It is quite evident that New Delhi was alarmed by the force with which the Taliban were capturing Afghan Cities whilst the Afghan President Ashraf Ghani had fled and the US trained Afghan National Army had seemingly capitulated.
By Prashant Dikshit,
When the Taliban invaded Afghanistan, the immediate actions of the Indian Government focused on rescuing the members of the Indian Diplomatic Missions in that country. It is quite evident that New Delhi was alarmed by the force with which the Taliban were capturing Afghan Cities whilst the Afghan President Ashraf Ghani had fled and the US trained Afghan National Army had seemingly capitulated. In the eyes of the policy maker in New Delhi the Taliban were a radical terrorist group and an anathema to liberal modern democratic societies with archaic philosophies on treatment of women. This perception was quite evident in the rulings of a United Nations appointed committee headed by India which decided on naming the Taliban as a likely terrorism supporting organization. And which it did only to change it eleven days later. It is believed that it was a positive signal for the Taliban Regime now most definitely on the verge of assuming power in Afghanistan.
The new Taliban government in Afghanistan is likely to be formed with Mullah Abdul Ghani Baradar as head of the political office and a ‘Shura’ or Religious Council will control and run the executive powers of the nation. It will comprise of Taliban elders and other ethnic groups, and jarringly, women will not be a part of this Council. Sher Abbas Stanakzai is being tipped to head the country’s foreign ministry but old guards like Hamid Karzai and Abdullah Abdullah will remain only in roles. And so will be the fate of warlord turned politician Gulbuddin Hekmatyar who will function but only in the second or third layer. But the deadly Haqqani network will get 50% stake in this government.
Perhaps the Taliban wish to take all prominent elements along with a view to balance the governing process and tell the global community of their positive endaevours . With respect to India the redeeming aspects were that from the very outset members of the Taliban approached India with an “ Olive Leaf”, firstly assisting India in the rescue missions , persuading India to not vacate Indian missions and then meeting with the Indian Ambassador in his own embassy in Doha and acquiescing to his request in providing protection to Indian people and properties currently left on the Afghan soil. And above all amongst many, we have Sher Abbas Stanakzai who was trained in the Indian Military Academy and who views India with warmth and affection.
In the context of the development work undertaken in Afghanistan many have argued that Indian efforts could never match up what the Soviets and the USA did. Which we must evaluate .
Soviet-built projects may have helped bring about development and initial social change in Afghanistan in the 1960s and 70s but they invaded Afghanistan essentially to foist a communist regime. And eventually faced the USA in pursuit of the Reagan Doctrine that waged a secret war on the Soviets in collusion with Pakistan with the Mujahideen of Afghanistan as instruments .
Many of these infrastructure projects have survived war and are still operational. The 2.6 kilometer-long tunnel Salang Tunnel in the 1960s , an artery that connects Kabul with cities in northern Afghanistan with 10,000 vehicles passing the tunnel every day, cutting travel time from Kabul to northern Afghanistan by almost 62 hours. Massive housing complexes and Kabul Polytechnic University which has over 1500 students in seven faculties including chemical technology, geology and construction. A rail and road bridge, which was opened in 1982, is the only fixed transport link across the Afghan-Uzbek border, is one of Afghanistan’s main access points to the trade routes of Central Asia but built essentially to convey troops. A dam “Band-e Sardeh” was constructed in the 1960s and provided irrigation for 13,000 hectares of land which has a capacity of 259 million cubic meters of water.
About USA , the US Aid claims that that it completed the construction of three generation plants in 2009, 2016, and 2019 and added 110 megawatts of power and that by the end of 2023, an estimated 3.5 million Afghans will have access to reliable and affordable energy plus a first-of-its kind solar power plant in Kandahar that provides 75,000 people with clean power. In Herat, Naghlu, and Mazar , wind farms and solar power plants were built, between 2003 and 2017, and improved more than 2,000 kilometers of roads and partnered with UNICEF to bring desperately needed safe drinking water to Afghans in hard-to-reach communities. The US trained and raised the 300000 strong Afghan National Army. But it is difficult to overlook that the Americans basically came chasing Osama Bin Laden and waging their war on curbing terrorism pursuing their concepts. .
India in its 20 years presence in Afghanistan has $3 billion worth of Indian investment in various projects — dams, roads, trade infrastructure. Minister Jaishankar divulged “that no part of Afghanistan today is untouched by the 400-plus projects that India has undertaken in all 34 of Afghanistan’s provinces”. The 42MW Salma Dam in Herat province, the 218-km Zaranj-Delaram highway built by the Border Roads Organisation located close to Afghanistan’s border with Iran are the most prominent projects. With Pakistan denying India overland access for trade with Afghanistan, the highway is of strategic importance to India, as it provides an alternative route into landlocked Afghanistan through Iran’s Chabahar port. India transported 75,000 tonnes of wheat through Chabahar to Afghanistan during the pandemic. But work on some of other projects is still in progress.
Undeniably, all this contribution by India is being acknowledged most positively in Afghanistan. Unlike the Soviets and USA, who were being seen as occupying powers, India has not shown any propensity for power whilst cognizably nurturing its relationship of centuries with the echoes of “kabuliwalah” . Afghan nationals move freely in India studying in Indian institutions without fear or favour. And that is our core strength in re-discovering our relationship with Afghanistan. India has its own distinct identity in Afghanistan and it does not need any power to support its place amongst the Afghan milieu.
(The author is a strategic affairs commentator. Views expressed are personal and do not reflect the official position or policy of Financial Express Online.)