The Indian government was pressing forward with a host of development related investments in Afghanistan despite a sense of deep concern surrounding potential attacks upon its staff by militant groups and blockades of transit agreements by Pakistan, the United States embassy in New Delhi noted in diplomatic cables sent to Washington during 2009 and 2010.
The cables, released this week by the whistleblower website WikiLeaks, observed that from India’s assistance programme for small, community-based projects, to its deployment of “low-cost” engineers for infrastructure development projects and training courses for Afghans in Indian institutions, New Delhi was not flagging in its efforts to help the Hamid Karzai government.
In particular, U.S. officials observed that since 2002 India contributed “over USD 1.2 billion in reconstruction assistance,” putting it among the top ranks of Afghan donors.
However Indian officials expressed growing concern with the security situation in Afghanistan, U.S. diplomats wrote, and “they have been increasingly critical of what they perceive as the Pakistani government's inability or unwillingness to act in the border tribal belt.”
They went on to note that Indian aid to Afghanistan was tempered by “Pakistani intransigence,” which questioned India’s motives and does not allow for much cheaper overland transit of goods, personnel or equipment.
The cables also suggested that the U.S. supported India’s role in Afghanistan, in fact arguing that a further expansion of that role to include areas such as force protection would require U.S. efforts to help overcome Pakistani objections.
The U.S. embassy in New Delhi conceded that India’s contribution to Afghanistan already did involve “limited military aid,” even if India remained “cognizant of U.S. government sensitivities about such assistance.”
Yet regarding Pakistan’s objections the cables said “GOI is mindful of Pakistani sensitivities on security-related assistance in Afghanistan, but this may be under review in the post-Mumbai environment.”
Among the more innovative suggestions for India’s contribution to Afghanistan’s development the U.S. officials put forth was an idea relating to Bollywood: “We understand Bollywood movies are wildly popular in Afghanistan, so willing Indian celebrities could be asked to travel to Afghanistan to help bring attention to social issues there,” U.S. diplomats wrote.