Intro: India should give time to President Ghani to work out his proposal for a peaceful and stable Afghanistan which would be very much in India’s interests.
In his recent visit to India, Afghanistan President Ashraf Ghani has given enough indications that New Delhi need not be unnecessarily worried over his reaching out to Pakistan or China. What he intends is to make Afghanistan “a hub” of economic activity that connects South Asia with Central Asia and beyond so that in all practical sense it becomes the real “Heart of Asia”. This can happen when peace ultimately prevails in the country.
Before the final drawdown of US forces takes place by the end of 2016, President Ghani plans to seek the cooperation of its immediate neighbours to end terrorism in his country. Knowing very well that peace in Afghanistan cannot prevail without the consent of the Pakistani Army, he has reached out directly to Rawalpindi – the General Headquarters of the Pakistani Army. It should be noted that in the past, it was the Pakistani Army which was reluctant to Karzai government initiating talks with the Taliban. If Ghani’s plans works out to find a solution and ultimately peace prevails in Afghanistan, it would be in the best interests of India.
Not that Ghani intends to compromise on terrorism. At the joint press conference with Prime Minister Narendra Modi, he was candid in saying that there should be no distinction between “good” and “bad” terror – an approach different from concept of “good Taliban” and “bad Taliban” floated by his processor Hamid Karzai. Ghani has called for “an unified approach” to end terrorism so that Afghanistan ultimately becomes “a graveyard of terrorism.”
Ghani looks further north to end the source of terrorism. China is threatened by East Turkestan Islamic Movement and Uzbekistan by Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan. He intends to bring both China and the Central Asian republics on board to resolve terrorism. At a time when terrorist networks are metamorphosing and seeking proximity with each other and with larger and more organised groups commanding territorial space like al-Qaeda and ISIS, Ghani plans to negotiate with the relevant governments in the regions.
The new Afghan President, with Chinese help, intends to develop the Wakhan Corridor which is a 60 km narrow strip of territory in north-eastern Afghanistan that extends to China and separates Tajikistan from Pakistan. He also seeks to allure China for investing in Afghanistan.
India need not be worried over Ghani’s reaching out to Pakistan and China in his quest to eliminate the centres of terrorism. Ordinary Afghans prefer Indians to Pakistanis and Chinese. India has an image of a successful emerging economy and a democracy. Old civilisation links and cultural affinity bring two countries closer. Ghani has lauded poet Tagore for giving Afghans the brand name “Kabuliwalla”. Afghans look upon India a place for getting proper education and medical treatment. Annually a lot of Afghans travel to India as and money changers at Kabul airport and city markets have more of Indian rupee than American dollars. Unlike Pakistan, India is looked upon as a country not interfering in the internal affairs of Afghanistan. Thus the mindset of the Afghan people cannot undergo a sudden change even if other neighbouring countries begin to make forays in Afghanistan.
India is the fourth largest investor in Afghanistan with an investment of $2.2 billion. According to President Ghani, Afghanistan has five circles of its foreign policy – neighbours, Islamic world, Europe, Canada, Australia and Japan, Asia, world of investors and providers. India fits into four of these. India’s laying of power transmission lines over the Hindu Kush and the Zaranj Delaram highway has earned laurels. It has also to complete Salma Dam and Parliament House projects and the SAIL-led consortium is yet to sign agreement for the Hajigak mining project.
Prime Minister Modi did a wise thing. He did not insist upon the details of the future implementation of the India-Afghanistan Strategic Partnership Agreement signed three and a half years ago, particularly in matters of security and defence. Both the leaders avoided mentioning it in details lest it may draw ire from Pakistan and China. The joint statement simply said: “Both leaders reaffirmed their commitment to patiently and systematically work towards strengthening of India-Afghanistan Strategic Partnership, with a clear focus on the long-term relationship between the two countries.” They reviewed the progress in implementation and reaffirmed their commitments to the full implementation of the agreement through established mechanism. However, India did its bit this time by delivering three Cheetal helicopters to Afghanistan and assured to continue to train Afghan forces.
Proposed pacts between the two countries like the extradition treaty, transfer of sentenced persons and mutual legal assistance in criminal matters were deferred for signing at a later date alongwith the proposed motor vehicle agreement, memorandum of understanding (MoU) on visa free entry for holders of diplomatic passports and a bilateral treaty for mutual legal assistance in civil and commercial matters. India has assured fresh assistance to Habibia School in Kabul, Indira Gandhi Child Health Care Hospital and Red Crescent Society Fund for treatment of children with congenital heart disease.
In his quest for development of Afghanistan, President Ghani has urged for investment in railways, fibre optics, irrigation and dams, hydro-power generation, exploitation of gas reserves, power transmission lines, gas-based fertiliser industry and telecommunication. He invited Indian pharma companies to set up bases in Afghanistan and export to other countries. He called for cooperation between Indian and Afghan MSMEs particularly in textiles, jewellery. He called upon Indian experts to train Afghans in skill development and community projects.
As Pakistan has so far denied India land route access to Afghanistan, Prime Minister Modi has reaffirmed his commitment to develop deep sea Chabahar port in Iran so that Indian shipments can be offloaded for transit by rail and road to Afghanistan and beyond. The likely phasing out of sanctions imposed on Iran by UN and western powers are likely facilitate Indian investment in Chabahar project.
After the expected sorting out of various technical glitches including the appointment of a consortium leader, the cross country Turkmenistan-Afghanistan-Pakistan-India (TAPI) gas pipeline is likely to be a reality. India has also planned to set up a fertiliser plant in Turkmenistan using its cheap gas reserve. A peaceful and stable Afghanistan will be very much in India’s interests. If Pakistan comes to terms, Ghani’s connectivity plans can well see India getting land route access via Attari-Wagah right up to Afghanistan.
India should, therefore, give time to President Ghani to work out his proposal for a peaceful and stable Afghanistan which would be very much in India’s interests.
Ashok B sharma (The writer is a senior columnist)