US seal on India’s key role in rebuilding AfghanistanTNN | Oct 20, 2012, 08.40PM IST
India is returning to centerstage in Afghanistan. Two years after being relegated to the sidelines, India is clawing her way back to relevance.
As the US prepares to draw down in Afghanistan, India is emerging as Afghanistan's key ally. The tide turned decisively with the first trilateral meeting between Afghanistan, India and US in New York last week. Jawed Ludin, Afghanistan's deputy foreign minister, led the proceedings. For the first time, Indian, US and Afghan officials sat together to discuss Afghanistan's future. The meetings, held at the Afghan mission in New York, were under the radar and didn't attract the attention of Pakistan, which is wary of the trilateral arrangement.
In an unpublicized statement that laid out the contours of the cooperation, Ludin said the trilateral "marks the beginning of a series of consultations among our three governments... who have pledged to work together on common challenges and opportunities including combating terrorism and violent extremism... increasing regional trade, investment and integration."
Indian and US officials agree that continuing to help Afghanistan's economic development is a top priority. The first area, where all three would be working together, would be in mineral resources — an Indian consortium secured the Hajigak mines' exploration, and Indian firms are looking at getting more mineral rights. Equally, India would be looking for US' technical help in these ventures. The second sector will be in connectivity — all three nations are investing in creating roads and rail networks to embed Afghanistan in the regional trade and transit networks. India and the US believe this is the way to save Afghanistan from becoming a haven for extremism.
The trilateral, say sources, is a testimony to the roots that India has struck in Afghanistan over the past decade. Significantly, it shows the distance the US has traveled on the Af-Pak front. Not so long ago, US officials preferred to ignore India's work in Afghanistan as they talked up Pakistan's importance. Pakistan's rants about Indian consulates prompted much US questioning of New Delhi's intentions there, and there was general rejection of any suggestion to have an Indian presence in the security sector.
India laboured on solitarily, because in the policy establishment in New Delhi, there was a conviction that Afghanistan's stability is crucial to national security. India's and development programmes have yielded rich dividends. Hamid Karzai, regularly vilified by the West for being corrupt and venal, has received unqualified support from India. It wasn't a coincidence that the first strategic partnership agreement was signed with India, with others following afterwards. But as Pakistan's relations with the US have dived, and its connections with the Haqqani Network are there for all to see, the US heeded Afghan insistence and turned to India. After getting the contract to develop the Hajigak iron ore mines, a consortium of Indian companies is hoping to win a bid to mine copper and gold in the country.
The trilateral plans also point to something else — the US is not going to uproot its presence from Afghanistan any time soon. They will dominate the security sector, not merely to degrade Talibanbut to try to prevent Afghanistan from becoming a haven of terrorists again. William Burns, US Deputy Secretary of State, told TOI, "The US commitment to stability in Afghanistan doesn't end in 2014. We all learned from the mistakes that followed the Soviet exit from Afghanistan. That's exactly why the US entered into a Strategic Partnership Agreement with Afghanistan similar to the Strategic Partnership Agreement which India has entered into with Afghanistan."