M Reyaz

On his maiden trip to New Delhi, Afghanistan President Dr Ashraf Ghani has dispelled all apprehensions of a chill in the relationship between the two countries. At a joint address to the media after a high level delegation meeting with Prime Minister Narendra Modi, he said, “Afghanistan and India are two countries that are bound by a thousand ties and millions of memories. We are the only countries that need no introduction,” adding, “Others have to overcome their past to build a future, we (Afghanistan and India) can build a future based on our past.”

President Ghani said this after the Indian Prime Minister had reiterated India’s commitment to the war ravaged country, saying, “We deeply value the friendship and the goodwill of the Afghan people,” adding, “India will walk shoulder to shoulder with you and Afghan people.”

Modi also had words of praise for Ghani’s “impressive vision” for an “Afghan-led and Afghan-owned process” for peace and prosperity, but cautioned, that its success “requires a positive and constructive approach from neighbours (read Pakistan), including an end to support for violence.” This remark is important for a lot has been written and discussed about New Delhi’s concern towards what it sees as Kabul’s tilt towards Islamabad.

President Pranab Mukherjee with Afghanistan President Mohammad Ashraf Ghani in New Delhi on Tuesday. PTIPresident Pranab Mukherjee with Afghanistan President Mohammad Ashraf Ghani in New Delhi on Tuesday. PTI

President Pranab Mukherjee with Afghanistan President Mohammad Ashraf Ghani in New Delhi on Tuesday. PTI

India knows that it has limited options and Modi’s statement is a pragmatic approach and acceptance of the real-polity. Dr Ghani generously cited and dropped names of Indian icons like Nobel Laureate Rabindranath Tagore, Mahatma Gandhi, Maulana Abdul Kalam Azad and Jawaharlal Nehru. “(Tagore’s short story) Kabuliwala gave Afghanistan a bigger brand image than we could have ever paid for,” he said, while speaking on the linkages between the two countries.

Later in the evening on Tuesday, while delivering the 16th Sapru House lecture at the Indian Council of World Affairs, he noted that the single biggest challenge that his country and the region is facing is the ‘ecology of terror’ that has become more brutal, more networked and morally reprehensible. Noting that the lack of coordination between states has been the main threat, he said that Afghanistan has been seen as “theatre” and that war has been pushed over to their territory. He urged that the old notion of a weak nation must be preyed upon should end now as Kabul does not want to fight anyone’s proxy war anymore.

About his softening of heart towards Pakistan, he said that they have been in a state of undeclared hostility for decades and for the peace and stability of the region, there is need for “fundamental peace” between them. He said in a TV interview, “The way we positioning it, Afghanistan will be a platform for global cooperation, not a place of contentions… (or) a battlefield for proxy wars.”

Till 18th century, Afghanistan was a ‘roundabout’ of sort for the world, connecting South Asia to Central Asia and West Asia to East Asia; and it was a place though which not only goods and people were moving, but there were exchanges of ideas as well. Ghani envisions that in about 25 years, Afghanistan should once again re-emerge as the ‘roundabout’ of the region, with “the rebirth of the Asian continental economy.”

In fact, on each public appearance in Delhi, President Ghani urged for an end to seeing Afghanistan as site of contestation and proxy war, and elaborated on how it was and can again be the ‘roundabout’ of the region.

Ghani’s delegation that comprises the army chief, NSA, foreign, finance, and mines and petroleum ministers, besides deputy of the CEO and other senior government officials; makes his intentions very clear. Afghanistan is hoping for investments from private investors, particularly in the mining sector.

India-Afghanistan has agreed further on cooperation on counterterrorism operations, bilateral trade and transit, and motor vehicle agreements. Before leaving in the evening for Kabul on Wednesday, Afghan delegates are holding business meetings with ASSOCHAM, CII and FICCI as well as several other business organisations. However, there was no new big ticket announcement for enhanced financial packages.

Speaking at the ICWA, Ghani spoke on how its location which has been a curse can be turned into an opportunity as it is rich in mineral resources that can be exploited regionally – largely with the help of China and India. South Asia remains one of the least integrated economies, he said, adding that it has immense potential to grow together.

In fact, the clarity and confidence with which the academician turned politician made his points on several occasions; one felt that it was not a politician speaking, but an old idealist professor giving a talk on his most famous book, Fixing Failed States. The only difference, however, is that realpolitik is much more complicated.

(M Reyaz is a Delhi based Journalist and a Research Scholar at the Academy of International Studies, Jamia Millia Islamia. He tweets at @journalistreyaz)

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Afghanistan Prez’s visit: Ghani dispels India’s concern over his govt’s pro-Pakistan tilt