“After Afghanistan, India is the second country in the region that suffers tremendously from the threats of terrorism and extremism in the region. There is a common concern about insecurity that comes from safe havens in our neighborhood. The terrorist and extremist networks such as Lashkar-e-Taeba, Jaeesh-e- Mohammad, Lashkar-e-Jangawi, Taliban and ISIS are the obstacles toward regional stability and economic growth,” said H.E. Dr. Shaida Mohammad Abdali, the Ambassador of Afghanistan to India and the Non Resident Ambassador of Afghanistan to Nepal, Bhutan and Maldives, in an exclusive interview with correspondent Ravi Mishra.
What is the current scenario of India- Afghanistan relations?
The centuries-old and historical bilateral ties between India-Afghanistan are based on a shared Asian Civilization. This historical relation has been framed in the Strategic Partnership Agreement that was signed between the two countries in 2011. India’s sincere efforts in the reconstruction of Afghanistan have been considerable. Projects such as Dam (Salma), New Parliament building, renovation of store Palace and 116 small development projects under a new development partnership program are a few examples of the developmental cooperation in India-Afghanistan interactions. India’s involvement in improvement of good governance and its role in the peace process of Afghanistan continues to be constructive and admirable. In the framework of new US policy for South Asia, greater Indian role has been envisaged for peace building and developmental efforts in Afghanistan.
US wants India to help Afghanistan to fight with Taliban and other terrorist groups. What would you say if India replaces American forces?
After Afghanistan, India is the second country in the region, that suffers tremendously from the threats of terrorism and extremism in the region. There is a common concern about insecurity that comes from safe havens in our neighborhood. The terrorist and extremist networks such as Lashkar-e-Taeba, Jaeesh-e- Mohammad, Lashkar-e-Jangawi, Taliban and ISIS are the obstacles toward regional stability and economic growth. Afghanistan requires additional help from India and other regional countries besides US and NATO on current engagement against terrorists. We all must work together in bringing stability and security in Afghanistan and the region. Now it is time that the three strategic partners: India, Afghanistan and US together with other regional and international partners work in tandem to develop a mechanism for the implementation of US South Asia policy.
Pakistan army continuously supports terrorists to damage both India and Afghanistan. Should Pakistan not be isolated by world community?
Nurturing and supporting of various terrorist organizations is a threat to the security of the entire region, not a single country. This has suspended the economic, trade and transit projects within the region and consequently resulted in the backwardness of the region from trade, transit and economic perspectives. Therefore, a collective measure to put an end to the use of terrorism as a statecraft policy must be the aim of regional and global efforts. The new US policy for South Asia does underline this fact but we must go beyond policy statements and all available measures must be taken to hold the perpetrators accountable.
Why does Pakistan use terrorists against Afghanistan?
I am the wrong person to answer this particular question. You should rather pose this question to the country you are referring to. However, as far as we know, terrorism is used as a tool to advance national interests. Hence, there is an urgent need of regional and global efforts to stop the use of terrorism as a tool against Afghanistan and our allies. The recent Kabul process meeting, followed by the meeting in Tashkent, was aimed at ensuring a sincere and genuine regional commitment for peace in Afghanistan and the region. The Tashkent Declaration called “on all stakeholders to respect the sovereignty and territorial integrity of Afghanistan, and ensure non-interference in its internal affairs”.
Has ISIS expanded its foot print in Afghanistan?
They are present mostly in eastern part of Afghanistan. But Afghanistan’s Defense and Security forces have moved from a defensive position to an offensive war against Taliban, Daesh and other terrorist networks. Last year, commandos successfully defended Kunduz, Lashkar Gah, and Farah provinces, defeating Taliban’s red units, and destroying Daesh infrastructure considerably. The Daesh failed in building base for their so-called caliphate in Afghanistan. Daesh is on the run in Southern Nangarhar, Achin, Kunar and Tora Bora and being killed in and cleared from Afghanistan. Afghan National security forces (ANSF) are steadily eliminating Daesh capabilities and territorial presence. Last year, ANSF conducted over 1500 combined ground operations and 300 air strikes against them. Last year, they controlled 9 districts, now only pockets of Daesh fighter’s remain sporadically. It is extremely important to point out that the Daesh/ISIS in Afghanistan is different from the Daesh/ISIS in Syria and Iraq. In our case, it comes from across the Durand line and consists of the Pakistani Taliban TTP, converted to Daesh, and other local elements.
Afghanistan has witnessed a long battle against Al-Qaida, Haqqani Network and the Taliban, Will this battle conclude?
This battle is an imposed war on Afghanistan. It is not an Afghanistan-battle, it is a global battle against terrorism that Afghans and security forces are fighting on behalf of the entire region and the world. Thus, considering the strong moral commitment by the ASF towards fighting international terrorists and continuation of financial, political and military support to Afghanistan by international partners of Afghanistan including India, we are optimistic that the battle will conclude.
China wants a military base in Afghanistan; will Afghanistan deliver this demand to China?
China’s main concern is the expansion of insecurity to the Xinjiang region as well as suspension of its economic and trade policies like OBOR in the region. A strong argument in this regard would be to overcome these challenges through a genuine mechanism and to support the Afghan National Security forces, so that they should fight against these threats. After all, China’s concerns as a rising power would not be maintained through having military bases in another country.
