The second visit of President of the Islamic Republic of Afghanistan, Dr Mohammad Ashraf Ghani, on 14 and 15 September 2016, marked by warmth and substance, was quite a contrast to his first visit in April 2015, when he had received a cool, if not cold, reception. At that time, Ghani was seen as leaning towards Pakistan in a bid to improve Afghanistan’s security situation, hoping that Pakistan would use its influence to bring the Afghan Taliban to the table to negotiate peace in Afghanistan.
However, as Pakistan’s post-US drawdown intentions became clear and more and more Afghan blood was sucked out by Pakistan’s proxies in Afghanistan, Dr Ghani gave up on Pakistan and tilted toward India, a move that obviously irked Islamabad. As relations between Kabul and Islamabad declined, Afghanistan’s relations with India again improved and this time by way of frequent interactions between Prime Minister Narendra Modi and Dr Ghani on the telephone and through video conferencing.
Meeting President Ghani, PM Modi fondly recalled his visits to Kabul in December 2015 and Herat in June this year and mentioned that he cherished both the warm reception he had received during those visits, the fruitful discussions then and in his other meetings with the President in Tehran, in May 2016 and Tashkent, in June 2016. Both leaders expressed their happiness at the close and regular consultations between India and Afghanistan at all levels, which have served to guide their strategic partnership and strengthen all-round cooperation.
With a major part of the discussion dwelling on the challenge of terrorism, both agreed that the use of terrorism as a tool to achieve political objectives was “the single biggest threat to peace, stability and progress in the region and beyond,” and they called upon the concerned to “ put an end to all sponsorship, support, safe havens and sanctuaries to terrorists, including for those who target Afghanistan and India.” This was an obvious reference to Pakistan, who both have accused of sponsoring or supporting terrorism in the region – charges Islamabad denies.
India promised $1billion in development aid to Afghanistan and officials of both countries signed three agreements, including a treaty that would allow them to extradite criminals, economic offenders and people linked to terrorist activity.
While President Ghani stressed the significance of the PM Modi’s assurance conveyed during the joint inauguration of Storay Palace on 22 August 2016 via a video link that 1.25 billion people of India firmly stand with their Afghan brothers and sisters, the latter reiterated India’s abiding support for a unified, sovereign, democratic, peaceful, stable and prosperous Afghanistan.
Modi conveyed India’s readiness to consider further requirements of Afghanistan for capacity and capability building in spheres such as education, health, agriculture, skill development, empowerment of women, energy, infrastructure and strengthening of democratic institutions. Besides a sum of $1 billion, the Prime Minister also proposed to supply world-class and easily affordable medicines from India and cooperation in solar energy through mutually-agreed instruments.
It was agreed that the Strategic Partnership Council headed by India’s External Affairs Minister and Afghanistan’s Foreign Minister will meet shortly, review the recommendations of the four Joint Working Groups dealing with diverse areas of cooperation and impart further guidance.The leaders expressed satisfaction over the signing of the Extradition Treaty, the Agreement on cooperation in civil and commercial matters and the Memorandum of Understanding on Cooperation in Peaceful Uses of Outer Space during the President’s visit. It was also stressed that expeditious implementation of the trilateral agreement involving Afghanistan, India and Iran, signed in May 2016, using Chahbahar will augment connectivity within and of the region. In this context, the leaders appreciated the recent decision taken by the three countries to convene a joint forum involving important stakeholders, including from business and industry.
Both leaders looked forward to the resumption of India-US-Afghanistan consultations in New York later this month. The Prime Minister conveyed o the President that India would continue to engage with the international community to assist the Government of Afghanistan in all possible ways and in this context, the leaders underscored the significance of the Amritsar Ministerial Conference of the Heart of Asia-Istanbul Process (HoA) on the forthcoming 4 December, as well as the Brussels Conference on 5 October. They noted that the choice of Amritsar underscored the value of restoring connectivity and was in consonance with this year’s theme for HoA: ‘Addressing Challenges, Achieving Prosperity’. It also underscores that India and Afghanistan remain committed to the expeditious realisation of seamless two-way connectivity between South Asia and Central Asia. The Prime Minister invited the President to grace the inauguration of the Amritsar Ministerial. The President accepted the invitation.
President Ghani detailed Indian industry and trade about the economic opportunities and potential of Afghanistan. His address to a select gathering of strategic experts at the Institute for Defence Studies and Analyses (IDSA) on ‘Fifth Wave of Political Violence and Global Terrorism,’ was indeed well appreciated.
In his reflection of the current global state of the ‘fifth wave’ of political violence, President Ghani termed terrorism as a medium-term challenge. He called for a fundamental change in the regional and global response through improved information sharing and regional understanding, increased state-level cooperation, greater public understanding of democratic processes through debates and discourses, and greater role of civil society and businesses.
Describing the ‘fifth wave’ as probably one of the “most well-financed movements in history,” he observed that “in the absence of rules of the game”, and due to the willingness of some states to sponsor non-state actors, the phenomena has evolved over the years with deepened and broadened techniques. The understanding of the current political violence has largely been reactive, due to which global actions have been sporadic and not sustained, he observed.
Elaborating on the revolution in networking as a striking feature of the fifth wave, the Afghan president observed that the terrorist networks that previously used to be face-to-face or in small groups have now become face-to-faceless, resulting in a distinct form of mobilisation.
Political violence is not owned by a specific culture, religion or geographic space, and requires careful analysis. Criminality and political violence have become organically related, he said, adding that there is a distinctive form of violence that is inflicted on the citizens and that results in erosion of state authority.
Insisting that the minority groups should not be allowed to hijack civilisations, the President pointed out that the terrorists target public spaces to disrupt the compact between the citizens and the state. The objective is to induce fear in a systematic manner which effectively breaks the bond of trust between citizens and state.
Director General, IDSA, Jayant Prasad lauded President Ghani for his message of optimism and confidence that reflected the resilience, patience and perseverance of the Afghan people.
President Ghani and his delegation visibly appeared to be enjoying their visit, which apart from many events contrasting his 2015 visit, included a Guard of Honour at Rashtrapati Bhavan and a meeting with President Pranab Mukherjee.