India-Afghanistan relations are in existence for decades. Witnessing comprehensive and profound ties between the two nations, India continues to support Afghanistan and remain at its best at a time when Afghanistan is in the process of securing a political settlement in the midst of unending violence and a looming COVID crisis. Leveraging the priorities of the war-torn country, India’s vision for supporting Afghanistan in terms of infrastructure development, peace and assistance ensured an inclusive global architecture for development cooperation. Thus Afghanistan anchoring its relationship with India remains substantial given the challenging downturn of more than forty years of conflict.
India’s Soft Power Development
India’s assurance for stable, peaceful and inclusive Afghanistan is much more prominent. The bilateral relation yields two key results- Soft diplomacy and efforts in peace building. India’s intensive efforts to press on with its soft power strategies to help Afghanistan in realising its developmental aspirations include the ongoing 150 odd developmental projects initiated in 2020 besides the dispensation of COVID vaccines to Afghanistan, sponsorship of 1000 scholarship to Afghan students, the fifth and final instalment of US$ 1 million aid disbursed to Afghan Red Crescent Society (ARCS) in April 2020. A total of 2328 Afghan children affected by congenital heart disease have been treated in reputed Indian hospitals during the last five years with the Government of India’s assistance.
Emphasizing India’s steadfast commitment to the development of Afghanistan, India’s announcement to launch Phase-IV of the High Impact Community Development Projects envisaged more than 100 projects worth US$ 80 million.
India’s development portfolio in Afghanistan is over US$ 3 billion, importantly covering 400 plus projects in all the 34 provinces in Afghanistan. So far more than 65,000 Afghan students studied in India.
As Prime Minister Narendra Modi said, ‘these projects had strengthened India-Afghanistan friendship. “The same friendship was seen during the Covid-19 epidemic. Whether it is medicines and PPEs, or the supply of made-in-India vaccines, Afghanistan’s needs have always been important to us and will remain important”.
To boost its food security during the COVID pandemic, India has supplied 75000 MT of wheat in 2020 through Chabahar port.
India’s Role in Afghanistan’s Infrastructure Development
India’s focus on Afghanistan’s infrastructure development provides a roadmap for a long-lasting solution for their country. India’s contribution towards infrastructure development projects includes the ‘India Afghanistan Friendship dam’ also known as ‘Salma dam’ which contributes immensely for Afghan farmers, the ‘Afghan Parliament’ and the recent announcement of the Shahtoot dam. These development projects are there to see further strengthens India-Afghanistan relations under the framework of the ‘India-Afghanistan Strategic Partnership agreement’. The Salma dam holds the capacity to irrigate over 80,000 hectares of land and provide electricity to thousands of homes in the western Afghan province of Herat.
The capacity-building measures undertaken by India ensured peace with progress. India’s effort to infuse the capabilities remains impeccable. Easing the connectivity challenges of landlocked Afghanistan, projects like the Chabahar port in Iran and the dedicated Air Freight Corridor between the cities of India and Afghanistan are the most impressive initiatives by India. The transport and transit corridor ensure an unimpeded flow of trade and commerce with Afghanistan and in the region.
India’s Diplomatic Efforts towards Peace in Afghanistan
Contemporary India-Afghanistan relation has broadened and deepens the bilateral cooperation over a long period. More significantly India’s support for talks between the Afghan Government and Taliban indicates a change in approach as New Delhi opposed the Taliban regime in the 1990s. With the changing dynamics, India is engaging in dialogue with the Taliban for a longstanding political settlement in Afghanistan ensuing through a democratic way.
During a virtual meeting in February, this year between the Prime Minister, Narendra Modi and President Ashraf Ghani, Modi assured India’s full support to development cooperation in achieving a comprehensive peace process amid surging violence in Afghanistan.
External Affairs Minister, S Jaishankar’s participation in the inaugural session of the intra-Afghan negotiations held in Doha on 12 September 2020 via VTC reaffirms India’s unequivocal support for peace reconciliation that are Afghan-owned, and Afghan-controlled. This is a significant move, spelling India’s stance in acknowledging power-sharing arrangements in Afghanistan. EAM conveyed the interests of minorities, women and vulnerable sections of society must be preserved and the issue of violence across the country and its neighbourhood has to be effectively addressed.
