“India cannot be immune to instability in Afghanistan”

On the eve of his first visit to Kabul in six years, Prime Minister Manmohan Singh said on Wednesday that he was looking forward to wide-ranging discussions with the Afghan leadership to advance India's partnership to a “new level'' in the coming years. Dr. Singh leaves for Afghanistan on Thursday morning and will return the next day.

The Prime Minister pointed out that India “cannot remain unaffected by developments in Afghanistan and it took a long-term view of our partnership with Afghanistan.” The government sources amplified Dr. Singh's observations by spelling out India's imperatives — security, economic and involvement of regional countries — in Afghanistan.

“India cannot be immune to instability in Afghanistan as it will affect our progress, development and security. We want Afghanistan to be the trade, transportation and energy hub connecting South Asia with Central Asia through unfettered and free transport links,” said the sources. “It is only through economic inter-dependence that the region can prosper,” they added.

But for that to be achieved, peace and stability would have to return to Afghanistan. India will reiterate to the Afghan leadership that the issue of reintegration of Taliban and the red lines mentioned by the international community in effecting that have not gone away.

India hopes that Osama bin Laden's death would fundamentally affect al-Qaeda's operations in Afghanistan, the region and globally. But the activities of terrorist groups with sanctuaries in Pakistan — the Haqqani network and Peshawar and Quetta shuras — don't stand to diminish automatically. The threat to Afghan security continues. Attacks are taking place on a daily basis by these groups which seem to be as virulent as ever, pointed out the sources.

On whether India's proximity to Kabul would be affected by Pakistan reaching out to the Afghan leadership and its holding of a trilateral dialogue involving the U.S., India disapproved the “transposing the architecture of zero sum game to interactions.”

“We exchange information, discuss activities of groups, share concerns about Taliban and how we need to eliminate that threat. There is much common ground regardless of the kind of ties Pakistan and Afghanistan share. Afghanistan and India are on the same page in terms of the goals both want to share. There is a lot of harmonisation of positions.

“Regional countries can work together. We don't think India is proposing an exclusivist approach. We have to work together to help Afghanistan retain stability. Every country has a role like China is in the mining sector. It is a calculation the Afghan government makes.

Regional cooperation

“Regional cooperation is the pillar for Afghanistan's security and foreign policy. We do subscribe to that. Stability cannot return by military means alone but also with engagement with forces alienated from Afghan society,” added the sources.

While India is steering clear of training the Afghan National Army, it was amenable to training its police with numbers unlikely to be a restriction. “India has the capacity to provide [training to Afghan police] but it would be dictated by Afghan needs. We have the capacity and the desire to assist in whatever capacity building they want. They as a sovereign government will decide who they will ask for and how much,'' explained the sources.

The Prime Minister's visit is expected to lead to a slight increase in Indian assistance. India is already implementing projects of various dimensions in two-thirds of Afghanistan's 34 provinces. The government sources said this aid focuses on capacity building and human resource development and is not contingent on the presence or absence of foreign troops.