By Rustam Shah Mohmand
THE Taliban government is in search for allies and development partners as it continues to confront a grave economic emergency in Afghanistan. In this endeavor to secure the support of countries that can provide vital assistance, Kabul will naturally look to India as a country that has had centuries’ old historic contacts with Afghanistan.
Recently, an Indian official delegation paid a visit to Kabul and held wide ranging talks on developing meaningful bilateral relations between the two countries. The talks were said to be very encouraging with both sides stressing the need for establishing more convergence of views on a number of issues of concern to both countries. The areas of cooperation included urgent food aid for Afghanistan, financial assistance, trade, more cultural exchanges, scholarships for Afghan students in Indian universities, technical assistance in the construction of dams, the facilitation of trade between India and countries of Central Asia via Afghanistan etc.
In laying the foundations of durable relations with India, Taliban leaders were naturally conscious of the ripples such contacts would create in Islamabad. The Afghan government realizes there is a deep sensitivity attached to any effort that allows India to establish a firm footage in Afghanistan. There is this lingering fear in the minds of the Pakistani leadership that New Delhi would try to use Afghan territory to launch camouflaged incursions into Pakistani border areas thus destabilizing Pakistan’s fragile western border. But this is unlikely to happen for two basic reasons.
First, Taliban will never permit their soil to be used covertly or overtly to cause damage to Pakistan’s security or stability. Second, India would not be so naive as to attempt to destabilize Pakistani border areas and cause a permanent rupture in relations with Afghanistan. That will be a costly strategic error.
Taliban leaders are aware of the concern in Pakistan of any warming of relations with India. However, in formulating its foreign policy options, Kabul will be guided by its own vital national interests. In such a situation, Islamabad must try to understand the compelling ground realities as India and Afghanistan decide to lay the foundations of a sustainable bilateral relationship.
India is an energy deficit country that meets one third of its energy requirements by relying on imports from Central Asian countries. Afghanistan is a gateway to Central Asia, and there lies its crucial role in trade between India and Central Asia.
On the other hand, Afghanistan needs urgent help in a number of fields and India may extend valuable assistance. There should be no objection to such mutually beneficial ties. Recently, India provided 50,000 tonnes of wheat to Afghanistan to help the country deal with a dire food emergency. Medicines and other commodities were also part of the assistance provided. Thousands of Afghan students are acquiring higher education in India’s colleges and universities while hundreds of Afghan patients are seeking medical treatment at any given time in Indian hospitals.
If sanity were to prevail and a more pragmatic approach was to be adopted, Pakistan would allow its territory for unhindered trade between New Delhi and Kabul. A transit facility provided by Pakistan could be the harbinger of better understanding between Islamabad and New Delhi. It could lead to a more positive mood on how to end the logjam that has plagued relations between the two South Asian nuclear countries for decades.
There is a deep yearning for peace, reconciliation and complete normalization of relations between the two countries as far as rank and file Indians and Pakistanis are concerned. But it will take visionary leadership on both sides of the divide to help in the advent of a new era of peace and cordiality in relations between India, Pakistan and Afghanistan.
To give impetus to this dream to be realized, it is imperative that no obstructions be created in the way of fostering mutually beneficial friendly ties between the Taliban government and India.
(Rustam Shah Mohmand is a specialist of Afghanistan and Central Asian Affairs. He has served as Pakistan’s ambassador to Afghanistan and also held position of Chief Commissioner Refugees for a decade.)