Afghanistan–India relations

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Indo-Afghan relations
Map indicating locations of Afghanistan and India

Afghanistan

India
Diplomatic mission
Embassy of Afghanistan, New DelhiEmbassy of India, Kabul
Envoy
Afghan ambassador to IndiaIndian ambassador to Afghanistan
Afghan embassy in New Delhi, India.

Afghanistan–India relations refers to the diplomatic relations between India and Afghanistan. They had been historical neighbours, and share cultural ties through Bollywood and cricket.[1]

The Republic of India was the only South Asian country to recognize the Soviet-backed Democratic Republic of Afghanistan in the 1980s, though relations were diminished during the 1990s Afghan civil war and the Taliban government.[2] India aided the overthrow of the Taliban and became the largest regional provider of humanitarian and reconstruction aid to the former Islamic Republic of Afghanistan.[3][4] Indians are working in various construction projects, as part of India's rebuilding efforts in Afghanistan. Pakistan alleges the India's foreign intelligence agency R&AW is working in cover to malign Pakistan and train and support insurgents,[5][6][7][unreliable source?] a claim rejected strongly by India.[8]

Shaida Mohammad Abdali, Afghanistan's ambassador to India, in April 2017 pointed out that India "is the biggest regional donor to Afghanistan and fifth largest donor globally with over $3 billion in assistance. India has built over 200 public and private schools, sponsors over 1,000 scholarships, hosts over 16,000 Afghan students."[9] Relations between Afghanistan and India received a major boost in 2011 with the signing of a strategic partnership agreement,[10][11] Afghanistan's first since the Soviet invasion of 1979.[12]

A major shift in India's position on Afghan Taliban was reported by a top Qatar official in June 2021, revealing that an Indian delegation quietly visited Doha to meet Taliban's leadership.[13] This is a major shift that was several weeks in the making in the first half of 2021, and likely involved Qatari mediation between India and the Taliban.[14] India hasn't recognized the Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan.[15]

In June 2022, India re-opened its embassy in Kabul.[16]

History[edit]

An Edict of Ashoka from Kandahar, now in the Kabul museum.

Relations between the people of Afghanistan and India traces to the Indus Valley civilisation.[17] Following Alexander the Great's brief occupation, the successor state of the Seleucid Empire controlled the region known today as Afghanistan. In 305 BCE, they ceded it to the Indian Maurya Empire as part of an alliance treaty.

Alexander took these away from the Aryans and established settlements of his own, but Seleucus Nicator gave them to Sandrocottus (Chandragupta), upon terms of intermarriage and of receiving in exchange 500 elephants.[18]

— Strabo, 64 BCE – 24 CE

The Mauryans controlled the area of modern day Afghanistan, and during this period Hinduism and Buddhism prevailed. Their decline began 60 years after Ashoka the Great's rule ended, leading to the Hellenistic reconquest of the region by the Greco-Bactrians. Much of it soon broke away from the Greco-Bactrians and became part of the Indo-Greek Kingdom. The Indo-Greeks had been defeated and expelled by the Indo-Scythians in the late 2nd century BCE.[19] Parts of Afghanistan including Kabul came under the rule of the Indian Gupta Empire in 4th and 5th centuries. MuchBetween the 10th century to the mid 18th century, northern India has been invaded by a number of invaders based in what today is Afghanistan. Among them were the Ghaznavids, Ghurids, Khaljis, Suris, Mughals and Durranis. During these eras, especially during the Mughal period (1526–1858), many Afghans began immigrating to India due to political unrest in their regions.[20]

Border crossing between the British Empire and Afghanistan in 1934

Khan Abdul Ghaffar Khan and Khan Sahib were prominent leaders of the Indian independence movement and active supporters of the Indian National Congress. Although the NWFP became part of Pakistan in 1947, active Pashtun support for the Indian freedom struggle led to great sympathy in India for the cause of Pashtun autonomy and freedom. The Indian government continued to support Pashtun leader Khan Abdul Ghaffar Khan in lobbying for greater Pashtun freedom in the NWFP.[3] Indians are working in various construction projects, as part of India's rebuilding efforts in Afghanistan, although the Indian intelligence agency RAW is accused by countries such as Pakistan of working to malign Pakistan and train & support insurgents.[5][6][7] These workers are estimated to be anywhere between 3,000 and 4,000. Indian nationals stationed in Afghanistan have often faced continuous security threats in the country, with kidnappings and many attacks (such as the February 2010 Kabul attack) deliberately carried out on them.

