Tuesday, August 30, 2005

India joins the Great Game

Orignially appeared in The Hindustan Times (Mumbai edition) August 30, 2005

Prime Minister Manmohan Singh’s visit to Afghanistan, the first by a prime minister since 1976, is part neighbourhood diplomacy, and part contribution to the wider battle against extremism and terror. India’s ties with Afghanistan , of course, go back to antiquity and in modern times, barring the period between the Soviet invasion of 1979 and the end of the Taliban in 2001, they have shared common aspirations as developing countries.

Afghanistan’s importance today lies in the fact that it is the intersection of the interests of various countries fighting terrorism—the US and its Nato allies, Russia, and India. They are all part of an enterprise that will transform the war-torn country into a stable and democratic entity that will not allow itself to be used as a training ground for terrorists, nor be a major source of illicit opium. To this end, India has committed another $50 million to the earlier sum of $500 million for Afghan reconstruction. Indian aid has been carefully focused in rebuilding hospitals, schools and other establishments that will aid the restoration of Afghan civil society. India would like to do more to train Afghan security forces, but the US has placed restrictions out of deference for Pakistan’s concerns. Truth is that Pakistan’s sole interest is in restoring the Taliban regime. It is doing its best to thwart India’s aid effort by refusing to provide a transit route to enable us to do more for Afghan reconstruction on the specious excuse that the Kashmir issue must be settled first. There is considerable evidence that Pakistan continues to nurture the Taliban leadership, as a lever against Afghan president Hamid Karzai. It is up to the world community, especially the US to reflect on how important it is to effectively drain the swamp, extending to neighbouring Pakistan, that produced the Al Qaeda and the Taliban.

The battle for the hearts and minds of the Afghan people has not quite ended Manmohan Singh’s visit and the Indian aid package must be seen as a small contribution to a much greater global effort needed. As a neighbour, India’s interests are not transient. They have always been, and will always be, to promote what the prime minister said in Kabul on Sunday, “a sovereign, stable, democratic and prosperous Afghanistan.”

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