How is India helping Afghanistan in its economic development?
India’s contribution to Afghanistan’s stability and development has always been of great importance which is highlighted through the bilateral engagement between the two nations for a long time, particularly since 2001. The relation between Afghanistan and India has reinforced strategic, political and more importantly the historical ties. India provided over half a billion dollars in development assistance to Afghanistan which is significant and added to this is the framework of Strategic Partnership Agreement (SPA) of 2011 signed between the two nations which has cemented the bond further. The agreement visualizes India’s long term assistance to that Afghanistan in shaping the country’s development for economic, infrastructure and humanitarian growth. Over the years,India’s support to Afghanistan has increased immensely. India has been playing a pivotal role for the development in sectors like agriculture, infrastructure, public health, industry, human resource development etc.
What are the major trade and investment from India in Afghanistan?
At present Afghanistan-India economic relations are moving with a greater pace. Afghanistan-India has taken productive strides to export- import goods of the two countries. Other major items of trade and investments from India in Afghanistan include pharmaceuticals, and electrical parts. Indian experts in IT and financial services are also supporting in the human resource development in a great way.Afghanistan-India’s affirmation to work for economic renaissance is mapped in a broader view and the recent developments in terms of projects, envisions in building a stronger, more peaceful and prosperous Afghanistan by deepening and expanding economic engagement and investment.
Pakistan blocked Afghanistan-India land corridor. However India has recently sent consignment of wheat to Afghanistan via Chabahar port. What would you say on this sea route?
As Prime Minister Narendra Modi put it, Chabahar port will turn out to be a game changer, an opportunity for enhancing regional connectivity in reaching the global market. The trilateral agreement among Afghanistan-India-Iran in this respect carries huge weight as in the coming years, it would boost economic engagement which is key to development and growth. The Afghanistan-Pakistan Transit Trade Agreement (APTTA) of 2010 proved to be unsuccessful as the blockade at Wagah border by Pakistan was a major concern as they did not allow Indian goods to transport through its territory despite APTTA. India’s wheat shipment to Afghanistan through Chabahar port is a strategic route removing trade and transit barriers and sets positive note by creating viability for trade and investment. It has been a major breakthrough for regional connectivity for Afghanistan connecting Central Asia, South Asia, West Asia and beyond.
How are you seeing the alignment of India-Afghanistan-Iran? Are you optimistic about these trilateral trade partners?
Absolutely, with positive assertion India-Afghanistan-Iran trilateral trade partners will take to trajectory level. Keeping in view the implementation of Chabahar port which is an indication of enhanced regional economic connectivity will bring forth opportunities for trade and transit which was visible through the wheat shipment to Afghanistan by India via Chabahar port. As trilateral trade partners the three countries will be immensely benefited through integrated development of connectivity infrastructure including Ports, Road and Rail networks. These would open up greater opportunities for regional market access and contribute towards a wider economic integration.
India has been the number one destination for Afghan students and people from Afghanistan come to India for their medical treatment also. Does Indian Government provide specific recognition to these people?
India remains committed to Afghanistan for human resource development including providing quality education to Afghan students. Cooperation from India in human resource development and education is highly appreciated by Afghanistan. India has been providing education and capacity building training to Afghanistan which includes 1000 scholarships to Afghan students annually to study in different Indian universities and vocational training programmes. India’s advanced medical health care facility has a staggering influx of Afghan patients in Delhi. Indian government has eased the medical visa facility for Afghans since 2005 and this has made it easier for the patients to travel to India for their treatment. However, medical tourists do complain from time to time of certain hospitals with regard to their services and treatment matters. We expect the hospitals, which are mostly run privately to provide better services and medical treatments. While many Afghan medical tourists come to India, we work on enhancing our own medical capacity in Afghanistan. Many Afghan doctors come to India to seek specialization training in various fields.
India has objection on CPEC (China-Pakistan Economic Corridor), what is the position of Afghanistan on this?
India has objected CPEC project as part of a territorial dispute. So, it is obvious that without resolving such fundamental issues, there will always be hurdles. Afghanistan believes in regional integration as the important step towards ensuring collective peace and development in the region. For that to happen there should be no distinction between initiatives that are aimed at connectivity and regional integration. We have been asking Pakistan to allow trade and transit route between Afghanistan and India via Wagah border, and allow India to be a party to APPTA. Despite this offer being a win-win for all, Pakistan has not been cooperative. So unless there is a respect for each other’s interests, no initiative can succeed.
Can you briefly elaborate on India-Afghanistan defense cooperation?
Afghanistan and India have a close cooperation. Fighting the common threat of terrorism and extremism, Afghan National defence and security forces are looking for a greater contribution of India and we have established a joint defense commission to step up defence cooperation. Currently India is playing a major role in training and education of Afghan National Army personnel – over 4000 have already been trained. India has provided military helicopters and has committed to buy another 4 MI 35 Helicopters for Afghan National Army (ANA) from a third country. India has also committed to assist with the maintenance of those helicopters and provide spare parts. Moreover, India has also agreed to assist with repair of old soviet-made Aircrafts to help through the transition process, as Afghanistan readies itself to receive over 200 Aircrafts from the US over the next four years. Tactical equipments such as military trucks have been already given to Afghan army by India.