India’s engagement with Afghanistan has been spontaneous and progressive since the fall of the Taliban in 2001. The visit of Afghanistan’s Foreign Minister, Mohammad Haneef Atmar to India last month has added new momentum and synergy. The discussions between FM Atmar and EAM S Jaishankar focused on strengthening the Strategic Partnership Agreement (SPA) of 2011 with special emphasis on cooperation in the areas of political, security, trade, and economic, capacity development, education, social and cultural relations.
The US administration’s ‘unified approach’ for peace in Afghanistan entailed major paradigm steps including the United Nations high-level diplomatic level talks with the foreign ministers of China, India, Iran, Pakistan, Russia, and the United States for peace deliberation in Afghanistan with their shared interest. The inclusion of India in United Nations talks for comprehensive peace in Afghanistan signals, India’s substantial role in Afghanistan’s peace process to new highs.
Recently, S Jaishankar had attended the ninth Ministerial Conference of Heart of Asia – Istanbul Process (HoA-IP) on Afghanistan in Dushanbe. The meeting primarily focused on strengthening a regional and international consensus for Afghan peace. Recognizing the pivotal role in establishing Trade, Commerce and Investment Confidence Building Measure (CBM) under HoA-IP, India has adopted a collaborative approach for strengthening regional connectivity for the greater economic integration of Afghanistan with the region.
It is against this background that India’s relation with Afghanistan is moving from strength to strength especially at a time of its political transition for durable peace and development.
President Ghani’s Approach for Democratic Peace Process
President, Ashraf Ghani’s has put higher emphasis to have a sovereign, independent, democratic and united Afghanistan. Seeking peace that ensures sustainability, prosperity, and national unity are the steps to the right direction believes the Afghan President which is always contradicted by the Taliban.
During the 75th session of the UN General Assembly, Ghani stated, Afghanistan upheld the UN values which are enshrined in its constitution. Ghani’s decision to start direct talks with the Taliban is the reflection of commitment, compassion and courage associated in principle with the values of equality, tolerance and inclusiveness towards the people of Afghanistan. Furthermore, Afghanistan has been reeling under terrorism and militant threats for more than 40 years of instability. To curb terrorism from Afghanistan and welcoming peace, an unprecedented level of the collective approach of regional countries, governance and people of Afghanistan is required.
President Ashraf Ghani’s peace proposal with the Taliban spells a clear altruistic motive catering to the welfare of the country and people of Afghanistan. Ghani’s offer for peace deal with Taliban included (a) constitutional rights of all citizens (especially women) are ensured (b) Constitutional reforms are changed through constitutional provisions (c) defence and security forces and civil service function according to the law (d) and no armed groups with ties to transnational criminal organisations, or with state/non-state actors seeking influence in Afghanistan is allowed.
After several rounds of discussions, still, peace talks with the Taliban are yet to reach any conclusion. Major differences remain in the two sides’ respective visions for the future of Afghanistan, including the structure of the Afghan state and what rights the state recognizes for Afghan citizens, especially women.
Violence in Afghanistan has increased in significant numbers since the Doha talks are initiated last year. High causalities with the COVID pandemic crisis have worsened the situation. A total of 18.4 million people estimated to need humanitarian assistance in 2021, up from 14 million in mid-2020.
The US efforts to have an interim government are intensified with the approaching of the US force withdrawal deadline by 1 May. Secretary of State Antony Blinken reportedly wrote to Afghan government officials in March 2021, to form an interim transitional government which President Ghani has rejected. Given situation speculates whether the future political settlement with the Taliban is not a guarantee for abandoning armed conflict by the latter. It is more likely that the complete pullout of US forces and/or aid cutoff could lead to its collapse and perhaps even to the reemergence of the Taliban rule in almost all over the country.
President Ghani has stated that his government will not support any agreement that curtails the rights of Afghans.
Ghani’s stance for attaining peace is in a democratic way. He recently proposed to hold fresh elections and stressed that the only way to form the government is through elections elected by the people of Afghanistan. He said, “Transfer of power through elections is a non-negotiable principle for us,”
The uneven political contours amplifying violence, humanitarian distress, poverty, underdevelopment is mitigated through a collective and corrective approach by each stakeholder in Afghanistan. The US-brokered peace agreement between Afghan Government and Taliban needs to have a potential settlement expanding its impact to forge friendly ties across the region. In the light of Afghanistan’s peace deal and subsequent developments, India’s support for peace building mechanisms as a largest regional contributor to Afghanistan’s reconstruction remains an important endeavor.