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History Of India Afghanistan Relations Politics Essay

Paper Type: Free Essay Subject: Politics
Wordcount: 4155 words Published: 1st Jan 2015

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The nation consists of a mere collection of tribes, of unequal powers and divergent habits, which are held together, more or less closely, according to the personal character of the chief who rules them. The feeling of patriotism, as known in Europe, cannot exist among the Afghans, for there is no common country. In its place is found a strong turbulent love of individual liberty, which naturally rebels against authority, and would be impatient of control, whether exercised by Russians, English, Persians or even Durranis.

Sir Henry Rawlinson

12. The partition of British India in 1947 ended India’s geographical contiguity with Afghanistan, but not the warmth that characterise our relations; this was in sharp contrast to Pakistan, which, in spite of its geographical contiguity as well as religious and ethnic congruity, has seen its relations with Kabul for most of its history being clouded by bitterness and a deep sense of distrust. Our role in Afghanistan has re-emerged into importance not just for Afghanistan and the region, but also as ‘A test case for a Rising Power’-India [1] . Afghanistan’s importance to us and others is largely geopolitical, as Afghanistan faces southwards down from the Hindu Kush into the Indian subcontinent, India’s immediate neighbourhood. Yet it also looks northwards down from the Hindu Kush into India’s extended neighbourhood, in which ‘Afghanistan is the fractious gateway to and from Central Asia, which de¬nes the way other powers grapple and circumvent the complexities of the region’, as well as being part of what has been called the ‘Greater Middle East’ [2] .

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India’s Interaction with Afghanistan: 1947-2009

13. Afghanistan’s stance on the question of the creation of Pakhtunistan, its 1948 vote opposing Pakistan’s entry into the UN [3] -making it the only country to do so-and its refusal to toe Pakistan’s line on the question of Kashmir, laid the foundations for forging close links quite early on with the new Republic of India that inherited the reins of power from the British. India’s gradual drift towards Moscow and Kabul’s increasing dependence on the Soviets for aid further complemented India-Afghanistan bilateral ties. Relations between the two states remained warm and both sides maintained deep cultural and modest economic links. The ¬rst formidable challenge to India’s Afghanistan policy came in the wake of the Soviet military intervention in Afghanistan in December 1979 to help prop up a pro-Soviet communist regime that had usurped power through a bloody coup christened the ‘Saur Revolution’.

14. The challenge at hand for New Delhi became more pronounced in light of its talked policy of non-alignment. The then Prime Minister, Chaudhary Charan Singh, categorically opposed Soviet intervention and called for an immediate withdrawal of Soviet troops. However, this stand was short lived and was reversed when Indira Gandhi made a dramatic political comeback and was re-elected to o¬ƒce in January 1980. [4] She stated that Soviet troops were introduced into Afghanistan ‘Only after Pakistan started training Afghan rebels and sending them in to topple the government there […] nevertheless India was opposed to the USSR’s presence and it had told that country so’. However, despite its discomfort with Soviet military presence in its neighbourhood, India, while steering clear of an undeniable approval of Soviet military intervention, always chose to desist on key UN resolutions calling for Soviet withdrawal from Afghanistan. [5] India’s response to the Soviet intervention in Afghanistan was essentially a reaction to the following four key factors: ¬rst, Washington’s economic aid, supply of sophisticated arms and F- 16 ¬ghter aircrafts to Pakistan; second, Washington’s rebuilding its relations with Beijing in which Islamabad had played a key role; third, a US naval build-up in the Indian Ocean region; and fourth, a fear of mujahideen victory giving Pakistan clear strategic leverage in Afghanistan. Given these complex geopolitical realities, India could not a¬€ord to jeopardize its partnership with the USSR, which had emerged as its major supplier of defence equipment and space technology, and which played a key role in extending support to India at key international forums on critical issues such as Kashmir and the Bangladesh war of 1971, in face of sti¬€ opposition from the USA and People’s Republic of China.

15. India’s recognition of the pro-Kremlin regime in Kabul-making it the only country outside the Warsaw Pact to do so-did to an extent undermine India’s moral stature, especially in the Non-Aligned Movement (NAM), and to an extent also debased India’s image within Afghanistan. Subsequently, New Delhi’s decision in 1982 to restore the Indo-Afghan Joint Commission constituted in the early 1970s for economic and technical assistance and lying in abeyance since the Saur Revolution in 1978, further battered India’s position on the international stage [6] . India supported the all Moscow-backed governments in Kabul and extended modest developmental assistance to the Najibullah regime, in spite of Najibullah’s increasingly fragile control over the country. However, within months of the Soviet collapse the Najibullah regime, too, spectacularly unravelled, and was replaced by a fragile coalition of mujahideen forces with Badrudin Rabbani at the helm. Given the extremely limited room for political manoeuvring, India cast its lot with Rabbani notwithstanding its apprehensions of Rabbani’s own Islamist Jamat-e-Islami background and endorsement of Pakistan’s position on Kashmir-a clear break from the policy adopted by preceding regimes of Kabul. However, factionalism was rife in Rabbani’s mujahideen, and this ensured its demise which once again plunged Afghanistan into a brutal civil war.

