How PM Modi's Afghanistan outreach can help in isolating Pakistan

The resentment against Islamabad's terrorist designs is widespread among Afghan society, who look up to New Delhi as a truly reliable friend.

 |  7-minute read |   21-09-2016
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The recent visit of Afghan President Ashraf Ghani to New Delhi, where he met Prime Minister Narendra Modi, saw a slew of agreements and exchanges. Some of the major ones were agreements on extradition, mutual legal assistance treaty and outer space.

Both leaders flagged the issue of terrorism and agreed that it is the single biggest threat to peace, stability and progress in the region and beyond. They reaffirmed their resolve to counter terrorism and strengthen security and defence cooperation.

PM Modi pledged that India would allocate a sum of $1 billion for Afghanistan’s capacity building in areas of education, health, agriculture, skill development, women empowerment, energy, infrastructure, and strengthening of democratic institutions.

He also proposed to supply world class and affordable medicines and cooperation in solar energy through mutually agreed instruments.

Ghani comes full circle

The visit comes after a series of engagements between the two leaders. Modi has visited Afghanistan twice, following Ghani’s maiden visit to New Delhi exactly a year ago.

Between the visits, they have had constant engagements, including the video conferencing during the joint inauguration of the restored Stor Palace last month (August). The relations between the sides have been on a constant upsurge after Ghani abandoned his Pakistan "tilt".

Back in September 2014 when Ghani took charge as President in the National Unity government, he decided to actively engage Pakistan in the hope that it will help stabilise the security situation by bringing the Taliban to the negotiating table.

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In September 2014 when Ashraf Ghani took charge as President in the National Unity government, he decided to actively engage Pakistan. (Photo: Reuters)

But within a year Ghani realised the hollowness and deception of Pakistani assurances. The fighting season concomitant with the talks was one of the bloodiest that Afghanistan saw in years, with the Taliban even overrunning several districts.

The reports that Mullah Omar had died in April 2013 served as the last straw in making it unequivocally clear that the "peace process" was nothing but an eyewash. It was in the name of Mullah Omar, the Amir-ul-Momineen, that the talks were being held in 2015. Such was the farce during the process that the Taliban, backed by Pakistan’s ISI, even released a letter with an Eid message in the name of the long dead Mullah Omar.

Ghani, therefore, abandoned his failed outreach towards Pakistan, much to the relief of the Afghan public that was always sceptical of trusting Pakistan. The resentment against Pakistan’s terrorist designs is widespread among the Afghan civil society who look up to India as a truly reliable friend.

A retired Indian diplomat told this writer how an Afghan once remarked to him that "they [Pakistan] send terrorists to kill our people, whereas you build roads and bridges that improve our lives". This is the general sentiment that guides the way most Afghans look at India.

The development partnership

The development partnership of India and Afghanistan has been the defining aspect of their contemporary bilateral relations. Over the last decade and more, India has heavily invested in the reconstruction and development projects inside Afghanistan, which has created immense goodwill.

The celebration on the streets by Afghan youth over the completion of the Salma Dam is a recent testimony to this. Officially called the India-Afghanistan Friendship Dam, the Rs 1,775-crore hydroelectric and irrigation dam is located on the Hari Rud River in Chishti district of Herat, and was inaugurated by PM Modi in June this year.

It was Modi’s second visit to Afghanistan after the historic Kabul visit last December that saw him inaugurate the Parliament building whose construction was also funded by India.

A number of projects in the areas of agriculture, rural development, health, education, vocational training, etc have been approved by the Indian government under the Small Development Projects (SDP) scheme. Besides these flagship initiatives, India through its state-owned and private companies has invested in a number of sectors in Afghanistan.

A consortium of six Indian companies led by Steel Authority of India had won the concession for three iron ore mines in the Hajigak region in 2011. The state owned power equipment maker BHEL commissioned two 220/20kV substations in Doshi and Charikar in January this year.

Recently, Afghanistan also invited Indian investments in the renewable energy sector, specifically off-grid renewable energy projects. 

Apart from infrastructure and industrial projects, India has also been lending assistance to Afghanistan in other areas like sports.The BCCI helped provide for a "home ground" for Afghan cricket in India at the Greater Noida cricket stadium.

Further, the Indian government approved $1 million for constructing a cricket stadium in Kandahar under the SDP scheme.

In the 12th South Asian games held in India earlier this year, India sponsored the air-travel of the 214 strong Afghan contingent, besides bearing some other expenses. The request for India’s help, reportedly made by Afghan chief executive Abdullah Abdullah, was immediately agreed to by PM Modi.

Countering terrorism emanating out of Pakistan

That the Taliban plots its attacks with Pakistan’s support is well known not just to the Afghans but to the world.

Be it infiltrating terrorists across the LoC into India, orchestrating cross-border attacks like the one in Uri this Sunday (September 18), supporting the Taliban in Afghanistan that spills Afghan blood every single day, or abusing human rights in Balochistan and PoK, Pakistan has given us umpteen reasons to call it a terrorist state.

Yet, there isn’t enough international pressure on Pakistan to rein the terrorist designs of its "deep state" – the nexus of Pak military, ISI and the various jihadi groups.

The need to diplomatically isolate Pakistan is not only in the interest of Indian or Afghan security but that of the entire South Asian region and beyond. Even Bangladesh is suffering from the nefarious designs of the Pakistani State. In December 2015, Pakistan had to recall its diplomat Farina Arshad after Bangladeshi authorities alleged her of spying and financing terrorist organisations.

The effort of globally exposing Pakistan and its terrorist activities, therefore, must be led by India together with Afghanistan and Bangladesh. When New Delhi, Kabul and Dhaka all speak in one voice, it sends across a powerful message to the international community.

One of the most laudable decisions of the Modi government’s Afghanistan policy has been its decision to donate three Mi-35 multi-role helicopters, with fourth in the pipeline. The Indian helicopters are expected to boost Afghan air power and positively impact the fight against terrorism.

The long drawn war that the Afghan forces are fighting against the Taliban needs support wherever it can come from. Towards this end, not just India but all world powers should contribute towards emboldening capabilities of the Afghan National Security Forces.

Besides the developmental agenda, forums like Heart of Asia - Istanbul Process and the trilateral such as India-US-Afghanistan consultations, to be held in New York later this month, also need to heavily focus on the security situation and means to counter the Taliban.

The Strategic Partnership Agreement signed between India and Afghanistan in 2011 provides a framework for greater defence and security cooperation, as reiterated in the recent joint statement. Herein lie the opportunities to take India-Afghan relations to the next level.

As New Delhi examines the requests made by the Afghan Army chief General Qadam Shah Shahim last month, the one thing that should not be a matter of consideration is how its decisions are perceived by Islamabad.

There is absolutely no reason for India, to the extent it is economically feasible, to shy away from supporting and working towards a stable, democratic and peaceful Afghanistan.

Also read: Modi's 'friendship dam' is historic for Afghanistan

Also read: Making sense of Pakistan's desperate quest to bleed India

Writer

Kamal Madishetty Kamal Madishetty @kamalmadishetty

The writer is a research associate at Vision India Foundation, New Delhi.

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