Until September 29, Afghanistan has been at a crossroads without clear indication on the direction it will take towards governance after the US and NATO forces are withdrawn at the end of December 2014. As a result, its international supporters were filled with doubt – would it again lapse into a battlefield amongst warlords, ultimately leading to a resurgence of the Taliban or would American efforts since 2001 to make it a functional democracy, facilitating a peaceful transfer of power from President Karzai? Fear, doubt and international agony were because the results of the first-ever electoral battle after the second round of voting in the Presidential elections did not throw up a clear winner between two equally competent candidates: Ashraf Ghani and Abdullah Abdullah.
But after over three months of bitter rivalry, the agreement hammered out after US President Obama’s telephone calls, Secretary of State, John Kerry’s three visits, efforts by President Karzai and the UN election supervisor bore fruit, seeing Ghani becoming the President and Abdullah the Chief Executive Officer (CEO). In a way, it bodes well for the future of Afghanistan’s democracy, as the CEO will be like the Prime Minister (PM) — a post to be created after constitutional amendment and will disallow concentration of power, as seen during the 13-year-rule of former President Karzai. President Ghani was inaugurated on September 29 and he signed a bilateral security agreement (BSA) with the US and NATO on September 30.
Since the American direct military intervention in 2001, India has been very active in Afghanistan’s soft politics of economic development, a crucial requirement for democracy to flourish. The only country that is uncomfortable with the Indian presence in Afghanistan is Pakistan. Pakistan’s military instrument, the Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI), has used the terrorist outfit Lashkar-e-Toiba (LeT) to attack the Indian Embassy in Kabul consecutively, in 2008 and 2009, resulting in the death of 75 people. There was another attacked on the Indian consulate at Herat on May 23, just before Karzai visited New Delhi.
Yet, since the direct US military intervention in Afghanistan in 2001, India has been active in the development of infrastructure, economy, education, culture and domocratisation of politics in Afghanistan. By committing $ 2 billion in aid, it has emerged as the fifth largest bilateral donor, for development activities, of which over $ one billion has already been spent. These activities include the Delaram-Zarang Highway, connecting Afghanistan’s main highway, the ring road to the Iranian border. Eventually, this will enable Afghanistan to trade directly with India, bypassing Pakistan, as India is also helping Iran in the development of Iranian Chabahar port.
India has undertaken to build a Parliament building in Kabul, help with electricity generation and distribution to the capital and some other cities. Indian capacity building programmes provide hundreds of scholarships to Afghan students, and civil servants. India is also providing food and medical aid.
Afghan students who are studying in Indian Universities have nothing but praise for the programme. India should at least double the scholarships it offers now. We should also expand our training programme for Afghan diplomatic, security, police, military and administration personnel in Indian institutions, academies and universities. Indian personnel visiting Afghan universities and training academies is also a welcome option. There are 20 million youth under 25 years of age. India could provide vocational training to needy youth so that they can obtain suitable employment instead of being drawn into anti-state activities.
India should also contribute towards the proposed Afghan decision to rebuild one Bamiyan Buddha with UNESCO funding. The Afghan decision to do so is highly laudable and bolsters its secular credentials.
Indian assistance in building Afghanistan’s economy must enable it to gradually reduce its over-dependence on foreign aid. The long-delayed pipeline project, to ship gas from Turkmenistan to India, which could see Afghanistan earn $400 million annually, must get started.
Mining of gold, silver, aluminum and other minerals is another activity where India could provide assistance. If we can help Afghanistan shift its economic model base from opium and foreign aid to one that is sustainable and reinforces economic development, this will strengthen its democracy. Hence, we should explore possibilities to set up joint food-processing projects in Afghanistan, to process a wide range of fruits for export. For instance, ten per cent of the world’s raisins come from Afghanistan.
The bilateral security agreement (BSA) signed on September 30, will enable foreign assistance in billions of dollars to pour in from the US and European Union. India is the second largest contributor to the UN Democratic Fund that separately contributes funds to Afghanistan to develop as a democracy. The US, Europe, Japan, South Korea and India jointly must see Afghanistan develops as a democratic nation within the comity of nations.
The Afghan National Security Force, trained and equipped by democratic nations will work under a civilian leadership. Unlike its eastern neighbor —Pakistan, it will not be a threat to democracy. International support for a democratic Afghanistan has become vital for peace and security, not only for India, but for democracies all over the world in the backdrop of the growing upsurge of Islamic State of Syria and Iraq (ISIS).
Pakistan is certainly going to grab the opportunity of inviting and using the ISIS to harm India and Afghanistan. India has already warned the US that it should not abruptly withdraw from Afghanistan, leaving its nascent democracy to terrorists. Modi and Obama, in their recent meeting in Washington, have agreed to coordinate their Afghan policies with each other. It is time for two to decide on declaring Pakistan as a terrorism-promoting state!
P M Kamath