16. [7] India su¬€ered its greatest strategic setback in Afghanistan with the rise of the Pakistan-backed Taliban to the political centre stage in 1996. New Delhi refused to recognize the extremist Taliban regime under which Afghanistan, in the now seemingly prophetic words of Dr Najibullah, was to emerge as ‘A centre of world smuggling for narcotic drugs. Afghanistan will be turned into a centre for terrorism’. For India, the fallout of the rise of fundamentalism in Afghanistan was dangerous and almost immediate, as it ushered the rise of what proved to be long and traumatic Islamist insurgency in the Kashmir valley. The participation of about 200 soldiers from the Taliban’s elite brigade 055 in active combat during the Kargil con¬‚ict with Pakistan in 1999, and their more visible role during the landing of the hijacked Indian airliner IC 814 in Kandahar in December 1999 (which led to the freeing of three terrorist including Masood Azhar), foreclosed whatever limited possibility might have existed for exploring the idea of accommodation with the Taliban. India, however, remained sensitive to the condition of the common people in Afghanistan and did indirectly extend limited humanitarian assistance to the country in the form of medicine, vegetable oil, tea and emergency relief material through Dushanbe. New Delhi’s deep dislike towards the Taliban brought it onto a common platform with Tehran and Moscow, which supported the predominantly Tajik Northern Alliance whose control over Afghanistan was reduced to a mere 10% of the territory in the extreme north. Indian support to the opposition was routed through its base in Farakhor in Tajikistan. The events that followed in the aftermath of the terrorist attacks on the USA on 11 September 2001 were principally responsible for tilting the scales in favour of the opposition Northern Alliance and unseating the Taliban from power within a matter of weeks. Subsequently, India has managed to e¬€ectively scrape its way back into Afghanistan’s power equations, at least for the near future. The India-educated Hamid Karzai, a Pushtun, came to power ¬rst as head of the interim government and has since been re-elected twice as President. Karzai adopted a policy of rekindling Kabul’s close ties with New Delhi. This is borne out in particular by two signi¬cant symbolic gestures: ¬rst, the visit of then foreign minister Abdullah Abdullah and defence minister Mohammad Qasim Fahim to India within three months of the installation of the interim government; and second, the choice of New Delhi as the ¬rst destination by national carrier Ariana on its inaugural run overlooking all the other six geographically contiguous neighbours of Afghanistan. India attempted to give greater traction to its e¬€orts to secure its interests in Afghanistan by engaging in diplomatic parleys with Kabul at the highest level, Karzai has visited India seven times since taking charge, while in 2005 Prime Minister Manmohan Singh paid a state visit to Kabul, signi¬cantly the ¬rst such visit by an Indian head of state in three decades.

17. Today, India is recognized as a key regional player in e¬€orts to stabilize Afghanistan and for the ¬rst time there seems to be a broad congruity of Indian and US interests in Afghanistan: both wish to see a stable, democratic and multi-ethnic political solution take root in the country. India moved swiftly to deepen its footprint in Afghanistan by opening its embassy in Kabul and four other consulates in Jalalabad (eastern Afghanistan), Herat (northern Afghanistan), Kandahar (southern Afghanistan) and Mazar-e-Sharif (western Afghanistan) [8] . In addition, India also unveiled a US $2 bn aid programme-a substantial amount for a traditionally non-donor country-making it the largest regional and ¬fth largest international donor. Indian aid projects spread across various sectors, ranging from o¬€ering 500 annual scholarships for Afghan students, provision of vocational training activities for women, construction of roads, dams, transmission lines and telecom networks, to the construction of the new Afghanistan parliament building.

18. Commenting on the Indian aid programme, the Pakistani analyst Ahmed Rashid reckoned that ‘India’s reconstruction strategy was designed to win over every sector of Afghan society, give India a high pro¬le with Afghans, gain the maximum political advantage and of course, undercut Pakistani in¬‚uence’. [9] 

Assistance by India

19. India has played a significant role in the reconstruction and rehabilitation of Afghanistan. We believe that democracy and development are the key instruments to ensure that Afghanistan becomes a source of regional stability. This has been reflected in the Strategic Partnership Agreement [10] , signed between Afghanistan and India during Afghan President Hamid Karzai’s visit to India in October 2011, which reinforced the strong, vibrant and multi-faceted relations between the two countries and at the same time formalized a framework for cooperation in various areas between the two countries: political & security cooperation; trade & economic cooperation; capacity development and education; and social, cultural, civil society & people-to-people relations. This agreement is a strong signal of our abiding commitment to peace, stability and prosperity in Afghanistan during this critical period of security and governance transition.

