India-Afghanistan relations

India-Afghanistan relations

Historical background:

India and Afghanistan have a strong relationship based on historical and cultural links. India has played a significant role in the reconstruction and rehabilitation of Afghanistan. Moreover, the Strategic Partnership Agreement reinforced the strong, vibrant, and multi-faceted relations between the two countries.

  • In the Vedic Age, Gandhara, which forms parts of modern-day Afghanistan, was considered as one of the 16 Mahajanapadas of Vedic India.
  • The contact between the people of modern-day India and Afghanistan has existed since the days of the Indus Valley Civilization.
  • During the Soviet intervention (1979-89), India was the only South Asian nation to recognize the Soviet-backed Democratic Republic of Afghanistan.
  • In 2005, India proposed Afghanistan’s membership in the South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation (SAARC).
  • Indo-Afghan relations have been strengthened by the Strategic Partnership Agreement signed between the two countries in 2011.
  • After the takeover of Afghanistan by the Taliban, the Indian Armed Forces started¬†Operation Devi Shakti¬†to evacuate Indian citizens and foreign nationals from Afghanistan after the collapse of Afghanistan and the fall of Kabul to the Taliban.

Importance of Afghanistan

Afghanistan is important for India for several reasons:

  • Regional Balance of Power: Afghanistan is tied to India‚Äôs vision of being a regional leader and a great power, coupled with its competition with China over resources and its need to counter Pakistani influence.
  • Strategic Location: Afghanistan’s location at the crossroads of South and Central Asia makes it a critical hub for India’s regional and international interests.
  • Security Concerns: Afghanistan has been a major source of instability and terrorism in the region, and India has a vested interest in ensuring peace and stability in the country.
  • Energy and Resources: Afghanistan has abundant natural resources such as oil, natural gas, and minerals, and India sees potential for mutually beneficial cooperation in these sectors.
  • Cultural Ties: India and Afghanistan share a rich cultural heritage, and India sees the promotion of cultural and people-to-people ties as an important aspect of its relationship with Afghanistan.
  • Regional Cooperation: India sees its relationship with Afghanistan as an important part of its regional cooperation in South Asia, and is committed to supporting Afghanistan’s efforts towards peace, stability, and development.
  • Connectivity: The most important role of Afghanistan is always considered as India‚Äôs gateway to Central Asia.

India and Afghanistan have several areas of engagement:

  • Strategic Partnership Agreement:¬†A Strategic Partnership Agreement (SPA) between the two sides, inter alia, provides for
    • assistance to help rebuild Afghanistan’s infrastructure and institutions, education and technical assistance to rebuild indigenous Afghan capacity in different areas,
    • encouraging¬†investment in Afghanistan’s¬†natural resources, providing duty-free access to the Indian market for Afghanistan’s exports
    • support for an Afghan-led, Afghan-owned, broad-based and inclusive process of peace and reconciliation, 
    • advocating the need for a sustained and long-term commitment to Afghanistan by the international community.
  • Heart of Asia process: 
    • The heart of Asia Process or the¬†Istanbul Process, started in 2011 to provide more assistance to Afghanistan. The process has three main pillars:
      • Political Consultations
      • Confidence Building Measures(CBMs)
      • Cooperation with Regional Organizations
    • This platform was established to address the shared challenges and interests of Afghanistan and its neighbors and regional partners. The Heart of Asia is comprised of 14 participating countries, 17 supporting countries, and 12 supporting regional and international organizations.
    • India hosted¬†the Sixth Ministerial Conference of Heart of Asia in December 2016 at Amritsar.

India’s contribution in reconstruction efforts

  • India has committed over 3 billion US$ to development efforts in Afghanistan.
  • It has financed and built¬†significant projects¬†such as:
    • Delaram Zaranj Highway
    • Parliament Building
    • India Afghanistan Friendship Dam/Selma Dam, Hari River, Heart Province
    • Transmission lines to Kabul
  • While it has avoided its own military presence, India views foreign military presence in Afghanistan as indispensable in promoting political stability and development in the country. The USA has also urged India to get involved more.
  • India believes in investing and enduring strategy for Afghanistan.
  • Defence cooperation: India delivered three Russia-made Mi-25 attack helicopters to Afghanistan in 2015 and 2016.
  • People-to-people ties:¬†As of 2023, there were around 14,000 Afghan students studying in India with scholarship support from different institutions like the Indian Council for Cultural Relations (ICCR).
  • Military training:¬†Since 2011, around 700 Afghans trained in India every year in institutions such as the National Defence Academy, and the Indian Military Academy.
  • Multilateral cooperation: Both countries cooperate at international level in various multilateral bodies such as SAARC, 
  • Chabahar port, located in southeastern Iran, serves as a gateway for India to access landlocked Afghanistan and Central Asia, while also providing an alternative trade route to Afghanistan that bypasses Pakistan.
  • Disaster assistance and emergency relief:¬†In 2022, India sent 27 tonnes of emergency relief assistance for the people of Afghanistan in the aftermath of the 5.9-magnitude earthquake that killed more than 1,000 people.
  • Development aid: The Centre in its budget for 2023-24, has set aside Rs 200 crore as assistance.
  • Line of credit:¬†In order to expand entrepreneurship and business-to-business cooperation, especially between small and medium enterprises of India and Afghanistan, India has offered Afghanistan a¬†50 million US dollar¬†line of credit facility.

Roadblocks in India-Afghanistan relations

There are several roadblocks in India-Afghanistan relations, including:

  • Pakistan’s role: Pakistan views India’s growing presence in Afghanistan as a threat to its security and regional influence, and has tried to block India’s efforts to deepen its ties with Afghanistan.
  • Terrorist groups: India and Afghanistan are both targets of terrorism, and the continued presence of terrorist groups like Al-Qaeda in Afghanistan is a major concern for India.
  • Economic and infrastructure challenges: Afghanistan is one of the poorest and least developed countries in the world, and India’s efforts to build infrastructure such as Salma Dam and Parliament Building and invest in the country have been hampered by security issues, corruption, and other challenges.
  • China factor:¬†China has been increasingly active in Afghanistan in recent years, and this has led to concerns in India about China’s growing influence and engagements with the Taliban in the region.
  • Drug trafficking: Afghanistan is the world’s largest producer of opium, and the drug trade has contributed to instability and violence in the region, affecting both India and Afghanistan.

India-Afghanistan Relations after Taliban Takeover

In August 2021, the Taliban took over control over Afghanistan after President Joe Biden’s decision to withdraw all its troops from Afghanistan. The outcomes and India’s stand on India-Afghanistan relations after this takeover can be understood in the following points discussed below:

  • India has a ‚Äúzero-tolerance policy‚ÄĚ with respect to terrorism.
  • India promotes an inclusive peace process that is Afghan-led, Afghan-controlled, and Afghan-owned.
  • India wants the UN to play a stronger part in bringing about peace in Afghanistan.
  • India chastises Pakistan for supporting terrorist organizations and for imposing the Taliban government in Afghanistan.
  • The Taliban of 2021 appears to be more liberal and mature than the previous generation.
  • Hamid Karzai, the former president of Afghanistan, is now in discussions with the Taliban.
  • A more diverse alliance, including some previous Afghan leaders, is the subject of ongoing negotiations.

Indian Community in Afghanistan

  • Presently, the number of Indians in Afghanistan is estimated to be around 1710.
  • The majority of Indians in Afghanistan work as professionals in banks, IT firms, construction companies, hospitals, NGOs, telecom companies, security companies, universities, government-sponsored projects sponsored by the Indian government, and government-sponsored projects sponsored by the government of Afghanistan, and UN Missions.