India-Afghanistan relations reached a new height on September 14 when visiting Afghan President Mohammad Ashraf Ghani met with India’s Prime Minster Narendra Modi in New Delhi’s famed Hyderabad House. Along with discussions and consultations on myriad bilateral and regional issues, both countries have exchanged several agreements, including on counterterrorism, defense, mutual legal assistance treaty and peaceful uses of outer space.
Both leaders, who have already met three times since December 2015, reaffirmed their resolve to counter the menace of terrorism and to strengthen bilateral defense cooperation as envisioned in the 2011 ‘India-Afghanistan Strategic Partnership Agreement’.
The Pakistani hurdles
Unsurprisingly, Pakistan remained the center of all discussions during President Ghani’s two-day visit to India. Taking a dig at the neighboring Pakistan, Ghani told the Indian media in New Delhi, “While Afghanistan is a land-locked country, it thinks openly. While Pakistan is connected to sea, but it thinks like a land-locked country.”
“Afghanistan now is at a crossroad and it’s no longer a land-locked country. Anyone wants to block us, we will block them back,” Ghani stressed indirectly pointing at Pakistan’s efforts to block its trade routes to India. At the presser, Ghani asked, “Are we concerned that a country would block transit roads of India and Afghanistan? Anyway, with Chabahar port’s activation, that country’s monopoly would end on transit roads.”
To note, Pakistan’s military observers think the trade route, which is being established by Iran, India and Afghanistan, linking Chabahar Port with Afghanistan, is a security threat for Pakistan.
During Ghani’s latest sojourn, India announced a further $1 billion aid for future development assistance to Afghanistan. According to Indian officials, the amount would be used for enhancing Afghanistan’s development sector and financing alternative energy projects. Needless to add, it was made clear that the funds are not meant to be used as military aids, but will be spent on social schemes that will touch the lives of the Afghan people.
India’ soft loan to Afghanistan is around $2 billion at present and the country is on top of the list of regional nations receiving Indian assistance. With additional $1 billion pledge as developmental assistance, both countries have reached a new phase in friendly bilateral relations marked by committed partnership and mutual trust.
Committing themselves to removing obstacles in the way of connecting the region and battling out terrorism, India and Afghanistan on September 14 sent a stern message to Pakistan by deciding to hold the next Heart of Asia (HoA) conference in Amritsar (Punjab) in December this year (2016) involving 14 countries to explore peace and stability in Afghanistan.
Ghani vehemently criticized Pakistan for double standards in fighting terrorism. He implicitly said, ”Terrorism will bite, like a snake, who feeds it”. He criticized Pakistan for short-sighted approach in fighting terrorism by dangerously segregating good and bad terrorists.
India and Afghanistan also signed an extradition treaty to facilitate the exchange of wanted terrorists and criminals.
In their joint statement, the Indian and Afghan leaders, while avoiding naming any specific country, expressed their concerns over use of terrorism for political objectives. The statement noted that “ terrorism must be targeted indiscriminately, their hideouts must be destroyed for the sake of greater good of regional security.”
As expected, India has agreed to provide more military aid to Afghanistan. While the details are not made public, media reports are abuzz with views that the Indian leadership is considering some level of defense and military aid to Afghanistan.
Subrahmanyam Jaishankar, India’s Foreign Secretary, while speaking at a press conference in New Delhi cleared the air about India’s readiness to step up capacity building initiatives for a robust Indo-Afghan security and defense cooperation.
Afghanistan needs military hardware urgently to fight the growing Taliban insurgency across the country. However, the Indian establishment is still cautious in providing these military aids to Afghanistan and has been silent regarding the requests to this point. India has so far supplied only four Russian-origin Mi-25 military helicopters to Afghanistan. However, Kabul administration is looking for a range of military equipment and services from India.
President Ghani is the highest-ranking political-military official of Afghanistan to visit India in the past three months. Earlier, Afghan national security adviser Hanif Atmar, Afghan Chief of Staff of the Army Gen. Qadam shah Shaheem and NATO’s Resolute Support mission commander in chief visited India in a bid to convince Indian military officials to provide Afghanistan with more military gears.
Marked as a successful and historical visit, the Afghan President’s India trip not only focused on boosting defence cooperation between the countries, it also ventured into the broad India-Afghanistan cooperation. The visit has strengthened the historical ties and opened more avenues for bilateral cooperation.