Post 9/11 concern has been raised over where India stands on a number of issues, which includes it’s approach to the relationship it shares with Afghanistan on all levels: economically, politically and socially. Security and stability in Afghanistan is of importance to India. There has been claims of cultural co-operation in between India and Afghanistan, predominantly in the form of the entertainment sector in India, colloquially termed as “Bollywood”, complimented by a positive perception of the country in general amongst Afghans, highlighted by various polls conducted over the years in the West.
This generally-speaking amicable relationship the two large countries share, has given rise to fear and resentment amongst many of the smaller countries outlining India’s borders. Although, Afghanistan isn’t susceptible to this partly owing to lack of border issues with such countries, it’s important to point out that the subject of “Taliban” forces in the country has caused friction for it, when it comes to the relationship it has with many countries, including India and the United States of America.
India heavily scrutinizes the Taliban, despite the many allegations, news of which has reached the West, that portions of the terrorist activities carried out regionally there are part of the wider network that connects the Taliban and the Pakistan’s military and Inter-Services (ISI). Initially, it was perceived by the United States, Pakistan and the Afghan government that post-Taliban engagement with Afghanistan for India was somehow related to a strategy to weaken Pakistan.
However, in recent years perspective in foreign policy for India has shifted from an entirely anti-Pakistan rhetoric to a pro-Afghanistan one, where the government has unanimously declared a desire for more stability in the Middle Eastern country. There has been far too much pro-Pakistan talks taking centrehold in the West, so much so that pressure from Pakistan has led to India being excluded from the January 2010 “International Conference on Afghanistan” held in Istanbul, which was a pretty bad joke given the fact that just within the span of 18 months, President Barack Obama announced that Western troops would pull out of Afghanistan, handing over power and responsibility to Afghan forces by 2014, crossing out the previous prevalent idea that it would take decades for NATO and its allies to keep its troops and craft stability in Afghanistan.
These policy changes have reflected amongst many in India that their engagement with Afghanistan, both in the community and the government level, can be deemed as correct, despite the exodus, so-to-speak, from international conferences. In India, the 1990s saw a policy of support towards India’s neighbours, followed by an election and a policy towards global domination, followed by another election and a Congress win, which saw more dominance towards regional improvement, which the former party in power, the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), had largely neglected.
The Congress government has worked towards a pro-Afghanistan stance for India, emphasizing that stability there means stability at home in India. India has announced a commitment towards training Afghan security forces, although any involvement for India in Afghanistan is always looked at in USA, with a lot of skepticism. India, for its part remains unsure of the West’s commitment towards Afghanistan, due to the rapid change of involvement there.
India is very keen on investment in Afghanistan. The “New Silk Road” tale as declared by India at the 2012 “Heart of Asia” conference in Kabul, has led India to declare that it intends to support Afghanistan and integrate it into the regional economy, spurning out commercial and trade developments for the country, and the whole region in general. It intends to craft out Afghanistan as a sort-of a bridge that can smooth out trade and commercial ventures between South Asia, Central Asia, the Middle East and Eurasia.
Afghanistan is a land rich in mineral sources, with the country’s government putting it close to a wealth value to an approximate $3 trillion. India has bilateral trade agreements with Afghanistan already, mostly in the form of assistance in categories such as food aid in the form of wheat, etc. and support for infrastructure projects, like the construction of the ‘Salma Dam Power Project’ and contribution towards the building of the Parliament.
India needs to move forward from the shadow of “upsetting” Pakistan, and think about what it can positively do for Afghanistan after its landmark election this year, which saw throngs come out and vote, despite the threat of escalating violence; the elections are heading for a second round after no party gained the required 50percent vote to govern Afghnistan.
Signs of investment by Indian companies in Afghanistan does show good work in promoting stability and it’s attitude towards commitment in the region. Afghanistan for its part has chosen to remain largely silent on the subject, even though thousands of students from Afghanistan study in India, many on Indian scholarships, provided by the Indian Council for Cultural Relations. Although, it is commendable that India’s perspective on Afghanistan is largely a historical one, where the future seems positive instead of the very bleak one Western powers have been projecting for decades, India needs to do more to gravitate towards crafting stability in Afghanistan.