India: India's Agenda in Afghanistan

2006

Auriol Weigold

Since the removal of the Taliban, India has been a substantial donor towards reconstruction in Afghanistan and, up to April 2006, had pledged US$650 million, of which some $200 million have already been spent.

The Indian Ministry of External Affairs has iterated that India and Afghanistan have a long history of friendship and cultural ties that, in post-Taliban days, have reached new levels of cooperation, establishing India's on-going interest in providing economic and material assistance to Afghanistan.

Meeting immediate needs, India is funding food and medical relief, and providing training for paramedics and teachers. It is also building hospitals and schools.

Of national and symbolic importance, India has offered to fund the construction of a new Parliament Building in Kabul, and it has appointed senior diplomats to Kabul, underscoring India's commitment to the bilateral relationship.

Addressing Afghanistan's international needs, the Foreign Service Institute of the Ministry of External Affairs is assisting the Afghan Foreign Affairs Ministry's Institute of Diplomacy in building the expertise of the country's future diplomats.

Restoring communication networks within Afghanistan is another project with Broadcast Engineering Consultants India Ltd setting up satellite facilities and restoring television hardware in Jalalabad and Nangarhar Province.

Amongst its major construction initiatives are the Salma Dam Power Project in Herat, undertaken by Water and Power Consultancy Services (India) Ltd, and the reconstruction and upgrading of the Zaranj-Delaram Road by the Border Roads Organization (BRO). The latter project will help solve a transit problem faced by India in sending goods to Afghanistan, and is viewed unfavourably by Pakistan.

India has opened nine consulates across Afghanistan including at Jalabad, Kandahar, Herat and Mazar-e-Sharif. These are also of concern to Pakistan, as discussed below.

Besides its generosity to a nation in need, India has another agenda: to extend its move onto the world stage while putting an end to the state of constant hostility with Pakistan over Kashmir and to the cross-border movement of terrorists.

In addition to those unresolved conflicts, Pakistan is wary of India's close involvement with Afghanistan and, identifying initiatives it objects to, fears that transit rights when road construction is complete would swamp Afghanistan with Indian imports. Pakistan desires to maintain its measure of control over trade to Afghanistan, much of which is channelled through its ports at Gwadar and Karachi. Presently trade from Afghanistan to India moves freely.

The killing of a BRO worker by the neo-Taliban last November led to the dispatch of some 200 Indo-Tibetan Border Police to Afghanistan to provide protection for Indians working on various construction sites.

This is the first time since Pakistan became a state in 1947 that Indian security forces have been stationed in Afghanistan, and in this instance not far from the Pakistani border (Amin Tarzi, 16-04-06, www.rferl.org).

Pakistan also suggests that Indian consulates in Afghanistan are being used to stir unrest in its frontier provinces.

The ongoing and unresolved issues between India and Pakistan contribute to instability, and Afghan President Hamid Karzai has proposed that India, Pakistan and Afghanistan reach an agreement allowing 'quicker progress and economic betterment' in the region (Ministry of External Affairs, New Delhi, 13-04-06).

Such tripolar cooperation may open a way for a Pakistani sense of inclusion in the too-close relationship it perceives developing between the other two nations.

Such an outcome might, in turn, facilitate India's broader agenda.

WATCHPOINT: At the recent Non-Aligned Movement's meeting in Havana, Indian Prime Minister Dr Manmohan Singh and Pakistan's President Musharraf agreed to resume talks and set up a 'joint mechanism' on cross-border terrorism. Can this open a space for a similar mechanism to be established with Afghanistan?

 

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