Author: Noman Hossain, freelance journalist
India has a historical and civilizational relationship with the Afghan people. Given its age-old ties, over the last two decades, Indian public and private sector entities had invested around $3 billion in Afghanistan mainly in the infrastructure sector of the country. India’s engagement with Afghanistan as a development partner includes more than five hundred projects spread across each of the 34 provinces in critical areas of power, water supply, road connectivity, healthcare, education, agriculture and capacity building. Around 433 High Impact Community Development Projects (HICDP) have been completed with Indian financial support in all provinces of Afghanistan before Taliban’s takeover of Kabul in 2021.
Recently, Taliban’s Head of Political Office, Suhail Shaheen said that Afghanistan is open for Indian investment including urban infrastructure and assured of peaceful working environment for the Indian companies. He emphasized that “security of Indians is our responsibility, and we assure them.” In addition, Afghanistan’s Foreign Ministry also seeks India’s diplomatic presence in the country for the completion of “unfinished projects” which were being initiated by New Delhi.
Similarly, Afghanistan’s Ministry of Urban Development and Housing (MUDH) evinced interest (December 3) for the improvement of relations and the resumption of stalled projects in the country with the help of India. In this regard, Afghan Minister of MUDH communicated with the Indian Charge d’Affaires in Kabul. The latest interaction between India and the Taliban came against the backdrop of regional consultations and has rekindled hope of greater Indian participation in providing relief for the people of Afghanistan.
Experts believe that the restart of these projects will decrease the level of poverty and unemployment in Afghanistan. The resumption of these projects would also create job opportunities and means for the people and drive Afghanistan out of political isolation.
India has not recognized the new regime in Afghanistan and has been pitching for the formation of a truly inclusive government in Kabul, besides insisting that Afghan soil must not be used for any terrorist activities against any country. India had withdrawn its officials from the embassy after the Taliban seized power in August 2021, following concerns over security. However, in June 2022, India re-established its diplomatic presence in Kabul by deploying a “technical team” in its embassy in the Afghan capital.
Despite non-recognition of Taliban Government, India has extended humanitarian assistance to the Afghan people and it has already dispatched several shipments of 20,000 metric tonnes of wheat, 13 tonnes of medicines, 500,000 doses of COVID-19 vaccine and winter clothing, according to the India’s Ministry of External Affairs. These consignments were handed over to the Indira Gandhi Children Hospital in Kabul and UN agencies including the World Health Organization and the World Food Programme.
India’s presence in Kabul is recognition of the critical power dynamics evolving in the region. After the collapse of the Ashraf Ghani’s Government in Afghanistan, Pakistan and its and security establishments hoped to gain a “strategic depth” and a free sway in Afghanistan to control India’s influence in the country due to close links between elements in the Afghan Taliban and the Pakistani military, and Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI). However, a year later, tensions between the Afghan Taliban and the Pakistani military have grown due to various factors, such as Taliban’s refusal to accept the ‘Durand Line’ as the international border, activities of the Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP) which has some 4,000 fighters in Afghan territory and border skirmishes that have killed several Pakistani personnel.
Recently, Taliban has welcomed India’s initiative to hold a meeting of the National Security Advisors of Central Asian countries. Taliban also stated that it would not allow its territory to be used for any agency or powers to interfere in other nation’s internal affairs, addressing Indian concerns on the issue. India’s presence in Afghanistan, however, remains a sensitive issue, with a majority of the current “technical team” deployed in Kabul being security personnel sent in to guard the small number of middle-ranking diplomats who are largely focused on ways to help the Afghan people grappling with humanitarian and economic crises.
A combination of a suspension of foreign aid, freezing of Afghan government assets and international sanctions on Taliban have plunged the country, which was already suffering from high poverty levels, into a full-blown economic crisis. India is unlikely to restart development projects, largely because of the lack of official banking channels for routing funds and the absence of measures to track the use of funds, or to resume air corridors for trade as there is no insurance facility available for international flights.
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