India’s role in Afghanistan in the Past Two Decades
The Indo-Afghanistan relations have roots in the ancient era. The two countries have been connected historically, through cultural, political, and socio-economic links. before the separation of Pakistan from India in 1947 the two countries shared borders and trade and commercial activities were smoothly taking place. After 2001 India was one of the few prominent donors that helped Afghanistan in various fields such as economics, education, construction, security, and rule of law. This paper studies India’s policy towards Afghanistan in the past two decades.
According to sources India’s foreign policy remains its immediate neighborhood, under the Neighborhood First Policy. The main philosophy in Indian foreign policy is to ensure that its partners in the region draw benefits and values from the growth, development, and rise of India, and on this basis, all countries in the region work towards developing equitable partnerships with each other .
The Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi outlined the principles of engagement in the neighborhood in the form of Samman (respect), Samvad (dialogue), Shanti (peace), and Samriddhi (prosperity).
India’s soft power policy towards Afghanistan is the most prominent aspect which has remained unchanged since the then India’s prime minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee era. This policy was continued during Manmohan Singh’s rule as well. Even now, Modi is the follower of this legacy. In the past two decades, India focused its efforts on the economic and social development of this country. The Indian policy covers four broad areas: Infrastructure projects, Humanitarian Aid, Small development projects and Education or training programs, and capacity building.
In this framework, India has donated around Three billion U.S. dollars for Afghanistan’s development in the past 20 years. In addition to these cases, an agreement has been reached between Afghanistan, India, and Iran for the construction of the Chabahar Port project with an investment of more than 100 million dollars from India. This port will be used as a center for transporting commercial goods to Afghanistan and Central Asia. Also, the people of Afghanistan have received a lot of aid from the people and private organizations of India, including Tata city buses for big cities and many other humanitarian aids. In fact, India is the fifth largest aid donor to Afghanistan after the United States, the United Kingdom, Japan, and Germany, all this support shows that Afghanistan is of special importance for India.
- Major infrastructure projects
India’s development partnership with Afghanistan includes more than five hundred projects spread across each of the 34 provinces of the country in critical areas of power, water supply, road connectivity, healthcare, education, agriculture, and capacity building.
- Construction of a 218 km road from Zaranj to Delaram to facilitate the movement of goods and services from Afghanistan to the Iranian border and, onward, to the Chahbahar Port
- Construction of a 220kv DC transmission line from Pul-e-Khumri to Kabul and a 220/110/20 kV sub-station at Chimtala to bring additional power from the northern grid to Kabul.
- Construction and commissioning of the Salma Dam power project (42 MW) in Herat province.
- Restoration of telecommunication infrastructure in 11 provinces.
- Expansion of the national TV network by providing an uplink from Kabul and downlinks in all 34 provincial capitals to promote greater integration of the country.
- . Humanitarian aid
The Indian government provided humanitarian assistance to the people of Afghanistan which included foodgrains and medical assistance. Based on a report around 200 crore Indian Rs has been allocated for humanitarian aid to Afghanistan during 2022-2023 though it shows a downward trend which was about 350 crores in previous years.
Some humanitarian supports provided by the Indian government in the past 20 years are:
- Daily supply of 100 grams of fortified, high-protein biscuits to nearly 2 million children under a School Feeding Programme administered through the World Food Programme.
- Gift of 250,000 metric tonnes of wheat, announced in January 2009 to help Afghanistan tide over its current food crisis, to be shipped immediately, subject to transit and transportation arrangements being finalized
- . Free medical consultation and medicines through 5 Indian Medical Missions to over 30,000 Afghans monthly.
- Reconstruction of Indira Gandhi Institute of Child Health in Kabul. v Gifting of vehicles (400 buses and 200 mini-buses for mass urban transportation, 105 utility vehicles for municipalities, 285 military vehicles for the Afghan National Army, and 10 ambulances for public hospitals in five cities).
- Five toilet-cum-public sanitation complexes in Kabul.
- Small and community-based development projects.
India implemented more than 500 small and medium projects in 34 provinces of Afghanistan in various areas such as school buildings, these are in vulnerable border areas, with a focus on local ownership and management and extend to agriculture, rural development, education, health, vocational training, and solar energy. These have a direct, immediate, and visible impact on community life. About 84 small projects were implemented in 19 provinces of Afghanistan.
- Education, training programs, and capacity building.
Since 2005 around 60 thousand Afghanistan youth including girls and women have been educated in India and despite other scholars in Western countries who didn’t come back, all the Indian graduates returned to their countries and served their people in various capacities.
- Reconstruction of Habibia School, Kabul.
- 500 annual long-term university scholarship sponsored by the Indian Council for Cultural Relations for undergraduate and postgraduate studies for Afghan students in India.
