NATO allies from this process is bound to raise European eyebrows.
- Kabul, which spent so much time and energy persuading the Taliban to accept peace over the last few years, is now convinced that it is a waste of time engaging it.
- The Taliban is even less willing to share power, given its confidence in taking over Kabul the moment the US forces leave. It is certainly not willing to give up its sanctuaries in Pakistan. Nor will it accept any dilution of the strict Islamic system that it wants to enforce.
- Ending prolonged civil wars is never easy and certainly not this one, which has seen massive intervention by outside powers. Given the scale of the current divergence between Kabul and the Taliban, the conflicting interests of the regional powers, the declining domestic support in the US for further military involvement in Afghanistan.