India’s engagement in Afghanistan gained momentum with its continued assistance for socio-economic development ensuring greater connectivity and regional integration. India’s cooperation is based on the priorities of the people of Afghanistan, writes Neelapu Shanti, a journalist formerly associated with the Government of Afghanistan.
India-Afghanistan relations existed for thousands of years. Such links stem not only from shared interests but also from the profound and enduring cultural values that we share. Afghanistan remains the top priority as a steadfast friend and an important partner of India. The bonding of the two nations provides a solid foundation in the maintenance of peace, stability and inclusive prosperity. The India-Afghanistan friendship corridor encapsulates promoting development partnership as envisaged in the Strategic Partnership Agreement (SPA) of 2011.
India’s bilateral and regional commitments are in continuity for Afghanistan’s development and humanitarian needs. India’s cooperation with Afghanistan encompasses building infrastructure and institutional capacity for growth and development of the war-torn nation. India has been supporting Afghanistan in Confidence Building Measures (CBM’s) of Heart of Asia-Istanbul Process (HoA-IP) which includes chambers of commerce cooperation, commercial opportunities, regional infrastructure, and education.
India supports ‘Afghan-led’ and ‘Afghan-owned’ government with a broad vision and believes that regional cooperation is an important element in helping Afghanistan for the restoration of peace and development in a country which has witnessed more than 17 years of war and bloodshed.
India’s Assistance in Afghanistan
India’s engagement in Afghanistan gained momentum with its continued assistance for socio-economic development ensuring greater connectivity and regional integration. India’s cooperation is based on the priorities of the people of Afghanistan. The prolonged war in Afghanistan has dwindled growth and prosperity. India stood solidly by Afghanistan in the crucial phase of instability by extending its support for unified, sovereign, democratic, peaceful, stable and prosperous Afghanistan. India’s assistance in capacity and capability sphere of Afghanistan includes agriculture, education, health, skill development, empowerment of women and energy infrastructure have grown from strength to strength.
Education and Skill Development
India has made a significant stride in transforming knowledge in promoting to fulfil the aspirations of higher education. Afghanistan-India’s bilateral cooperation under ICCR, ITEC and various other scholarship programmes offered to Afghan students notably reflects India’s assistance on a broader spectrum. India is a preferred destination for Afghanistan to pursue education. Annually the Indian Council for Cultural Relations (ICCR) offers more than 1,000 scholarships to Afghan students and more than 16,000 students are studying in different varsities in India. In a recent development, a memorandum of understanding (MoU) was signed at IIT Madras with Afghanistan Government in consultation with the Union Ministry of Human Resource Development (MHRD) by offering programmes based on digital education. This MoU will help students to learn Massive Open Online Courses (MOOCs) available in SWAYAM Platform.
Trade and Connectivity
India’s $3 billion aid to Afghanistan since 2001 has given necessary support bilaterally for economic development and humanitarian assistance of the war-ravaged nation. The bilateral trade between India-Afghanistan stood at more than $900 million and targets to achieve $2 billion by 2020.
To promote greater connectivity of landlocked Afghanistan, India launched the air corridor programme in 2017. With over 170 flights exchanged between India and Afghanistan since its commencement, the country sets to seize opportunities with new emerging markets. Kabul-New Delhi, Kabul-Mumbai, Kabul-Amritsar, and Kabul-Kolkata are in operation successfully and aiming to connect Afghanistan through the air corridor programme with all the Indian cities.
The operation of Chabahar port in February this year is the biggest breakthrough for Afghanistan to export its goods to India through sea route for the first time bypassing Pakistan. The opening of Chabahar port corridor provides a new route for Afghanistan and India creating viable opportunities connecting with potential markets.
New Development Partnership Programme
Under the ‘New Development Partnership’ programme, India has implemented 116 High Impact Community Development Projects in 31 provinces in Afghanistan in the areas of education, health, agriculture, irrigation, drinking water, renewable energy, flood control, micro-hydropower, sports infrastructure and administrative infrastructure.
India is providing advanced medical facility to Afghan patients, which is not available in their country. Afghan doctors seek training in specialised courses in different hospitals in India. India has initiated to treat Afghan children with congenital heart disease since 2015 by providing financial aid to Afghan Red Crescent Society. Around 467 Afghan children with congenital heart disease were treated in Artemis, Max, Fortis and other hospitals in India between 2017 and 2018.
An Indian NGO, Self Employed Women’s Association (SEWA) is supporting Afghan women in a big way by providing vocational training in food processing, garment making, nursery and greenhouse plantation. So far SEWA has trained more than 1,500 Afghan women who have been benefited immensely through skill-based training programmes since 2008. Last year a batch of 20 Lady Officers from the Afghan Army and Afghan Air Force imparted training at Officers Training Academy in India.
Other assistance includes military aid for which India has supplied four Mi-25s military helicopters to Afghanistan in 2018 and imparted training to hundreds of Afghan security personnel. India delivered four Mi-25 (Mi-24D) helicopters and three HAL Cheetah light utility helicopters to the Afghan Air Force (AAF) in December 2016.
The India-Afghanistan Foundation promotes cultural and people to people contacts. To harness India’s sports potential, India has built Kandahar International Cricket Stadium.
Afghanistan-India Relations Way Forward
The traditional faithful friendship between India and Afghanistan is not just remaining true but also flourishing. India continues to play an important role in the reconstruction of Afghanistan through Humanitarian assistance programmes that will strengthen the relations to new levels. With this approach, India is making efforts to forge substantive links, deeper economic and bilateral integration and foster people-to-people contacts with Afghanistan.
India’s investment in Afghanistan for economic growth, women’s empowerment programmes, and infrastructure development should be expanded. India’s assistance to Afghanistan is extremely important to deal with tough situations and bring peace and prosperity in the country and across the region. India aims to maintain a comprehensive development strategy that will foster and establish bilateral and multilateral relations with Afghanistan.
(The writer is a journalist who was formerly associated with Government of Afghanistan)