Ashraf Ghani’s first priority must be to look after Afghan interests – not placate US interests.
Afghan President Ashraf Ghani is due to begin his first state visit to New Delhi this Monday. Almost seven months after becoming president, the three-day visit is a chance for Ghani to win hearts and minds in New Delhi.
Over the last few months, Kabul has sent confusing signals to New Delhi by its dramatic shift in foreign policy and efforts to appease Islamabad in an unprecedented way.
It is imperative that during this important visit, Ghani convince the Indian leadership that ameliorating relations with Pakistan will never undermine New Delhi’s unique and historic role in Afghanistan. His message must be clear: India will remain Afghanistan’s historic and strategic partner.
Ties that bind
From the moment he assumed office, Ghani endeavoured to maintain closer contacts and ties with Pakistan’s military establishment.
Sending Afghan cadets for military training to Pakistan, allowing Pakistani intelligence officers to interrogate detainees in Afghan detention facilities, conducting military operations on Afghan soil at the request of Pakistan’s military, are but a few examples.
According to Pakistan’s interior minister and local sources in Afghanistan, Kabul has also allowed Pakistani security forces to conduct “joint military operations” in the eastern parts of Afghanistan (Nangharhar, Kunar), which Kabul and Islamabad both later rejected.
In his speech at the 18th SAARC Summit in Kathmandu, Ghani even labelled the ongoing insecurity in his country as a “proxy war” between India and Pakistan, legitimising the Pakistani military’s decades-old interferences in Afghanistan. Branding the conflict in Afghanistan as a “proxy war” validates the Pakistani military’s mind-set and anxieties that India’s increasing role in Afghanistan threatens its security and interests.
This closeness in relations with Islamabad may be understood as the desire of a president for security and peace in his country, hoping for a genuine start of talks with the Taliban. But at what cost?
The Afghan president’s policy of appeasement towards Islamabad not only impedes the improvement of the security situation in Afghanistan but also seems to have caused a u-turn in Kabul’s relations with New Delhi.
Policy of appeasement
What has Kabul achieved so far in return for its sincere cooperation? Knowing that Pakistan has its grip over the leadership of the Afghan Taliban on its soil, how much has Islamabad delivered in terms of facilitating genuine peace talks with the Afghan Taliban? The answer is – as usual – only empty promises.
Today, the security situation in Afghanistan is seriously deteriorating and there are more and more terrorist attacks in different parts of the country on a daily basis. In a recent terrorist attack in the eastern city of Jalalabad, at least 35 civilians were killed and more than 100 others wounded. Two among the victims were young brothers who had been newly married.
The Afghan president’s policy of appeasement towards Islamabad not only impedes the improvement of the security situation in Afghanistan but also seems to have caused a U-turn in Kabul’s relations with New Delhi. Recent media reports on Ghani’s upcoming trip to India suggest that New Delhi has lost ground in Afghanistan to its rival Pakistan.
Looking at India’s role in Afghanistan over the last decade, one can clearly see that New Delhi’s assistance to Afghanistan has been focused mainly on education, agriculture, institution-building and other areas that benefit the people of our war-torn country.
India has a historic and cultural affinity with Afghanistan. It has played a major role in the development and reconstruction of Afghanistan over the past decade.
India is the fifth largest bilateral donor after the US, UK, Japan, and Germany. Not a donor country by tradition, it has provided Afghanistan more than $2bn in aide mainly for projects in power, roads, agriculture, and education.
New Delhi has provided thousands of scholarships to Afghan students and training grants for Afghan civil servants in the past few years – most of whom have returned to Afghanistan and are an important part of the current critical mass in the country.
A consortium of Indian public and private companies has invested to develop the Hajigak iron ore mine in Afghanistan. India has been working with Afghanistan to facilitate Afghan trading links transiting Iran. Additionally, India is building a major hydropower dam at the cost of nearly $200m in western Afghanistan.
Taking into consideration the above examples, it is clear that such projects are vital for social and economic development in Afghanistan and will certainly also benefit Pakistan in the long term.
In his first state visit to India, Ghani should reinject confidence in the bilateral ties between the two South Asian neighbours and assure New Delhi that Afghanistan is committed to maintaining close and friendly relations with India as its historic friend and partner.
Ghani should emphasise that Afghanistan will never accommodate Pakistan’s wish to control Afghanistan’s foreign policy, especially in regard to India.
For its part, India should consider Afghanistan as its strategic priority and build upon the solid foundation of its bilateral relations with Afghanistan laid and strengthened under Ghani’s predecessor, president Hamid Karzai.
Aimal Faizi is an Afghan journalist and former spokesperson for former Afghan president, Hamid Karzai from 2011-2014.
The views expressed in this article are the author’s own and do not necessarily reflect Al Jazeera’s editorial policy.