Author: Noman Hossain, freelance journalist
Indian Embassy in Kabul resumed its functionality in June 2022. Afghanistan’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs welcomed the decision and expressed hope for fruitful ties. Since then India has taken several initiatives to resuscitate Afghanistan’s development and help the country in tackling its humanitarian crisis. Afghan Ministry of Foreign Affairs spokesperson Abdul Qahar Balkhi said,” IEA (Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan) welcomes decision by India to return diplomats and technical team to their embassy in Kabul to continue their relations with the Afghan people and their humanitarian assistance.”
Meanwhile, in a recent interview on the side-lines of a conference of anti-Taliban Afghan leaders with the US and EU representatives, the former Afghanistan Intelligence Chief Rahmatullah Nabil, warned that Pakistani terror groups targeting India such as Jaish-e-Mohammad and Lashkar-e-Taiba have shifted their bases to Afghanistan with help from the Taliban. He warned that while engaging the Taliban was necessary for India in its “own interests”, New Delhi should keep channels open with Afghanistan’s former leaders as well, even though they are now out of power. He added that “we are not in a position now to advise India, and they know their national interest better. But they should not live in any illusion that the Taliban has changed.”
This raises new concerns about safe havens to terror modules in the neighbourhood of India. Nabil also asserted that these terror outfits, once they get safe havens, would have more access to technology and territory. India is willing to help restore normalcy in Afghanistan, but it is, unlike other countries, is not interested in taking any side with the political stakeholders. India has always pursued a policy of non-interference in the internal affairs of any country and this is true for Afghanistan as well. It is reflected in India’s willingness to engage with the Afghan Taliban for tackling the humanitarian crisis in the country and restore the scuttled development projects for resuscitating economic growth of the country. India’s priority is promoting peace and development in Afghanistan with which it has long historical, cultural and economic ties.
India was part of ‘Moscow format for consultation on Afghanistan’ that took place on November 16 where the participants expressed their support for the fundamental rights of all ethnic groups, including minorities, women, and children, providing justice and education respectively and called for complete unfreezing of Afghanistan’s assets by Washington. The participating countries in the talks – Russia, China, Pakistan, Iran, Turkmenistan, Kazakhstan, Uzbekistan, Kyrgystan, Tajikistan and India – agreed on the urgency to end all terrorist infrastructures and desisting and preventing establishing military infrastructure facilities of third countries in Afghanistan and adjacent states. This call is reassuring that the countries of the region have consensus on combating terrorism. Even the Taliban which did not participate in the talks welcomed the discussions in the Moscow format on Afghanistan and declared that it will not allow Afghan territory to be used against “stability of the region.”
India along with other participants in the Moscow format called various stakeholders to provide assistance for resolving the current humanitarian crisis and support formation of an inclusive and representative government. It was also felt necessary to counter terrorism and ensuring regional security. India’s External Affairs Minister S Jaishankar had earlier expressed optimism that the international community and especial the neighbouring countries work together to ensure that there is no terrorism threat that comes out of Afghanistan describing it as legitimate effort.
The World Bank said that the preliminary official GDP statistics of Afghanistan show that economy contracted by 20.7% in 2021. Explaining the reasons for the dramatic drop in the GDP, it pointed out towards drop in public spending and aggregate demand, shrinking household incomes and reducing consumptions. The asset freeze and anti-money laundering & financing terrorism concerns also hindered the functioning of normal correspondent banking relations between Afghan and foreign banks. International banks are still reluctant to re-establish correspondent relations with Afghan banks. With an accumulated contraction of GDP around 30-35% between 2021 and 2022, the World Bank has forecasted that the country could grow only by 2-2.5% in the next two years. The situation is grim.
According to a Gallup’s survey in one year after the Taliban’s takeover, 9 out of 10 Afghans find it difficult to make ends meet, i.e., 90% of Afghan’s said it was difficult or very difficult to get on by household income while 92% thought that it was a difficult time for job. Recently World Food Programme assessment estimated that half of Afghanistan’s population – almost 20 million people – are currently suffering from crisis or emergency levels of food insecurity. In addition to lacking money for food, a record-high 73% of Afghans also reported lacking enough money for adequate shelter in the past twelve months.
India takes its relations with Afghanistan with warmth of a long lasting friend. It not only came forward with food and medicines for assistance to Covid-19 hit people and later after the devastating earthquake. India donated consignments of humanitarian assistance to Afghanistan including 40,000 MTs of wheat; about 50 tonnes of medical aid and assistance and 500,000 of Covid-19 vaccine; and about 28 tonnes of other disaster relief material. Afghanistan’s current regime has urged India to invest in urban infrastructure projects during a meeting between the Indian technical mission in Kabul and Afghan Minister for Urban Development.
The two friendly countries are on the path of resuming their warm and cooperative and constructive engagement. Good times are coming. In August Afghanistan’s Foreign Minister said India’s diplomatic presence in the country would result in the completion of “unfinished projects” that New Delhi had initiated and the commencement of new ones. India would resume work on at least 20 projects in several provinces of the country. India, before the takeover of Taliban, had invested in development and capacity-building projects of around USD 3 billion. The Taliban 2.0 is also quite conscious about development deficit in the country and the changing times and aspirations of its own people and international community. Hopefully it would stand to the expectations, especially in shuffling away from its image as supporting terror and violence.
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