Bilateral Visits

20. [11] There also exists a high-level political engagement with Afghanistan, which is reflected in the large number of bilateral high-level visits. There have been frequent high level visits from both sides in 2011-12, including among others, External Affairs Minister (EAM) and National Security Adviser (NSA) in January and March 2011 respectively; Prime Minister in May 2011; Special Envoy to PM to Kabul in June 2011 for a meeting of the International Contact Group; Foreign Secretary in September 2011; Minister of Law & Justice Shri Salman Khurshid on September 24, 2011 after the demise of Prof. Burhanuddin Rabbani, and again on June 14 for the Heart of Asia Conference in Kabul, and Minister for Steel Shri Beni Prasad Verma in April 2012.

21. From the Afghan side high level visits to India include: President Hamid Karzai in February, 2011; Defence Minister Wardak in June, 2011; First Vice President Marshal Fahim in June 2011; a Parliamentary delegation led by Speaker of the lower house of the Afghan Parliament Mr Ibrahimi to India in July, 2011; a delegation from the High Peace Council headed by its Chairman, late Prof. Burhanuddin Rabbani in July 2011;Afghan NSA Mr Rangin Dadfar Spanta in August, 2011; Afghan Minister of Mines Mr Shahrani for the TAPI meeting in September, 2011; Afghan Commerce Minister Mr. Anwar ul Ahady in October 2011 for the CII, SME summit, President Karzai in October 2011, Minister of Mines and Finance Minister in January 2012 for the CII Partnership Summit in Hyderabad and Foreign Minister Zalmai Rassoul at the first Partnership Council meeting on May 1, 2012. Lately Dr. Zalmai Rassoul, Minister of Foreign Affairs, Mr. Anwar-ul-Haq Ahady, Minister of Commerce and Industry, Mr. Omar Zakhilwal, Minister of Mines, Mr. Wahidullah Shahrani, Minister of Mines and Mr. Asef Rahimi, Minister of Agriculture were in Delhi on June 28 for the Delhi Investment Summit [12] on Afghanistan, which sought to provide a forum for potential investors from the region and beyond to meet and explore possible cross-country company partnerships on investments in and around Afghanistan in various sectors where Afghanistan holds the promise of significant potential, opportunity and need, as a means of bringing stability and development to Afghanistan through economic means in the challenging post-2014 phase.

Development Partnership

22. India has played an active role in the development of Afghanistan based on the understanding that social and economic development in Afghanistan is crucial to regional stability. The principal objective of India’s development partnership is to assist in building indigenous Afghan capacity and institutions and to ensure that development touches all the regions of Afghanistan and encompasses all the sectors of development.

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23. India’s programmers cover four broad areas – infrastructure projects, humanitarian assistance, small and community based development projects, and education and capacity development. The 218 km road project from Zaranj to Delaram in southwestern Afghanistan to facilitate movement of goods and services to the Iranian border and, onward, to the Chabahar Port was inaugurated by the Afghan President and Indian External Affairs Minister in January 2009 [13] . India constructed the 202 kms long 220 kV DC transmission line from Pul-e-Khumri to Kabul and a 220/110/20 kV sub-station at Chimtala, bringing Uzbek electricity and lighting up the city of Kabul throughout the year. This project was completed in collaboration with the Afghan Government, ADB and the World Bank, with inputs from USAID and international energy firms, and is an outstanding example of regional and international cooperation in Afghanistan. The other two major infrastructure projects, the construction of the Afghan Parliament in Kabul and the construction of Salma Dam power project in Herat province, are under progress and would be completed by 2012.

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24. Under humanitarian assistance, India supplies 100 gms of fortified, high-protein biscuits every day to each of the nearly two million school children in 33 of the 34 provinces of Afghanistan under a School Feeding Programme administered through the World Food Programme. During the visit of President Karzai to India in January 2009, India announced the gift of 250,000 metric tonnes of wheat to assist Afghanistan tide over its food shortage. The Indian Medical Missions in the five major cities are providing free medical consultations and medicines to over 30,000 Afghans every month. An innovative scheme focussing on small and community-based development projects, with a short gestation period and having a direct impact on community life was unveiled during Prime Minister Dr. Manmohan Singh’s visit to Afghanistan in August 2005. So far, 101 such projects with emphasis on local ownership and management in the field of agriculture, rural development, education, health, vocational training, and solar energy have been initiated.

