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India Ponders Future Role in Afghanistan

  • Aru Pande

The security situation in Afghanistan was a top issue during U.S. Vice President Joe Biden’s talks with Indian leaders this week in New Delhi.

In a busy shopping area of New Delhi - businesses line the streets catering to Afghans who have come to India for medical treatment, work or tourism.

Afghan Saeed Abdullah has seen the tight Afghan-Indian relationship up close. The Herat resident, in India for his father’s surgery, saw firsthand the benefits of Indian investment in Afghanistan as a worker on the 218-km long Delaram-Zaranj highway in Nimroz province - a $150 million project funded by India.

“It was three years ago. I worked with them [India] and they built a road and it was very good," he recalled. "And they have invested so much money, I have seen.”

India has provided more than $2 billion in development aid to Afghanistan since the fall of the Taliban in 2001. Analysts here in New Delhi say this kind of assistance and investment should continue not only to ensure a stable Afghanistan, but to ensure a stable region.

Delhi Policy Group Director Radha Kumar says in light of previous attacks on Indian interests both in and outside of Afghanistan, New Delhi cannot afford to walk away from the war-torn country.

“An escalation of efforts to target us would be, in my opinion, an almost inevitable corollary of our departure," she said. "So the presence is very much required, from purely a security point of view.”

But what type of presence? Abhijit Iyer-Mitra says as the United States withdraws from Afghanistan, India can no longer be passive and instead, must adopt a gutsy Afghan policy that safeguards its own vital interests.

The program coordinator at the New Delhi-based Observer Foundation says India’s involvement in Afghanistan has nothing to do with countering Pakistan in a so-called proxy war.

“What are our interests out there? It’s just a stable, independent Afghanistan, full stop," said Iyer-Mitra. "It does not have to be subservient to India, it’s not that our writ has to function there or anything like that. It’s just an independent, sovereign country.”

Indians and Afghans here in New Delhi say India can play an important role in Afghanistan, such as advising the country on its upcoming election or investing more in the country’s education system.

Kabul resident Afzal Totakhail - on a sightseeing trip to India - says the bottom line is simple: “I hope [for] a peaceful Afghanistan; that’s my hope," he said. "And I hope Afghanistan becomes a good country like India, like America and Canada.”

It’s a hope shared by many here as Afghanistan faces an uncertain future.
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