Introduction: It has been referred to as the "Graveyard of Empires" and has been a central player in the historical "Great Games." The Gandhar-Bharat Sambandha, also known as Afghanistan-India connections, highlights the diplomatic ties between the two countries. The Taliban takeover of Afghanistan has significant ramifications for South Asia and leaves India’s foreign-policy and security interests at considerable risk.
A quick recap: India-Afghanistan Ties
- India and Afghanistan have a long history of cooperation, dating back to the 1950 Treaty of Friendship.
- Despite the challenges posed by the Taliban's capture of Kabul in 1996, India re-engaged with Afghanistan after the Taliban's ousting in 2001.
- India has since made significant investments and commitments, amounting to over USD 3 billion, to cultivate strong economic and defense ties with Afghanistan.
Importance of Afghanistan for India
- Preferential Trade Agreement (2003): The signing of the Preferential Trade Agreement in 2003 led to India granting significant duty cuts, ranging from 50% to 100%, on a specific category of Afghan dry fruits.
- Initiatives in 2016: In 2016, the Prime Minister of India put forth proposals for mutual collaboration, including the supply of high-quality and affordable pharmaceuticals, as well as joint efforts in the development of solar energy. As a result of these initiatives, a second aviation route between India and Afghanistan was established.
- India has provided Afghanistan with $4 billion in development aid between 2002 and 2021.
- Zaranj to Delaram Road: A 218 km road was constructed from Zaranj to Delaram to facilitate the transportation of goods and services from Afghanistan to the Iranian border and the Chahbahar Port.
- Kabul to Pul-e-Khumri Transmission Line: Construction of a 220 kV DC transmission line from Kabul to Pul-e-Khumri.
- Salma Dam Power: Construction and commissioning of the Salma Dam power project (42 MW) in Herat province.
- Afghan Parliament: Ongoing construction of the Afghan Parliament.
- Other Assistance: India has pledged to build the Shahtoot Dam and other drinking water projects in Kabul, as well as improve road connectivity to Band-e Amir in Bamiyan to boost tourism.
- Post-Taliban Development: India received a request from the Taliban regime's foreign ministry spokesman to complete development projects. The Indian embassy in Kabul has reopened after being closed for a year.
- A stable Afghanistan is crucial for regional and domestic security and stability for India. It acts as a buffer between India and extremist groups operating in the region.
- Afghanistan's stability is vital in countering state-sponsored terrorism emanating from Pakistan-supported groups.
- During the Fourth Regional Security Dialogue on Afghanistan, the Indian National Security Advisor (NSA) emphasized strengthening Afghanistan's capacity to combat terrorism.
- Afghanistan has been a breeding ground for terrorism, posing a threat to India's security. India has been a victim of state-sponsored terrorism supported by groups based in Afghanistan.
- A stable Afghanistan is essential for effectively countering these terrorist threats.
- Afghanistan possesses significant untapped mineral resources worth around $1 trillion. These resources include minerals such as iron, copper, gold, and rare earth elements.
- Access to Afghanistan's mineral wealth can fuel India's industrial and economic growth.
- Afghanistan serves as a crucial gateway for India's connectivity with Central Asia. Projects like the Chabahar Port in Iran enhance India's trade and economic ties with the region.
- India-Afghanistan Air Freight Corridor: Opened in 2017 to facilitate trade and economic activities.
- Developing transport and energy corridors through Afghanistan strengthens regional connectivity and facilitates India's access to resource-rich Central Asia.
- In 2016, India signed a deal with Iran entailing $8 billion investment in Chabahar port and industries in Chabahar Special Economic Zone.
- Afghanistan's strategic location makes it an important transit route for energy projects.
- India sees Afghanistan as a vital component of the Turkmenistan-Afghanistan-Pakistan-India (TAPI) pipeline project.
- Access to energy resources in Central Asia through Afghanistan addresses India's growing energy needs.
- India's engagement in Afghanistan helps counterbalance Pakistan's influence in the region.
- It provides a platform for India to shape the political landscape and support Afghan government stability.
- By assisting in nation-building, India safeguards its interests and prevents Afghanistan from becoming a safe haven for anti-India elements.
- Security Threats: The volatile security situation in Afghanistan, including the presence of terrorist groups like the Taliban, poses a direct security threat to India.
- Political Instability: Political instability and shifts in government dynamics create uncertainty for sustained cooperation between India and Afghanistan.
- Pakistan's Role: Pakistan's role in Afghanistan, including its support for militant groups, remains a significant challenge for India's engagement in the region.
- Economic Constraints: Economic and infrastructural constraints, such as limited connectivity and dependence on alternative trade routes, hinder economic cooperation between India and Afghanistan.
- Humanitarian Concerns: The return of the Taliban raises concerns about human rights and the humanitarian crisis in Afghanistan, creating challenges for India's involvement.
- Regional Rivalries: Regional rivalries and power dynamics add complexity to India's engagement in Afghanistan and pose challenges to effective cooperation.
- Indian partnering with UNWFP (UN World Food Programme) for the delivery of 20,000 MTs of wheat for Afghan people through the Chabahar Port.
- Strengthening Regional Cooperation: Enhancing cooperation and coordination among regional players is crucial for stability and progress in Afghanistan.
- Supporting Afghan-led Peace Process: India should support an Afghan-led and Afghan-owned peace process to achieve lasting peace and stability in the region.
- Enhancing Economic Engagement: India should focus on enhancing economic cooperation, trade, and investment with Afghanistan to promote sustainable development.
- Providing Humanitarian Assistance: India should continue to provide humanitarian assistance to address the urgent needs of the Afghan people, especially in areas such as healthcare, education, and infrastructure development.
- Strengthening Security Cooperation: Collaborating with Afghan security forces and other regional partners to address security threats and counterterrorism is essential for ensuring stability in the region.
India’s Afghan policy must be based on a clear-cut understanding of India’s strategic goals in the region, and the regional and global strategic environment. Though it is a bit late, yet India has taken the right decision by engaging the amenable section of the Afghan Taliban.