By Jai Kumar Verma*
In complete contrast to his previous trip, the recent two-day visit of Afghan President Ashraf Ghani to India, which ended on September 15, was very fruitful for both the nations. India agreed to commit USD 1 billion further for various developmental projects in Afghanistan. Besides financial assistance, both the parties signed three agreements including an extradition treaty.
Extradition treaty with Afghanistan is important because the masterminds of terrorist attacks in India or Afghanistan would not be able to take shelter in other’s country. Economic offenders in either of the countries too would be brought to justice under this treaty mechanism.
India’s USD 1 billion would be an addition to already committed (and spent) assistance of USD 2 billion. All the assistance is expected to be utilized in the development of infrastructure, education, energy, agriculture, skill development, health, supply of world class medicine, solar energy etc. Ghani also stated that both countries should work in harmony so that in five years bilateral trade between India and Afghanistan becomes USD 10 billion.
So far Ghani and Modi have met about eight times and both the leaders have inculcated good understanding. The visiting President was very warm in the current visit because his illusion that Pakistan would pressurize Afghan Taliban to abandon the path of terrorism and negotiate with Afghan government has been completely shattered. The military controlled Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI) is the prominent source of assistance to Afghan Taliban and Pakistan uses these Taliban groups to pressurize the Afghan government. Overtly, the Pakistani government has told Ghani that it lacks the requisite influence to compel Taliban to negotiate with the Afghan government while covertly it continues its assistance to Taliban so that it weakens the elected government in Afghanistan.
After being disillusioned with Pakistan, Ghani now wants to improve relations with India as, firstly, India genuinely wants to assist Afghanistan and, secondly, it does not want Afghanistan to be too close to Pakistan lest it becomes the epicentre of terrorism once again.
At present Pakistan-abetted terrorist groups are carrying out terrorist activities in India as well as in Afghanistan; hence both countries, without specifically mentioning the name of Pakistan, denounced use of terrorism as state policy and gave a very stern message to Pakistan. The joint communiqué mentioned that both the countries agreed that terrorism “presented the single biggest threat to peace, stability and progress in the region and beyond.” It was also stressed that “elimination of all forms of terrorism, without any discrimination, is essential” and no support should be extended to the terrorists.
Pakistan obstructed India from sending 1.7 lakh tones of wheat to Afghanistan. Under the Afghanistan-Pakistan Transit Trade Agreement (APTTA), trucks carrying fruits and dry fruits from Afghanistan to India can reach up to Wagah border but these trucks are not allowed to carry Indian goods to Afghanistan. Ghani has warned Pakistan that if it blocks Indian goods from reaching Afghanistan it will also not allow Pakistani goods for Central Asian to transit from Afghan country.
Both the leaders stressed that the construction of Chabahar port facilities in Iran must be expedited so that both India and Afghanistan can bypass Pakistan in bilateral trade. The visiting President also agreed to visit Amritsar in December to attend the ministerial conference of the Heart of Asia-Istanbul Process to determine development and security of Afghanistan.
The joint communiqué had not mentioned anything about military assistance to Afghanistan. Indian Foreign Secretary S Jaishankar too did not respond to the question about supply of arms and ammunition to Afghanistan, but analysts claim that Afghan Army Chief, General Qadam Shah Shahim, who had already paid a four-day visit to India beginning August 29, had come to India with a ‘military wish-list’. In his visit General Shahim met all three Services Chiefs, General V K Singh, Union Minister of State for External Affairs, and National Security Advisor Ajit Doval. The visiting Army Chief also went to Indian Military Academy and met Afghan cadets who are undergoing training in the academy.
General Shahim wanted to send more Afghan army personnel for training and requested for more helicopters, tanks, artillery and other military equipments including their ammunition. Although the commitments made by Indian authorities were not made public in view of rising tension between India and Pakistan and between Afghanistan and Pakistan, analysts claim that India has assured supply of military hardware to Afghanistan liberally.
So far India has not been supplying armaments to Afghanistan because of pressure from the United States which never wanted to antagonize Pakistan. Nonetheless, now the scenario has changed US has stopped supply of F-16s to Pakistan and it is learnt that US Secretary of State John Kerry and NATO commander General John Nicholson recently visited India and insisted that India must supply armaments to Afghanistan.
The Americans have now realized that Pakistan is a focal point of terrorism and the rogue ISI renders all type of assistance to various terrorist outfits who carry out terrorist acts in India and Afghanistan. Pakistan does not want a strong Afghanistan and hence will continue with terrorist attacks on Afghan and NATO forces.
The Afghan army is familiar with Russian arms and India is in a position to supply armaments and spare parts of weapons of Russian origin. India also wants a strong Afghanistan which is not under the influence of Pakistan.
Besides meeting President, Prime Minister, Foreign Minister and other dignitaries he delivered a exciting lecture at the Institute for Defence Studies and Analyses (IDSA) on ‘ Fifth Wave of Political Violence and Global Terrorism’. He stated that more than 200,000 personnel of Pakistani military had waged war in Balochistan and Khyber Pakhtunkhwa provinces. He mentioned that there is no civil war in Afghanistan but nine internationally accepted terrorist groups are creating trouble in the country. He also said that an international effort is required to trounce terrorism and the concept of good and bad terrorists is a short term strategy and terrorism is like a snake and it will bite whosoever feeds it. He also mentioned that it is erroneous to perpetrate terrorism in the name of Islam as no religion permits killing of innocents on the name of Islam.
*Jai Kumar Verma is an independent strategic analyst based in New Delhi. Comments and suggestions on this article can be sent on: [email protected]