In January 1950, a five-year Treaty of Friendship was signed between the two countries in New Delhi. Other than affirming "everlasting peace and friendship between the two Governments", the treaty provided for establishment of diplomatic and consular posts in each other's territories.[21][22]

India recognized the new Republic of Afghanistan on July 19, 1973. Indian foreign minister Swaran Singh visited Afghan President Mohammed Daoud Khan in October that year, and Khan visited India in March 1975. On July 7, 1974, the two countries signed a trade protocol.[20]

Soviet occupation to Taliban regime[edit]

India was the only south Asian nation to recognise the Soviet-backed Democratic Republic of Afghanistan[11] and the Soviet Union's military presence in Afghan territories, and provided humanitarian aid to President Najibullah's Government in Afghanistan.[2] Following the withdrawal of the Soviet armed forces from Afghanistan in 1989, India continued to support Najibullah's government with humanitarian aid. After its fall, India together with the international community supported the coalition government that took control, but relations and contacts ended with the outbreak of another civil war, which brought to power the Taliban, an Islamist militia supported by Pakistan.[23] The Taliban regime was recognized only by Pakistan, Saudi Arabia, and the United Arab Emirates (UAE). The destruction of the Bamiyan Buddha monuments by the Taliban led to outrage and angry protests by India.[24][25] Similarly the Taliban's move in 2001 to require Afghan Hindus to wear identification patches, reminiscent of Nazi policies, was heavily criticised by India.[26] In 1999, the hijacked Indian Airlines Flight 814 landed and stayed in Kandahar in Afghanistan and the Taliban were suspected of supporting them.[2]

India became one of the key supporters of the anti-Taliban Northern Alliance.[27]

Since 2001[edit]

The new Afghan Parliament building has been built by India.

During the U.S.-led invasion of Afghanistan in 2001, India offered intelligence and other forms of support for the Coalition forces. After the overthrow of the Taliban, India established diplomatic relations with the newly established democratic government, provided aid and participated in the reconstruction efforts.[4] India has provided $650–750 million in humanitarian and economic aid, making it the largest regional provider of aid for Afghanistan.[3][4] India's support and collaboration extends to rebuilding of air links, power plants and investing in health and education sectors as well as helping to train Afghan civil servants, diplomats and police. India also seeks the development of supply lines of electricity, oil and natural gas. Also to give Afghan students scholarships.[4]

The Indian Army's Border Roads Organisation constructed a major road in 2009 in the remote Afghan province of Nimroz, connecting Delaram to Zaranj. This has proved a viable alternative route for the duty-free movement of goods through the Chabahar port in Iran to Afghanistan.[3][4][28][29] Key to India's strategy in Afghanistan is to build up transportation links that bypass Pakistan, helping reduce the Afghan economy's dependence on Pakistan.[30]

In 2005, India proposed Afghanistan's membership in the South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation (SAARC). Both nations also developed strategic and military cooperation against Islamic militants.[3] Owing to the killing of an Indian national by Taliban militants in November 2005, India deployed 200 soldiers of the Indo-Tibetan Border Police (ITBP) to provide security for Indian nationals and the projects supported by India.[4] Afghanistan strengthened its ties with India in wake of persisting tensions and problems with Pakistan, which was suspected of continuing to shelter and support the Taliban.[3][4] India pursues a policy of close collaboration with countries such as Afghanistan, Bhutan, and Iran in order to bolster its standing as a regional power and contain its rival Pakistan, which stands accused of aiding and abetting Islamic militants in Kashmir and other states of India.[4]

Three memorandums of understanding (MOUs) for strengthening cooperation in the fields of rural development, education and standardisation between the Bureau of Indian Standards (BIS) and Afghan National Standardisation Authority were signed between Afghanistan and India during Hamid Karzai's visit to India in April 2006.[31] An agreement providing $50 million to promote bilateral businesses between Afghanistan and India was signed during the visit of the Afghan Foreign Minister Rangin Dadfar Spanta between 29 June – 1 July 2006.[31] During the same year, India raised its aid package to Afghanistan by $150 million, to $750 million.[31] In 2007, Afghanistan finally became the eighth member of SAARC.

In July 2008 the Indian embassy in Kabul was attacked by a suicide car bomb – the deadliest attack in Kabul since the fall of the Taliban in 2001.[32][33] The bombing killed 58 people[34] and wounded 141.[35] Senior Indian Army officer Brigadier Ravi Datt Mehta was entering the embassy gates in a car along with V. Venkateswara Rao when the attack took place. Both were killed in the blast.[35] The Afghan government's official position implies that Pakistan's ISI was involved in the attack. This position has found support in recent leaks of classified information by WikiLeaks. In the aftermath of the 2008 Indian embassy bombing in Kabul, the Afghan Foreign Ministry quoted India as a "brother country" and the relationship between the two as one which "no enemy can hamper".[11]

During the 15th SAARC summit in Colombo, further pledges were made by India for ongoing and forthcoming projects. In August 2008, Afghan President Karzai visited New Delhi further strengthening bilateral relations.[36]

