Script: Dr. SMITA, Analyst on Af-Pak affairs
The Minister of Foreign Affairs of Afghanistan, Mohammed Haneef Atmar was in New Delhi for a three-day visit to discuss bilateral relations, strengthen regional and international consensus on the Afghan peace process. He met his counterpart Dr. S. Jaishankar and India’s National Security Advisor Ajit Doval, besides other dignitaries. The two sides discussed the ongoing peace process in Afghanistan, strengthening economic cooperation and boosting regional connectivity projects and trade.
The visit came days after Washington unveiled its new approach toward the Afghan peace process, including India as a direct stakeholder. The visit also came just after Russia hosted a conference between Afghan government and the Taliban in Moscow, and pressed for a ceasefire. The meeting was also attended by Dr. Abdullah Abdullah, the Chairman of High Council for National Reconciliation. In fact, Dr. Abdullah had visited India in October 2020 for consultations on the initiative to bring peace and stability to Afghanistan.
Mohammed Atmar emphasized India’s role in the Afghan peace process and called for its enhanced role in strengthening regional and international consensus for the success of peace talks. In this context, the visit was significant for various reasons – firstly, the US Secretary of State Antony Blinken has said that the US wants to see the establishment of an interim government that will essentially bring the Taliban representatives at par with the elected government.
This proposal has been rejected by the Afghan President Ashraf Ghani. Secondly, it also indicates Afghan government’s willingness to keep India informed about the exchanges with Taliban which agreed with the Trump administration in 2020. In February 2020, the United States and the Taliban had signed a historic deal in an attempt to end the ongoing conflict in Afghanistan. The deal requires parties to follow three key objectives – withdrawal of US and NATO troops from Afghanistan, end of violence in Taliban-controlled areas, and commencement of intra-Afghan talks. In September 2020, talks between the Afghan government and the Taliban started in Doha, Qatar. However, the negotiations have suffered major roadblocks in the recent past over issues about the release of prisoners.
Speaking about India’s recent commitments and cooperation, including the signing of a Memorandum of Understanding on the construction of the Shatoot Dam, the delivery of 500,000 doses of Corona Vaccine, and the sending of 75,000 tonnes of wheat to Afghanistan, India’s Minister of External Affairs Dr. Jaishankar said that India, as a friend and partner of Afghanistan, would continue to support the reconstruction and developmental projects for the welfare and prosperity of Afghanistan people. In November 2020, India announced a new package of over 100 high impact community projects worth US$ 80 million for Afghanistan.
India has played a major role in the reconstruction of Afghanistan since the fall of the Taliban regime. India has always been favouring an Afghan-led and Afghan-owned peace process to bring peace and stability to the troubled country. India has also been actively involved in reconstruction efforts in war-ravaged Afghanistan. Since 2002, India has committed US$ 2 billion to the socio-economic development of the country.
The construction of the major Salma Dam, the new Afghan Parliament building, the Zaranj-Delaram highway, and some other projects are among the key investments India has done so far in that country. New Delhi has also decided to take up 116 high impact community development projects in 31 provinces of Afghanistan. India has also announced that ongoing programmes for education, capacity building, skills and human resource development in Afghanistan, one of the largest such programs in the world, would continue for a further period of five years from 2017 to 2022. The two countries agreed to strengthen their cooperation at a various international forum and decided to work even more closely with their regional and international partners for prosperity, peace, stability and progress in the region.