India’s Role in Afghanistan Peace Process

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    Recently, the External Affairs Minister of India has met the President of Afghanistan to discuss the evolving situation in the war-torn country and reiterated India’s support.

    Background

    • The US has decided to withdraw its forces from Afghanistan by August-end, ending a nearly two-decade of its military presence in the country.
    • This has led to Afghanistan witnessing a series of terror attacks giving rise to global concerns.

    Major Highlights of Meeting

    • The Indian Minister is on a visit to Tashkent (capital of Uzbekistan) as part of a Connectivity Conference.
    • Both of them met on the sidelines of the foreign ministers meeting of the Shanghai Cooperation Organisation (SCO) in Dushanbe (capital of Tajikistan).
      • The SCO condemned the ongoing violence and terrorist attacks and called for a cessation of the violence, which remains a key factor of instability in Afghanistan.
      • The group held that it is important to step up joint efforts by member states to counter terrorism, separatism and extremism in the region.

    Current Status

    • The Taliban continues to make deeper inroads into Afghanistan and have seized strategic border locations and crossings with Iran, Uzbekistan, Tajikistan and Pakistan.
      • The border crossing with Iran at Islam Qala in Afghanistan’s western Herat province is particularly lucrative and an important trade route.
      • SpinBoldak is a key crossing for all goods from Pakistan’s southern port city of Karachi to Afghanistan, a landlocked nation dependent on the Arabian Sea port.
      • Taking over key border crossings will mean significant revenue for the Taliban, which will strengthen their hand in any future negotiations with the Kabul government.
    • With Taliban forces having advanced to within a few kilometres of Kandahar, India has evacuated Indian staff and personnel from its consulate in the southern Afghanistan city.
      • India has major stakes in ensuring peace and stability in Afghanistan as it has invested nearly USD 3 billion in aid and reconstruction activities in the country.
      • India has been supporting a national peace and reconciliation process which is Afghan-led, Afghan-owned, and Afghan-controlled.

