India Must Ensure Peace And Stability In Afghanistan
America and NATO forces are to leave Afghanistan by 2014. Against this backdrop, India cannot afford to be a passive spectator to the huge developments in Afghanistan. For, the US and NATO forces leaving Afghanistan has ignited the strong possibility of Taliban once again bouncing back with the help of Pakistani army. It is a well-known fact how Taliban is a creation of the Pakistan army and ISI and how they are in cahoots with each other. Taliban capturing power with the help of Pakistan army and ISI won’t be a tough job, as they had done earlier in 1995-96. This is exactly what India has to prevent at any cost because Taliban wresting power in Afghanistan will enable Pakistan to use it as a launching pad for all anti-India activities, which we can afford to overlook only at the cost of our own peril.
It is no secret that with the exception of Taliban, India has enjoyed very good relations with all successive regimes. Even the present dispensation enjoys a very stable equilibrium with India. It is also no secret that President Karzai has repeatedly hailed India as a “great friend”. It is also no secret that India has invested billions of dollars in various schemes in Afghanistan and therefore it is in our own best interest to ensure that the present dispensation is not easily toppled in 2014 by ISI-backed Taliban, once the US and NATO allies leave Afghanistan.
Our ruling establishment must not be unduly complacent in ensuring that Pakistan is denied a client state in Afghanistan because if we allow this, we will only see much to our own chagrin how the latter becomes a hot breeding centre for all kinds of anti-India activities. We cannot once again allow Taliban to capture power, as they did in 1995 and ruled the roost because they are deadly against India and will obviously strike at us where it hurts the most. Indian policy-makers have no option but to plan meticulously as to how to scuttle the chances of Taliban staging a huge comeback and Pakistan using Taliban as the biggest pawn against India.
India is providing Afghanistan with an extensive developmental assistance programme, which has reached the figure of US $2 billion. Thus, India is the fifth largest donor in Afghanistan, next only to the US, the UK, Japan and Germany. It is quite palpable that India has chosen to take upon itself the task of developing Afghanistan and has undertaken many initiatives in infrastructural projects, community-based development projects and in education and other fields.
It is worth mentioning here that India’s trade with Afghanistan has gone up from $80 million in 2001 to $280 million in 2010. Further, in 2011-12, the total bilateral trade went up to $639 million, i.e. 0.08 per cent of India’s total trade in the same year. There is a lot of scope for further increasing the figure of trade manifold. It is in the long-term interest of both India and Afghanistan to do so.
The awarding of the mining rights of the Hajigak iron ore, which is Afghanistan’s biggest iron ore deposit, to a consortium of seven Indian companies for an investment of $6.6 billion is phenomenal and this is by far the largest single investment in Afghanistan by any country. Further, in January 2009, Afghan President and Indian External Affairs Minister jointly inaugurated a 218-km-long road project from Zaranj to Delarm in south-western Afghanistan with the basic purpose of facilitating the smooth movement of goods and services to the Iranian border and beyond to the Chahbahar port. Apart from this, India has also built 202-km 220 KV DC transmission line from Pul-e-Khumri to Kabul and a 220/110/20KV sub-station at Chimtala, which has brought Uzbek electricity right up to the heart of Kabul city. India is also involved in constructing two other major infrastructural projects of Salma dam power project in Herat province and Afghan Parliament in Kabul.
Furthermore, India has been supplying 100 grams of fortified high-protein biscuits to nearly two million school children in 33 of the 34 provinces of Afghanistan every day under a School Feeding Programme administered through the World Food Programme. Not stopping here, India lavishly gifted 250,000 metric tonnes of wheat to help Afghanistan tide over its food crisis in 2009.
Also, India is dishing out medicines and all other medical aid to over 30,000 Afghans every month through Indian Medical Missions. Afghanistan and India have also decided to join Turkmenistan and Pakistan in planning to build TAPI (Turkmenistan, Afghanistan, Pakistan and India) gas pipeline, which will tremendously boost the regional energy cooperation. It is estimated that the 1680-km-long TAPI pipeline would cost $7.6 billion and this will certainly connect vast energy resources of Central Asia with the biggest energy markets of South Asia and in this all the players involved will benefit immensely. The participating countries in this highly ambitious project signed the ‘gas sale purchase agreement’ for the pipeline on May23, 2012, and it is scheduled to start bringing natural gas from Turkmenistan to India by 2017. It also cannot be ignored that according to the agreement Turkmenistan will supply 90 million metric standard cubic metres per day (mmscmd) of natural gas. Also, India and Pakistan will get 38 mmscmd each by the agreement and Afghanistan will get 14 mmscmd. Even the US has welcomed this particular project.
However, it must be borne in mind that all this is of no consequence if India fails to provide security to Afghanistan against Pakistan-backed Taliban. Pakistan is itching to once again install Taliban in power and rule Afghanistan with Taliban as its pet pup. It is India’s bounden duty to provide all type of military help to Afghanistan to help it counter any offensive attack in its soil. India must remember that if it fails to protect Afghanistan against Pakistan-backed Taliban, it will be itself the worst sufferer in the longer run and this it can never afford under any circumstances. It is, therefore, welcome that India is providing professional training to Afghanistan security personnel but a lot more needs to be done. India is doing so in consonance with the strategic partnership agreement made in October 2011. In July 2013, it was widely reported in media that India increased its training for Afghan troops from 574 in 2012 to more than 1000 in 2013 and this tally must increase further. More specifically, India should arm Afghan air force to the teeth because presently it is more or less dependent on international air support. Not stopping here, India should provide Afghanistan with all necessary military hardware, including tanks, fighter helicopters, fighter aircraft, armoured vehicles, artillery and all necessary defence equipment necessary for it to safeguard its porous borders from Pakistani and Talibani intrusion. Under no circumstances should Afghanistan be left to Talibani rogues, who will certainly pose as the biggest threat to the unity and stability of India, once in power. If we allow this to happen, we would be only shooting ourselves in the head!
By Sanjeev Sirohi