25. In education and institution development, India is providing every year 675 long-term university scholarships, sponsored by the Indian Council for Cultural Relations (ICCR) for under-graduate and post-graduate studies for Afghan students in India. Similarly, another 675 annual short-term India Technical and Educational Cooperation (ITEC) training scholarships for Afghan public servants are provided in Indian technical and professional institutions [14] . More than 20 Indian Civil Servants served as coaches and mentors under Capacity for Afghan Public Administration programme supported by UNDP and the Governments of Afghanistan and India. Confederation of Indian Industries (CII) built an India-Afghanistan Vocational Training Centre for training Afghan youth in carpentry, plumbing, welding, masonry and tailoring [15] . Another innovative programme was executed by the well-known Indian NGO, SEWA (Self-Employed Women’s Association), which built a Women’s Vocational Training Centre in Bagh-eZanana in Kabul for training of Afghan women (War-widows and orphans) in garment making, nursery plantation, and food processing and marketing [16] .

26. Capacity Building Programmes are also underway in the fields of diplomacy, media and information, civil aviation, agricultural research and education, health care and medicinal science, tourism, education, standardisation, rural development, public administration, electoral management and administration and local governance. Besides these, India is involved in reconstruction of the Indira Gandhi Institute of Child Health and the Habibia School in Kabul [17] . India has assisted in expansion of Afghan National TV network by providing an uplink from Kabul and downlinks in all 34 provincial capitals for promoting greater connectivity. It has also gifted around 1,000 vehicles including buses, utility vehicles and ambulances to Afghanistan.

27. [18] Agriculture being the key to the development of Afghanistan, India announced at the London Conference in January 2010, 100 fellowships for Masters and PhD programmes for existing faculty members and another 200 for fresh graduates each year for the next five years to assist in faculty and student development in the agricultural sector. To build indigenous Afghan capacity and institutions, India also announced its strong support to the proposed Afghan National Institution Building Project of the UNDP.

28. In regional cooperation, Afghanistan joined SAARC at the 14th SAARC Summit held in Delhi in April 2007, opening possibilities of Afghanistan becoming a trade, transportation and energy hub linking together the countries of the region from Central to South Asia. India has also encouraged Afghanistan’s efforts at capitalising on its unique geographical location at the heart of the Asian continent by supporting regional initiatives like the Istanbul process and RECCA that seek to assist in Afghanistan’s development through cooperation in a various sectors of the economy. [19] 

29. India’s efforts to regain its foothold throughout Afghanistan have been fraught with significant security challenges affecting the execution of its projects as well as the safety of its institutions and personnel. Indian engineers, medical staff, and government employees have been targeted. The Indian embassy in Kabul was attacked twice, and Indian consulates in Herat and Jalalabad were assaulted, as were Indian private sector companies and personnel. To protect Indian staff building the southern portion of the Ring Road, India deployed the Indo-Tibetan Police Force (ITPF) as well as a small number of army commandos to protect personnel. (This infuriated the Pakistanis, who already were at a loss that the Indians were involved in this portion of the Ring Road.) [20] 

30. [21] Despite deepening security threats from both the Taliban and other Pakistan-based proxies operating against Indian personnel and institutions in Afghanistan, thus far India has remained committed to staying in Afghanistan. However, there is a fierce domestic debate that is ongoing within India. India has watched with some alarm the U.S. handling of Pakistan and its persistent refusal and/or ability to compel Pakistan strategically to abandon militancy as a tool of foreign policy and to dismantle the terrorist infrastructure that has inflicted such harm in India and in the region. Moreover, India has been deeply concerned that the United States continues to provide massive military assistance, including lucrative reimbursements under the Coalition Support Funds program and access to conventional systems that are more appropriate to target India than Pakistani insurgents. Because of these issues, which have endured since October 2001, India has been alarmed at the Obama administration’s lack of attention paid to India in stark contrast to that of Bush.

31. India is also worried about Obama’s nonproliferation policy and commitment to seeing the IndoU.S. Nuclear deal bears fruit. Finally, Obama’s (misconstrued) announcement that U.S. troops will begin withdrawing from Afghanistan in August 2011 has left India deeply concerned about the future of Afghanistan. As India contemplates (howsoever unlikely) an Afghanistan that is free of U.S. and international military forces, some Indians increasingly are calling for India to find some way of placing troops on the ground. India is reluctant to operate outside of a UN mandate. Nonetheless, there is a vocal set of commentators and analysts who believe that India’s security interests reside in Afghanistan and thus demand serious attention.


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