The iconic short story “Kabuliwallah” by Tagore and the interpretations on the land beyond mountains and imaginations have shaped the India and Afghanistan relations from the past to the present. “Bound by thousand ties and million memories”, the relations between the two countries go beyond the traditionally state-to-state relations or government. History, culture, civilization and people to people contact have created commonalities thus making the past history the guide to the future.
Afghan President Ashraf Ghani paid rich tribute to Indian democracy. India has been admired as the largest pluralistic society in which diverse ethnic, linguistic, religious and sectarian groups coexist and cohabit together. India being the largest secular democracy is in a position to share its know-how and practice with Afghanistan. The nascent egalitarianism society of Afghanistan in all its earnestness looks forward to India for assurance and support in its quest for democracy.
There is a strong economic, politico-strategic and security component in the India-Afghanistan relations. India’s economic assistance and support to democracy is a step to reduce Afghanistan’s dependency on Pakistan and helps India to establish links with energy rich Central Asia. For India a friendly and pro-active democratic regimes in Afghanistan would act as a balancer in the region. The stability of the region can be assured only if we have a stable Afghanistan which would counter the Taliban forces and India has extended its all out support in this endeavour.
Encountered with deep recession, Afghanistan embarked on several austerity programmes and launched stimulus packages that would help the economy move out of a dependent entity to a self-reliance system. From Afghan’s standpoint, India’s investments and partnership would be a great value addition in the re-building process of the countries economy and infrastructure. The strategic and security system of Afghanistan is fragile and weak and India’s support and strategic partnership is worthy of mention and a step forward in stabilizing the region. Powers like United States welcomes India as a key player in the stabilization process that agonizes Pakistan, who has adopted a zero-sum approach in the region creating a security dilemma.
Geo-economically Afghanistan is very important for India, the foreign trade policy of India and the International North-South Transport Corridor (INSTC), hosts a tremendous promise that could help the country develop economic and strategic importance in Eurasia and Central Asia. The INSTC has particular economic and strategic relevance to India given the increasing regional ambitions of China through its one belt one road initiative. Several MOUs have been signed between India and Afghanistan. Indian investors are interested in the “virgin markets” of Afghanistan. Indian private sectors are seen as a driver towards prosperity in Afghanistan. The other important project is the building of Sister-City relations between major Indian cities and Afghan counterparts. The Sister-City relations will be connected through tourism, faculty exchange programs as well as through private sector investment. Several invitations have been extended to India to invest in Afghanistan. India has been invited by Afghanistan to join Pakistan, Afghanistan, Tajikistan Trade and Transit Agreement a very significant link wherein Afghanistan would act as a land bridge connecting South Asia and central Asia
Termed as one of continuity and engagement, India-Afghanistan relations is built on mutual trust and cooperation. With the exception of the Taliban rule, India’s relations with Afghanistan remain strong. Indian support continues in the reconstruction, rebuilding and stabilization process of Afghanistan. As the fourth largest donor, Indian contribution to the rebuilding process has been to the effect of US $ 2.2Bn and generous assistance has been provided in the formation of human capital with approximately 13000 Afghan students studying in Indian Universities. India’s signature project and commitment to democracy and institutional support can be seen in the completion of the Afghan Parliament. The Salma dam in Herat is yet another initiative in terms of infrastructure development is nearing completion which would generate 42 MW of much needed power for the electrification of rural and urban Herat and also help in irrigating 80000 hectares of agricultural land. The Trade and transit between India and Afghanistan, is gaining momentum and the movement of trucks across the Attari-Wagha border would spur regional trade and enhance economic engagement in South Asia. There is a ray of positive hope that Pakistan would allow the India-Afghan trade movement, which would boost Afghan economy. Afghanistan is also keen on India’s involvement in the India-Iran Chabhar Port project. The project would create an international transit corridor. The Chabhar Port Project is of enormous significance both to India and Afghanistan. For Afghanistan it would boost the regional trade and for India it would provide a sea-land access to Afghanistan bypassing Pakistan.
India is an all weather friend of Afghanistan and continues to play a significant role in tackling terrorism in the region. India has expressed keen intent to strengthen Afghanistan’s defense capabilities for safeguarding its security and combatting all forms of terrorism. India is supplying helicopters to Afghan government in its effort to combat the growing menace from Taliban. India and Afghanistan have discussed several ways and means to enhance cooperation to combat terrorism. India has spearheaded capacity building prgrammes and training to Afghan soldiers in their effort to tackle terrorism. Several terror network outfits operate from Afghanistan and have expressed this menace as a global phenomenon threatening international peace and stability.
Deep engagement drives India-Afghan relations. There is committed partnership and enduring interest between the world’s largest and fledgling democracy. A pluralistic society with rich tradition and civilization that was undermined by the Taliban forces today is committed to restoring peace and stability in the region. Deeply embedded in democratic principles and values, India’s support in this endeavor of reconstruction of Afghanistan is most sought after. There are set agendas and shared objectives in India-Afghanistan relations. India is keen to assist and build a robust economy and stable political institution in Afghanistan. An earnest effort in the reconstruction process that is vital for India, as it anchors regional peace and stability.
Priya Suresh is a Research Scholar at the Takshashila Institute. She tweets @priyamanassa.