Every once in a while India's role in Afghanistan comes up for debate.
In January 2019 US President Donald Trump had told his cabinet: "I get along very well with India and Prime Minister Modi. But he is constantly telling me he built a library in Afghanistan. Library? That's like five hours of what we spend…I don't know who is using it in Afghanistan…"
While Trump was unhappy with India’s no boots on the ground policy, the Taliban was, and is, downright critical about India’s role in Afghanistan.
For India, which enjoys good diplomatic and people-to-people relations with Afghanistan, their Ministry of Foreign Affairs jumped to India's rescue over the surprising Taliban statement.
Afghan Foreign Affairs spokesperson Gran Hewad said: "India is one of the biggest donor countries and has helped Afghanistan in development and reconstruction areas, we appreciate their cooperation. We expect India and other neighbouring countries to plan a significant role in the Afghan peace process."
The Afghan government was responding to Mula Abas Stanekzai, the Deputy of Qatar-based Taliban political office, who had earlier said that India has only cooperated and kept ties with those who are corrupt in Afghanistan. He had added that India maintained relations with those who have been put in power by foreigners and not elected by the Afghan people.
Anybody who has seen India's role in the war-torn country, knows that the statement is far from true. Moreover, it is curious as it goes against the sentiment shared by Taliban spokesperson Mohammad Suhail Shaheen barely three weeks back, in which the Taliban sought to involve India is the fast-evolving situation in Afghanistan.
Speaking at a webinar organised by Delhi-based think-tank, Global Counter-Terrorism Council last month, Shaheen said that the <a href="https://www.thehindu.com/news/international/we-will-build-ties-in-the-neighbourhood-taliban/article31427845.ece"><strong>Taliban wants to build ties</strong> </a>with all neighbouring countries including India. Importantly, he added that the Taliban is willing to enact a law against foreign terror groups conducting operations against another country from Afghan soil.
This statement by Shaheen late April is significant as this opens the doors for India to talk with the Taliban – something that India has avoided till now.
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In fact, US Representative for Peace and Reconciliation, Zalmay Khalilzad, visited India recently to discuss the Afghan peace process and sought Indian intervention in the intra-Afghan peace talks. Though an afterthought, the US has realised that Afghan peace-building might need a stronger regional hand like India's.
While Khalilzad was keen that India steps up its act in Afghanistan, India too shared with him how the export of terror from Pakistan was undermining Afghan peace and security.
The developments bode well for New Delhi as it can look after its interests in the neighborhood as well as keep up the reconstruction and development process in Afghanistan.
The Afghan Foreign Affairs ministry not just affirmed India's constructive role for the Afghan people, Afghanistan's Acting Minister of Foreign Affairs Mohammad Haneef Atmar also spoke with External Affairs Minister S Jaishankar on Monday over a video conference call. They discussed issues related to economic and security cooperation and the Afghan peace process.
After 19 long years, the US is keen to wriggle out of Afghanistan. It entered into a bilateral deal with the Taliban on February 29 which allows for an American pullout and for the Taliban to join the government. This deal for Afghanistan kept the elected Afghan government out of the talks. Despite the peace deal, <a href="https://indianarrative.com/world/kabul-retaliates-as-taliban-attacks-kids-women-sikhs-2068.html"><strong>Taliban has wreaked havoc</strong> </a>through daily terror attacks on Afghan civilians, security forces and other easy targets.
The overtures by the US as well as numerous <a href="https://www.outlookindia.com/website/story/opinion-should-india-foster-ties-with-taliban-despite-its-past-misdemeanors/351634"><strong>references to India by the Taliban</strong> </a>are pointers to the significant changes happening in the neighborhood. The stout defence of India by Afghanistan is a positive development.
New Delhi's role in Afghanistan has been profound but subtle. Recent support includes food aid and medical supplies to the country to deal with the coronavirus pandemic. While medical supplies are being flown in, the wheat gifted by India is being sent via Iran's Chabahar port.
India has been the largest regional donor to Afghanistan with assistance of over $3 billion. <a href="https://thediplomat.com/2019/01/36-things-india-has-done-for-afghanistan/"><strong>This development assistance</strong> </a>is based on five pillars – humanitarian assistance, infrastructure development, connectivity, capacity building and economic development. India's development assistance in the diverse and war-torn country happens through bilateral understanding and the requirements of the Afghan government.
India's infrastructural development projects are numerous, but include constructing a 218-km road from Zarang to Delaram that links Afghanistan to Iran; transmission lines and electricity sub-stations; the Salma dam that produces power and provides water for irrigation. There are hospitals and schools, transport vehicles, human resource training and much more which only the ordinary Afghan knows..