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Opinion | India’s development diplomacy in Afghanistan has ‘Trumped’ US’ military policy

While US is fighting a costly war in Afghanistan, India is focusing on what it does good — capacity building, training and uplift of society.

Moneycontrol Contributor @moneycontrolcom

Frank Rausan Pereira

United States President Donald Trump’s comments mocking India’s role in Afghanistan were in bad taste. It’s understandable that things aren’t going his way domestically and he has to keep up the rhetoric to feed his vote base, but the president of the most powerful country in the world should show some class and finesse. There is no doubt that US investments in Afghanistan are unmatched — it is also a fact that much of the problems in Afghanistan are Americans’ own doing. Washington wouldn’t have had to fix something if it hadn’t broken it in the first place.

The US has spent billions of dollars in the Afghanistan War ever since it began in 2001 in response to the 9/11 terrorist attacks by Al Qaeda. Some estimates put the total cost of the war at a whopping $1.5 trillion. However, almost two decades on, the US policy hardly seems to have changed anything on the ground. In contrast, India has spent $3 billion, and has had a much bigger and positive impact.

India has done the prudent thing by riding piggyback on the US’ military might in the war torn country. New Delhi has been very clear right from the start — ‘Boots on the ground’ is not an option. Instead, what we have done is focus on what we are good at — capacity building, training and uplift of society. Most of Afghanistan’s troops are trained in India. The Afghan Army’s Special Forces come to India every year and are trained by the Indian Army for three months. This creates a sense of camaraderie and brotherhood.

India has also invested heavily in infrastructure. The Afghan-India Friendship Dam is one such project. The hydroelectric plant produces 42 MW of power in addition to providing irrigation for 75,000 hectares of farmland. India also developed the Delaram-Zaranj Highway. This 218-km road is the busiest highway in Afghanistan and provides an important trade route between Iran and the rest of Asia. The now infamous ‘library’ that Trump ridiculed India about, happens to be the parliament building of Afghanistan, which was also built by India's Central Public Works Department.

How can one forget the role of cricket? The home ground of the Afghanistan national cricket team is in India; it has been so since 2016. The CEO of the Afghanistan Cricket Board Shafiq Stanikzai has on many occasions said that the Board of Control for Cricket in India (BCCI) has played a big role in the rapid rise of the sport in his country. In June 2018, the BCCI said all international teams touring India will now play one practice game against Afghanistan, an arrangement which will constantly provide international exposure to the team. All this has ensured that India has tremendous goodwill among the people of Afghanistan.

That doesn’t mean the constant threat of the Trump administration of pulling out of Afghanistan should not be taken seriously. The psychological influence of America’s presence in Afghanistan is huge. After years of being bombarded by US military drones in Afghanistan and Pakistan, the Taliban are petrified of what the US can do, and that’s what is keeping them at bay at the moment. The Taliban already control large swathes of land in Afghanistan and if the US pulls out, it will only embolden them further. This will suit Pakistan’s designs as it is weary of India’s presence in Afghanistan. Islamabad is desperate to ensure that New Delhi has no role to play in the future of Afghanistan.

India has an embassy in Kabul, and four consulates in Mazar-e-Sharif, Jalalabad, Kandahar and Herat. Pakistan is spooked by this and has accused India of using its presence in Afghanistan to stoke trouble in Pakistan’s Balochistan. This is not true. The reason why India has a significant presence in the country is because bilateral ties between the two have been robust in the recent past and the world has been asking India to play a bigger role in the country. India is clear that Afghanistan should become a centre for peace in the region.

What India is wary of the most is a repeat of what happened from 1996 to 2001. It was a historic low in India-Afghan ties, when ties between the two nations ceased. Since then a lot has changed and today the stakes are very high for India.

With the situation in Afghanistan being fluid, it is imperative that India is as flexible as possible and explores new possibilities… one of them being opening a direct channel with the Taliban, like all the other countries have done.

We should also work with likeminded nations to bring peace to the region; primarily the US administration. A stable Afghanistan is in the interest of everyone.

Frank Rausan Pereira is senior anchor, Rajya Sabha TV. Twitter: @frp09. Views are personal. 

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First Published on Jan 8, 2019 04:07 pm
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