Stung by Afghanistan’s security and strategic shift towards Pakistan in the past year, India has rebuffed another invitation from Kabul to revive the >Strategic Partnership Agreement (SPA) signed in 2011 to hold a meeting of the Strategic Partnership Council (SPC).
Diplomatic sources at the highest level have confirmed to The Hindu that India has conveyed its inability to hold the meeting that would be chaired by External Affairs Minister Sushma Swaraj and her Afghan counterpart Salahuddin Rabbani “due to prior commitments.”
New Delhi has also conveyed that Ms. Swaraj will not attend the upcoming Regional Economic Cooperation Conference on Afghanistan (RECCA) in Kabul on September 3 and 4, and instead Sujata Mehta, Secretary, Multilateral and Economic Relations, will represent India at the conference. India’s representation will be in sharp contrast to some of the other regional countries participating at the Foreign Minister-level, while Iran is expected to send its Interior Minister and Pakistan its National Security Adviser Sartaj Aziz, RECCA official Asadullah Hamdard confirmed to The Hindu .
While India’s decision to not attend the RECCA conference, which is essentially a development and donor conference, may not affect relations given India’s $2.3-billion strong commitment to Afghanistan, Afghan officials said the delay in the SPC meeting is more significant. India and Afghanistan have held only one meeting of the SPC (in 2012) since former Afghanistan President Hamid Karzai and former India Prime Minister Manmohan Singh signed the historic agreement in 2011.
“We can’t understand what the agreement means if we can’t even schedule a meeting for three years,” an Afghan official told The Hindu , adding that Afghanistan has made four requests since January for the meeting, the fourth request being made in August.
Officials in Delhi confirmed they had received “at least two to three written requests, and several oral requests had been raised as well.”
India was the first country Afghanistan chose to sign a strategic partnership agreement with, despite the U.S. and Pakistan keen on doing so. Since then, however, India has significantly withdrawn from its strategic promises to Afghanistan for a number of reasons.
To begin with, a barrage of attacks from the Taliban supported by Pakistan as a “backlash” to Indian presence have forced India to reconsider its strategic and military assistance there.
Next, said officials, after President Ashraf Ghani took charge in 2014, he made a decisive shift towards mending fences with the Pakistan Army, including visits to the Pakistan General Headquarters and inviting the Army and intelligence chiefs to Kabul, and signing an MoU between intelligence agencies NDS and ISI, even as his government joined talks with the Taliban hosted by Pakistan.
Trust deficit “After Karzai, we have never trusted Ashraf Ghani’s motivations given the overtures he made to the Pakistan Army,” said the former Ambassador to Kabul Rakesh Sood, adding, “India has always been hesitant about what it wanted from the SPA anyway. The demand for defence equipment, for example, was something we were never able to deliver on.”
India’s development commitment remains robust, and Mr. Modi's visit is expected to take place once the Afghan Parliament is completed by the Indian Public Works Department by January 2016.
- » Relations between the people of Afghanistan and India traces to the Indus Valley Civilisation.
- » In 1999, India became one of the key supporters of the anti-Taliban Northern Alliance.
- » 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.
- » 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.
- » Three memorandums of understanding (MOUs) for strengthening cooperation in the fields of rural development, education and standardisation during Hamid Karzai's visit to India in April 2006.
- » During the 15th SAARC summit in Colombo, India pledged another $450 million alongside a further $750 million already pledged for ongoing and forthcoming projects.
- » India condemned the assassination of former Afghan President Burhanuddin Rabbani in September 2011. India reiterated the steadfast support of the people and government of India in Afghanistan's "quest for peace and efforts to strengthen the roots of democracy"
- » India seeks to expand its economic presence in Afghanistan as the international coalition fighting the Taliban withdraws combat forces through 2014.
A decade of democracy has opened up Afghan society and India’s cooperation programmes have helped develop sustainable links around a shared vision. Dialogues with Afghanistan’s neighbours will become important as these countries start feeling nervous about the return of instability
India, with a commitment of $1.2 billion through 2013, is already the sixth largest donor to Afghanistan, It has been involved in diverse development projects in infrastructure, education and agriculture..