In the conflictual and interest-driven world of international politics, it is unusual to see common civilisational heritage and sentimental affection coexisting with shared political, security and economic interests between two sovereign nations. The relationship between India and Afghanistan is of such a nature.
The kingdom of Kabulistan was once a major centre of two religions, Hinduism and Buddhism. India offered one of the best examples of a cosmopolitan Islam, as embodied by Emperor Akbar. Delhi was one of the most sophisticated centres of Persian literature and language.
In today’s world, both Afghanistan and India face the challenges of development, democratisation and managing a multi-ethnic society. Terrorism and an expansionist Pakistani military establishment continue to pose a significant threat to the two nations as well as the wider region and the world. And, Bollywood stars are the first celebrities that many young Afghan boys and girls fantasise about.
Afghanistan and India straddle the promising but yet unconnected and underdeveloped regions of South, Central and Western Asia. Afghanistan’s rich natural resources and strategic location complement India’s huge market and vast human resources. The 2011 Afghanistan-India strategic partnership agreement symbolised Delhi and Kabul’s special relations and laid the foundation for structured bilateral relations covering politics, security, economy, culture, education and regional cooperation.
However, Washington’s arbitrarily set deadline of 2014 for the withdrawal of foreign troops has overshadowed everything in Afghanistan, including relations with India. That date has frightened Delhi back into its hesitant corner, demonstrated by the cold response to Kabul’s desire to increase security and defence cooperation. Delhi’s recurring hesitancy and self-doubt has emboldened an overconfident Rawalpindi and revived Kabul’s memories of Delhi’s past inability to protect its interests and allies. Three Afghan governments — of Sardar Daud, Dr. Najib, and Prof. Rabbani — that had profound friendships with Delhi were weakened and toppled by Pakistan-sponsored terrorism and proxies. Our nascent democracy and political independence are faced with the same threat and mindset; a fact that a former ISI director-general recently reminded President Hamid Karzai about.
Kabul and Delhi have failed to present a coherent, consistent and convincing case to the world and its policy makers about the nature of their relations and the threat that Pakistan’s military establishment presents to regional stability, world peace and the people of Pakistan. Washington’s exhaustion, London’s paternal view of Pakistan and Beijing’s naivety have compounded Delhi’s hesitancy and Kabul’s irresponsibility. However, we should not be hostages toour past. As with India, Afghanistan of 2013 has fundamentally changed: it is more free, prosperous, engaged and stable than its recent past. But its achievements are fragile and vulnerable. Afghanistan and India’s strategic partnership is indispensible to the consolidation of international investments in Afghanistan and the releasing of the region’s enormous natural and human resources. In the spirit of Gandhi and Bacha Khan’s teachings, we need to overcome our hubris, fear and self-doubt and celebrate the promise of ideas, vision, perseverance and courage.
(The writer is the founder and first director-general of the Afghan Institute of Strategic Studies. He has worked with the Afghan government since 2006 in different capacities, including chief of programmes at the President’s office and chief policy adviser to the Ministry of Foreign Affairs.)