Three visits in August, preceding Afghan President Ashraf Ghani’s current visit to India, are pointers to the possibility of an enhanced and new role for India in countering Pakistan sponsored/supported terrorism in Afghanistan.
All three visits are significant. General John Nicholson Junior, Commander, Resolute Support Mission and US Forces Afghanistan, has strongly recommended Afghanistan’s request for more attack helicopters from India.
Afghanistan’s army chief General Qadam Shah Shahim, who came to India on a five-day tour earlier this month, met the three Services chiefs, Union Minister of State for External Affairs and former Army chief Gen VK Singh and National Security Adviser Ajit Doval. He also visited Indian Military Academy, where he met 135 Afghan cadets out of around 800 undergoing training in India, 50 Para Brigade in Agra and Rajputana Rifles Regimental Centre and National Defence College, both in Delhi.
The enhancement of bilateral defence ties and military cooperation includes increased training to officers and soldiers of Afghan National Army and assurance by the Indian government of further military assistance to Afghanistan. Gen Shahim’s visit coinciding with U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry visit to India could not be a mere coincidence. Kerry’s and Nicholson’s visits are also indicators of a shift in the US mindset on Afghanistan.
Till recently a major factor preventing the US from joining India or supporting its increased involvement in Afghanistan was of Pakistan being extremely “sensitive” on this issue, to put it mildly. But things have changed. The US has withheld $300 million aid to Pakistan for not delivering on its assurances to end terror in Afghanistan. In view of this period being the last lap of the Obama administration and the following period being one of the new US president’s initial teething phase, US Defence Department may also be apprehensive about the possibility of Pakistan upping its monkey tricks in Afghanistan.
Former Afghan President Hamid Karzai’s recent fourth visit in the last two years was marked by his enthusiastic response to Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s reference to Balochistan in his Independence Day speech.
Post 9/11, India was the first country to reestablish diplomatic ties with Afghanistan by setting up its embassy and consulates there, begin immediate assistance by way of foodstuff deliveries, education programmes and reconstruction of administrative and infrastructural facilities.
In December 2015, Prime Minister Modi visited Kabul to open the new India-funded, parliament building. In June 2016, he inaugurated the Salma Dam. While Ghani thanked India for its valuable assistance to Afghanistan in troubled times, Modi responded by saying, “We are bound by a thousand ties.”