More than just neighbours

INDIA and Afghanistan share a long history of close and warm ties. But for a brief interval, the neighbours have had a pleasant relationship unburdened by unpleasant history. This is why when Prime Minister Manmohan Singh paid a highly symbolic visit to Afghanistan; he was able to establish an easy rapport with the Afghan leadership and people. This is a landmark visit in every sense of the term considering the fact it is the first visit by an Indian leader to Afghanistan in the last 30 years.

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Published: Tue 30 Aug 2005, 10:00 AM

Last updated: Thu 2 Apr 2015, 6:34 PM

However, the normalisation of Indo-Afghan ties did not begin with this visit. The two countries have been drawn to each other due to a combination of several political and strategic factors since the Taleban government in Kabul was dislodged by the US-led coalition in the wake of 9/11 events. Following the change of guard in Afghanistan, Delhi went out of its way to woo and cultivate the new dispensation. It not only offered help and expertise for the first ever elections in Afghanistan but also did its bit in the international aid and reconstruction effort in the war-plagued country.

But it is a two-way relationship. India has been looking for friends and allies in the energy-rich and strategically important Central Asia. Afghanistan can provide that much-needed access to the land locked region. India, with a growth rate of 7-8 per cent and ever-increasing appetite for oil, has been scouting for alternate energy sources. It has been already working on a strategic economic partnership with Iran and Pakistan through the multibillion-gas pipeline. It’s exploring similar economic alliances with the Central Asian nations. Afghanistan’s cooperation could be vital in such an arrangement.

Afghanistan needs India’s help too. The country, which is yet to recover from the effects of decades of occupation and civil war, badly needs international help in rebuilding and development effort. India has already committed $500 million in aid to Afghanistan. Prime Minister Singh announced another $50 million package. Afghanistan, of course, could do with whatever help it can get.

This mutually benefiting relationship can be further strengthened with bilateral trade and greater people-to-people contacts. Afghanistan is keen on improving relations with Saarc nations and possibly joining the South Asian bloc. However, all said and done, the Indo-Afghan relations cannot remain independent of the two countries’ equations with Pakistan. As President Hamid Karzai also pointed out yesterday, Afghanistan is directly affected by the India-Pakistan relations.

This is yet another reason for the success of peace process and good relations between India and Pakistan. Trilateral economic and political cooperation between India, Pakistan and Afghanistan has the potential to transform the whole region into an oasis of peace and prosperity. More importantly, it can make a meaningful difference to the people in one of the world’s poorest and underdeveloped regions.

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