On 18 October 2009, the Indian embassy in Kabul was attacked again by a car bomb, little more than a year after the previous attack. The attack killed at least 17 people.[37] Another attack took place at the Arya guest house where Indian doctors were staying, resulting in the death of 18 people. India's pledge to rebuild Afghanistan has reached a total of $2 billion in May 2011 after Manmohan Singh arrived to Kabul for a two-day visit.[38] In the same year India donated 250,000 tons of wheat to Afghanistan as part of humanitarian assistance program.[citation needed]

According to a 2010 Gallup poll, which interviewed 1,000 adults, 50% Afghans approved of the job performance of India's leadership and 44% disapproved with 6% refusing to answer. It was the highest approval rating of India by any other country in Asia. According to the survey, Afghan adults are more likely to approve of India's leadership than Chinese or U.S. leadership.[39]

The September 2011 assassination of former Afghan president Burhanuddin Rabbani was condemned by India, which stated that, "Tragically, the forces of terror and hatred have silenced yet another powerful voice of reason and peace in Afghanistan. We unreservedly condemn this act of great brutality," and reiterated peace efforts.[40][41] India promised to stand by the people of Afghanistan as they prepare to assume the responsibility for their governance and security after the withdrawal of international forces in 2014.[42] In October 2011, Afghanistan signed its first strategic pact with India.[30][43] The military assistance would include training of Afghan security personnel.[44] During his visit to India, Karzai told the media that "This strategic partnership is not directed against any country. This strategic partnership is to support Afghanistan." He also stated that "Pakistan is our twin brother, India is a great friend. The agreement we signed with our friend will not affect our brother." He also added that "However, our engagement with Islamabad has unfortunately not yet yielded the result that we want."[45] Both sides launched a Partnership Council, as the apex body to implement the Strategic Partnership Pact in May 2012.[46]

Afghanistan, India and Iran signing the Chabahar Agreement

On 22 May 2014 the Indian consulate in Herat was attacked by 3 militants equipped with AK-47s, RPGs, hand grenades and suicide vests. "Our premises have been repeatedly attacked by those who do not support India's development work in Afghanistan. The attack will not dilute India's development assistance and its contribution to rehabilitation and reconstruction of Afghanistan," India's ambassador to Kabul Amar Sinha said at the time.[47]

On 24 December 2015, India donated three Mi-25 attack helicopters (with an option to send one more in future) to Afghanistan as part of the bilateral strategic partnership to counter the Talibans.[48] The next day, 25 December, Indian PM Narendra Modi visited Kabul to open the newly constructed Afghan parliament opposite the ruins of the Darul Aman Palace, which has been built by India for $90 million. Modi said "It will stand as an enduring symbol of the ties of emotions and values, of affection and aspirations that bind us in a special relationship". President Ghani tweeted "Though, India and Afghanistan need no introduction, we are bound by a thousand ties… We have stood by each other in the best and worst of times".[49]

On 4 June 2016, Prime Minister Narendra Modi and Afghanistan's President Ashraf Ghani formally inaugurated the $290-million Salma Dam with a capacity of 42 MW power generation. Water from the dam will also serve irrigation purposes. The dam is expected to help Afghanistan capitalize on opportunities that will open up once the India backed Chabahar project, linking the port in Iran to Central Asia's road and railway networks, is completed.[50][51]

On 15 August 2019, on Indian Independence Day, Prime Minister Modi extended greetings to Afghanistan who were due to also celebrate Afghan Independence Day, the 100th year, four days later.[52]

While Taliban announced the Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan in 2021, Islamic Republic of Afghanistan is still internationally recognized.

Re-established Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan[edit]

Dozens of refugees from Afghanistan arrived in India following the takeover of a majority of the country by August 2021.[53] India hosts about 16,000 refugees according to United Nations figures from 2020.[54] There are approximately another 18,000 undocumented Afghan refugees.[55] Following the return of the Taliban, a new category of visas to fast-track applications for Afghan citizens seeking entry into India was initiated.[56] The evacuation has been codenamed Operation Devi Shakti (transl. Goddess Shakti).[57]

By 10 August 2021 India had closed all its consulates and shifted personnel to Kabul.[58] Following partial evacuation of these personnel from Afghanistan, the Kabul embassy remained functioning with reduced capacity.[59] The Kabul Embassy was evacuated on 17 August 2021,[60] and was re-established on 23 June 2022.[61]

Amidst a worsening humanitarian situation, India started sending aid to Afghanistan in December 2021. India will handover the aid, part of a larger regional and global effort, to the World Health Organisation present in the region.[62][63] Land routes from India to Afghanistan are via Pakistan, and accordingly India-Pakistan have discussed necessary modalities.[64] India's wheat diplomacy to Afghanistan continues its decade old practice to support the larger regional and global effort to reduce food insecurity in the country.[65][66][67]

