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Mainstream, Vol XLVIII, No 13, March 20, 2010

India’s Role in Afghanistan irks Pak

Saturday 20 March 2010, by Sushil Vakil

The recent developments in the region give enough indications that Pakistan is desperate over the growing influence of India in Afghani-stan. After failing to garner international support on opening dialogue with the Taliban the country is now resorting to attack Indians working across the war-ravaged country through its ISI and Islamic fundamentalists—the Taliban and Al- Qaeda.

There have been more than three attacks on Indians and Indian installations in Afghanistan during the last five years. The latest one has taken place only recently forcing India to suspend work on some of the projects nearing completion. The suicide attack near the Indian embassy in Kabul on Thursday (February 25) killed at least 12 people. The blast points to a network of Islamist groups linked to the Taliban or Al- Qaeda. In January 2008, two Indian and 11 Afghan security personnel were killed and several injured in an attack on the Zaranj-Delaram Road.

India invested heavily in Afghanistan after the fall of the Pakistan-backed Taliban in 2001 and has built close ties with the government of President Hamid Karzai. India is also one of Kabul’s leading donors. It has pledged to spend $ 1.2 billion in helping rebuild the country’s shattered infrastructure, making it the sixth largest bilateral donor. Funds have been committed for education, health, power and telecommunications. There has also been money in the form of food aid and help to strengthen governance. The liberal contribution by India is viewed with suspicion both by Islamist militants and the Government of Pakistan.

From highway construction to new consulates, India is building the country’s new parliament building, erecting power transmission lines in the north, and laying more than 200 km (125 miles) of roads. India has also given at least three Airbus planes to Afghanistan’s ailing national airline. Several thousand Indians are engaged in development work. This political and humanitarian role can be digested neither by Pakistan nor by its jihadi boys despite knowing that India is on a mission of goodwill and friendship, helping to construct a peaceful, democratic Afghanistan.

All these measures once provoked Karzai, who went to a university in India, to say: “If Pakistan is worried about the role of India, let me assure [you], I have been very specific in telling the Indians that they cannot use the Afghan soil for acts of aggression against another country.” But despite Karzai’s assurances Pakistan is anguished over India’s foothold in Kabul.

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To make its presence strong Pakistan is now stepping up its social and political efforts in Afghanistan by opening diplomatic channels. This is clearly indicated by the statement of Prime Minister Syed Yusuf Raza Gilani who, after meeting Karzai in Islamabad, said that Pakistan and Afghanistan have a very special relationship, rooted in shared history, geography and culture, and stressed the need to strengthen them for the benefit of the two nations. “Our ties are eternal and abiding. Our pains and pleasures, our sorrows and successes, intersect thus imparting in our collective conscience, a compelling sense of shared destiny,” the Prime Minister said while addressing a luncheon in honour of Afghan President Hamid Karzai and his delegation. Gilani said the democratic Government of Pakistan has consistently held the view, and continues to believe, that the future of Afghanistan must be determined by the people of Afghanistan.

Gilani further said: “As a brotherly neighbour, a Muslim country we will continue to assist the people of Afghanistan in every manner possible.” Earlier General Kayani offered to train the Afghan security forces too. The shift is an indication that Pakistan is eager to step into the shoes of India and take over responsibility in Afghanistan. This is purely out of compulsion rather than due to any sympathy for the neighbouring Muslim country.

As a matter of fact India’s growing influence in Afghanistan was expected to invite Pakistani counter-measures as Islamabad has repeatedly objected to India having four consulates in Afghanistan in addition to its embassy in Kabul, saying these are used to spy on Islamabad.

It is also a fact that after the defeat of the Taliban, Indian political and economic influence has been increasing in Afghanistan. This included significant development efforts and financial investment. These efforts were perceived by Islamabad to be pro-Indian leading to its rethinking on counter-measures.

Surprisingly, the US anticipated the Pak retaliation much earlier as one of its military commanders had said: “India’s growing influence in Afghanistan could ‘exacerbate’ regional tensions and encourage Pakistani ‘counter-measures’ in Afghanistan or India.”

At the same time, General Stanley McChrystal, the commander of the US and coalition forces in Afghanistan, has in his report to the Pentagon noted that “Indian activities largely benefit the Afghan people”. Despite all-round appreciation for doing good humanitarian work India needs to restart the work only after ensuring the safety of its people.

The author is a Delhi-based senior journalist.

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