- 500 annual short-term ITEC training programs for Afghan public servants in Indian technical and professional institutions of their choice.
- Deputation of 20 Indian civil servants as coaches and mentors under the Capacity for Afghan Public Administration (CAP) program supported by UNDP and the Governments of Afghanistan and India.
- India–Afghanistan Vocational Training Centre for training Afghan youth in carpentry, plumbing, welding, masonry, and tailoring executed by the Confederation of Indian Industries.
- Women’s Vocational Training Centre in Baghe-Zanana for the training of Afghan women (war widows and orphans) in garment making, nursery plantation, food processing, and marketing, executed by the well-known Indian NGO SEWA (Self-Employed Women’s Association).
- Capacity-building programs are also underway in the fields of diplomacy, media and information, civil aviation, agricultural research and education, health care and medicinal science, tourism, education, standardization, rural development, public administration, electoral management and administration, and local governance.
India – Afghanistan Strategic Partnership
India was the first strategic partner of Afghanistan. The two countries signed a strategic cooperation agreement in 2011 to outline their relations. Among other issues, this agreement provides “aid for the reconstruction of Afghanistan’s institutions and infrastructure, the education and training sector, technical assistance for the reconstruction of Afghanistan’s native capacity in various fields, encouraging investment in Afghanistan’s natural resources sector, the possibility of free access of traders
to Indian markets for support from Afghanistan’s exports, efforts towards a comprehensive peace process owned and led by the Afghan people, and support for the need for a long-term and sustainable commitment to Afghanistan by the international community.
The military part of the strategic agreement was New Delhi’s commitment to increase training programs for Afghan soldiers and police in India.
Afghanistan people’s opinion about India
Based on a survey done by Gallup in 2010 it has been concluded that the majority of Afghanistan people prefer Indians to Americans and Pakistanis. Around 71% of Afghanistan people said that India played the most positive role in their country. One of the BBC polls has also shown that India is the most popular country among the people of Afghanistan.
So far everything has gone smoothly for India. But now after the Taliban takeover, a bigger question arises: Can the soft power approach alone enable India to achieve its foreign policy goals in Afghanistan? New Delhi’s soft power approach towards Afghanistan is based on the premise that India is “a service provider rather than a beneficiary”. But India may not be able to use soft power in Afghanistan anymore, because almost all the current regimes brought to power by Pakistan’s ISI support will not be in a position to decide independently on India’s matter.
India’s basic interest in Afghanistan
India’s basic interests in Afghanistan could be presented in three parts. The first case is “creating a safe, powerful and democratic government in Afghanistan, to prevent this country from falling into the hands of extremists, which can in turn lead to the growth of terrorism in the region”. The second thing is that Afghanistan does not have to take a position against this country in future disputes between Pakistan and India. The third thing is to guarantee that Afghanistan establishes a “connection” between India and the Central Asian republics through Iran’s Chabahar port. Among other important issues, Indian companies are to be given an equal position with Chinese and other companies in extracting vast natural resources of Afghanistan (minerals in general, oil and gas in particular).
India’s role in peacebuilding in Afghanistan
The Indian government shares a collective commitment with the international community to the unity, integrity, and prosperity of Afghanistan. India’s interest always has been a peaceful and stable Afghanistan and also the interests of the region and the World. The trauma and the destruction Afghanistan faced in the 1990s requires a comprehensive effort to rebuild and reconstruct a war-torn society and economy. India as a close neighbor and friend has sought to play its role in this effort.
During Doha talk India’s position was in favor of an inclusive and democratic government. After the collapse in August 2021 while the last US soldier was leaving Kabul, the United Nations Security Council(UNSC), under India’s presidency, adopted a resolution giving a de facto recognition to the Taliban as a state actor in Afghanistan. the resolution, sponsored by France, the UK, and the US, was adopted with 13 members, including India, voting in favor, none against it. But permanent and veto-wielding members Russia and China abstained.
The resolution was the first to be adopted after the Taliban’s occupying Afghanistan and said that the territory of Afghanistan must not be used to threaten any country or shelter terrorists and that the international community expects the Taliban to adhere to the commitments they made regarding the safe and orderly departure of Afghans and all foreign nationals from the country.
India’s position in the Afghanistan peace process has been unchanged, as a regional power it is looking for a stable and peaceful solution to the current situation. India ten months after the collapse of Ashraf Ghani led civilian government sent its delegation under the leadership of JP Sing a senior diplomate to Kabul to observe the humanitarian support sent by India and also to open its embassy for limited connection with the Taliban regime.
India as one of the regional powers having thousands of Afghan scholars and graduates in various capacities can play a significant role in the peace process and in solving Afghanistan’s current challenges if given the opportunity.
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