Economy[edit]

India seeks to expand its economic presence in Afghanistan as the international coalition was fighting the Taliban withdraws combat forces through 2014. A focus area was transport connectivity and economic collaboration with countries in Central and South Asia. India had already invested $10.8 billion in Afghanistan as of 2012. More such projects were likely to come up after NATO's withdrawal. This included setting up iron ore mines, a 6 MTPA steel plant (by SAIL—Steel Authority of India Limited), an 800 MW power plant, hydro-electric power projects, transmission lines and roads. India helped Afghans in the reconstruction of Salma Dam in the Herat province. Besides producing 42 MW power, this Indo-Afghan friendship dam provides irrigation for 75,000 hectares of farmland in the Chisti Sharif district.

India and Iran were set to ink a transit agreement on transporting goods to landlocked Afghanistan. The Indian government was investing more than US$100 million in the expansion of the Chabahar port in southeastern Iran which would serve as a hub for the transportation of transit goods.[68] As a goodwill gesture, India had also constructed a new Parliament complex for the Afghan government at a cost of 710 crore (equivalent to 910 crore or US$110 million in 2020). This building was inaugurated on 25 December 2015.[49][69] Since Pakistan had refused land access, India and Afghanistan had established two air corridors to facilitate bilateral trade.[70]

Infrastructure projects in Afghanistan[edit]

New Parliament building[edit]

The new Afghan Parliament building

The foundation stone for the new Afghan Parliament was laid in August 2005 by the last king of Afghanistan, Zahir Shah, in the presence of Hamid Karzai and Manmohan Singh.[71] India's Central Public Works Department (CPWD) was the consultant for the project and the contract was awarded to an Indian infrastructure company in 2008.[72] The new Parliament building is corralled in a 100-acre plot in the famous Darulaman section of Kabul.[73] It sits next to historical landmarks such as Amanullah Khan's Palace and the Queen's Palace.

The construction work on the $220 million dollar building was initially slated to be complete by 2012, in 36 months. The deadline, however, was pushed back due to challenging work conditions, shortage of skilled workforce and precarious security environment. More than 500 laborers had worked on the building, most of them Indian nationals. The main attraction of the building is a bronze dome of 32 meter diameter and 17.15 meter height is considered to be the largest dome in Asia. The big dome covers the assembly hall and the small dome is over the entrance lobby. In front of the building, there is a water body with nine cascading fountains. Inside the building, a 20-feet fountain, made of green marble imported from Indian city of Udaipur, has been installed.[74]

On December 25, 2015, during a state visit of Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi, the new Parliament building was inaugurated along with President Ashraf Ghani.[75][76]

Afghan-India Friendship Dam[edit]

Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi and Afghan President Ashraf Ghani inaugurating the Salma Dam.

Salma Dam, officially the Afghan-India Friendship Dam, is a hydroelectric and irrigation dam project located on the Hari River in Chishti Sharif District of Herat Province in western Afghanistan. The Afghan cabinet renamed the Salma Dam to the Afghan-India Friendship Dam in a move to strengthen relations between the two countries. The hydroelectric plant produces 42 MW of power in addition to providing irrigation for 75,000 hectares of farmland (stabilising the existing irrigation of 35,000 hectares and development of irrigation facilities to an additional 40,000 hectares of land).[77] The dam was opened on 4 June 2016 by Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi along with Afghan President Ashraf Ghani.[78]

Military[edit]

Since 2011, around 700 Afghans train in India every year in institutions such as the National Defence Academy, Indian Military Academy, Officers Training Academy, Infantry School in Mhow and the Counter-Insurgency and Jungle Warfare School in Mizoram.[79]

Embassy and consulates[edit]

Afghanistan–India relations is located in Afghanistan
Kabul
Kabul
Herat
Herat
Jalalabad
Jalalabad
Kandhar
Kandhar
Mazar-e-Sharif
Mazar-e-Sharif
Farkhor Indian Airbase
Farkhor Indian Airbase
Uzbekistan
Uzbekistan
Zaranj
Zaranj
Quetta
Quetta
Indian embassy and consulates in Afghanistan in red

India in Afghanistan[edit]

India operates an Embassy in Kabul.

The Indian embassy and consulates in Afghanistan had been targeted by terrorists repeatedly.[80][81][82][83][84][85]

India had evacuated its Embassy in Afghanistan four times.[86]

Afghanistan in India[edit]

Afghanistan operated an Embassy in New Delhi and consulates in Mumbai and Hyderabad.[87]

See also[edit]

References[edit]

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Further reading[edit]