    Afghanistan’s Significance for India

    • Afghanistan is vital to India’s strategic interests in the region and is also perhaps the only South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation (SAARC) nation whose people have much affection for India.
    • After a break between 1996 and 2001, India shunned the previous Taliban regime and re-established ties with the country in the two decades after the 9/11 attacks , through development projects.
      • India has untaken 400-plus projects in all 34 of Afghanistan’s provinces and all their fate is uncertain if Taliban grabs power.
    • Unlike in other countries where India’s infrastructure projects have barely got off the ground or are mired in the host nation’s politics, it has delivered in Afghanistan.
    • The 2011 India-Afghanistan Strategic Partnership Agreement recommitted Indian assistance to help rebuild Afghanistan’s infrastructure, encourage investment and provide duty-free access to the Indian market.
    • Projects Across the Country
      • Salma Dam
        • It is a 42MW capacity dam located in Herat province.
        • The hydropower and irrigation project, completed against many odds and inaugurated in 2016, is known as the Afghan-India Friendship Dam.
        • The Taliban claim the area around the d
        • am is now under their control.
      • Zaranj-Delaram Highway
        • It is a 218-km highway built by the Border Roads Organisation (BRO).
        • Zaranj is located close to Afghanistan’s border with Iran.
        • The USD 150-million highway goes along the Khash Rud river to Delaram to the northeast of Zaranj, where it connects to a ring road that links Kandahar in the south, Ghazni and Kabul in the east, Mazar-i-Sharif in the north, and Herat in the west.
        • It is of strategic importance to New Delhi, as it provides an alternative route into landlocked Afghanistan through Iran’s Chabahar port.
      • Parliament
        • The Afghan Parliament in Kabul was built by India at USD 90 million.
        • It was opened in 2015 as India’s tribute to democracy in Afghanistan.
        • A block in the building is named after former Indian Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee.
      • Restoration of Stor Palace
        • In 2016, the restored Stor Palace in Kabul was inaugurated.
        • It was originally built in the late 19th century, and which was the setting for the 1919 Rawalpindi Agreement by which Afghanistan became an independent country.
        • In 2009, India, Afghanistan and the Aga Khan Development Network signed a tripartite agreement for its restoration.
      • Power Infrastructure
        • India is rebuilding power infrastructure such as the 220kV DC transmission line from Pul-e-Khumri, capital of Baghlan province to the north of Kabul, to beef up electricity supply to the capital.
      • Health Infrastructure
        • India has reconstructed a children’s hospital it had helped build in Kabul in 1972, named Indira Gandhi Institute for Child Health in 1985.
        • Indian Medical Missions’ have held free consultation camps in several areas and India has also built clinics in various border provinces.
      • Transportation
        • India has gifted buses for urban transportation, utility vehicles for municipalities, military vehicles for the Army and ambulances.
        • It also gave three Air India aircraft to Ariana, the Afghan national carrier, when it was restarting operations.
      • Other Projects
        • New Delhi has also played a role in building capacity, with vocational training institutes, scholarships to Afghan students, mentoring programmes in the civil service and training for doctors and others.
        • At the Geneva Conference India announced help for the construction of the Shahtoot Dam in Kabul district, which would provide safe drinking water to 2 million residents.
        • In 2020, India pledged USD 1 million for another Aga Khan heritage project, the restoration of the Bala Hissar Fort south of Kabul, whose origins go back to the 6th century.
          • Bala Hissar went on to become a significant Mughal fort, parts of it were rebuilt by Jahangir and it was used as a residence by Shah Jahan.
    • India’s Bilateral Trade with Afghanistan
      • Bilateral trade is now worth USD 1 billion.
      • Despite the denial of an overland route by Pakistan, India-Afghanistan trade has grown with the establishment in 2017 of an air freight corridor.
      • In 2019-20, bilateral trade crossed USD 1.3 billion, Afghan government officials said at a recent interaction with Indian exporters in Mumbai.
      • The balance of trade is heavily tilted as exports from India are worth approximately USD 900 million, while Afghanistan’s exports to India are about USD 500 million.
      • Afghan exports are mainly fresh and dried fruit which comes overland through the Wagah border (Pakistan has permitted Afghan trade with India through its territory).
      • Indian exports to Afghanistan include pharmaceuticals, medical equipment, computers and related materials, cement, and sugar
        • These exports take place mainly through government-to-government contracts with Indian companies.
      • Trade through Chabahar started in 2017 but is restricted by the absence of connectivity from the port to the Afghan border. Two air corridors, Kabul-Delhi and Herat-Delhi, are in operation now.
    Shanghai Cooperation Organisation

    • It is a permanent intergovernmental international organisation.
    • Its creation was announced on 15th June 2001 in Shanghai (China) by Kazakhstan, China, Kyrgyzstan, Russia, Tajikistan and Uzbekistan and was preceded by the Shanghai Five mechanism.
      • India and Pakistan became members in 2017.
      • Afghanistan, Belarus, Iran and Mongolia are observer states.
    • The SCO Charter was signed in June 2002 and entered into force on 19th September 2003.
      • This is the fundamental statutory document which outlines the organisation’s goals and principles, as well as its structure and core activities.
    • Aims
      • Strengthen mutual trust and neighbourliness.
      • Promote effective cooperation in politics, economy, technology, culture, education, tourism, environmental protection, etc.
      • Maintain and ensure peace, security and stability in the region.
    • The Heads of State Council (HSC) is the supreme decision-making body, which meets once a year.
    • Its chairmanship rotates on a yearly basis and Tajikistan is the chair for 2021.
    • Official Languages: Russian and Chinese.
    • Two Permanent Bodies: SCO Secretariat, Beijing and Executive Committee of the Regional Anti-Terrorist Structure (RATS), Tashkent.

    Source: IE