Last week, Afghan President Ashraf Ghani paid his first state visit to India since he had grabbed power. Earlier, President Ghani had visited China, Kingdom of Saudi Arabia, Pakistan, Azerbaijan, Turkmenistan, UK and the United States.
Since the last seven months, a lack of confidence has been felt in relations with India. Therefore, after seven months, Ghani tries to overcome this lack of confidence. The agenda of the visit includes transit, economic, agriculture and trade ties and issues.
The Back-ground of Afghan-India Relations
Afghanistan and India enjoys ancient relations. In the first half of twentieth century, Afghanistan supported India’s independence and gave asylum to its freedom fighters. The relations got momentum in the second half of twentieth century due to joint hostility towards Pakistan. The other reason behind the closeness is that most of Afghan intellectuals attained their higher education in that country.
During USSR’s invasion of Afghanistan in 1979, the government of Indira Gandhi did not condemned Russian invasion. Therefore, much of Afghans were frustrated with that country. While on the other hand, Pakistan supported Afghan refugees and Mujahidin. It was the first time that Pakistan found admirers in Afghan political factions. Later on, in the 1990s, Pakistan and India supported their proxies and fueled the fire of afghan civil war. The two countries continued their proxy war in Hamid Karzai’s tenure.
After 9/11 and with the oust of Taliban’s government, India became interested in Afghanistan, it assisted Kabul, took part in rehabilitation, trained Afghans in different sectors and besides invested around two billion dollars.
Hamid Karzai’s Foreign Policy towards India
In the initial days of Hamid Karzai, Kabul enjoyed good relations with both, India and Pakistan. But when the Taliban’s insurgency increased, Karzai became more suspicious towards Pakistan, and therefore inclined more to India.
When Barack Obama became the President of US in 2008 and, in 2009, US tried to intervene in Afghan election; it greatly affected Karzai’s foreign policy. In this period (2009-2014), the relations between Kabul-Washington and Kabul-Islamabad were at its lowest ebb. However, on the other hand, its relations with Moscow, Delhi and Beijing improved. In this regard, Karzai in 2010, 2011, and 2014 paid visits to China. He had a visit to Russia in 2011 and had 14 visits to India at the end of 2014.
Hamid Karzai expanded its strategic and defense ties with India in the second term of his rule. India constructed Zaranj-Delaram Road, and promised to build a port in Chabahar of Iran. In 2011, Karzai signed the strategic agreement with India.
Reasons behind Ghani’s Pivot to Pakistan
President Ashraf Ghani has inclined towards Pakistan due to the following reasons:
- To attract Pakistan’s assistance in the peace process;
- To decrease Afghanistan’s transit problems;
- Ashraf Ghani Needs Pakistan for the success of TAPI and CASA-1000 economic projects;
besides, Indian decision to refuse Afghanistan’s demands of military and combat assistance too affected President Ghani’s decisions. He gave some privileges to Pakistan.
The Indian refusal:
- In 2013, the then Afghan President Hamid Karzai visited India and submitted his wish-list to Indian officials. He asked military transport and combat assistance from India. Indians feared that by doing so, the Pakistani Lashkar-e-Taiba would kill Indian citizens. Therefore, New Delhi did not accept Karzai’s demand. But however later, India made efforts to buy such weapons from Moscow for Kabul. The demand was suspended by Ashraf Ghani in his last visit to Pakistan.
- Though India constructed Zaranj-Delaram road which could connect Afghanistan with Iran. Besides it made efforts to construct Iran’s Chabahar port. But according to an Indian analyst, New Delhi didn’t become successful while doing so, because the relations between US and Iran were tense due to its nuclear program.
- India is a critic of Chinese President Xi Jinping’s “One Belt, One Road” policy. India’s criticism of new Silk Road is another reason which contradicts with Ghani’s regional economic integration policy. Therefore, at the times, he was inclined more towards Pakistan.
Ashraf Ghani’s Foreign Policy
Largely Ashraf Ghani’s foreign policy revolves around three pivots:
First: peace and security;
Second: economic diplomacy;
Third: integrating Afghanistan with the region.
For his first priority, President Ghani improved its relations with Pakistan, China and Saudi Arabia. But his policy faces some setbacks regarding peace process. For instance, Ghani did not establish contacts with the Taliban, rather he insisted on the pressure-policy over Taliban. It seems so unlikely that peace can be attained through the pressurized policy. Therefore, Pressures can be considered an obstacle in the path of peace. The Last years of Afghan history has proved that peace cannot be made through power and Pressure.
His second and third goals were also impossible without the cooperation of the two countries, namely Pakistan and Afghanistan. Therefore, Ashraf Ghani has started his visits from the aforementioned countries.
In the beginning, Ashraf Ghani’s policy was criticized that he has placed India in its third axis of his foreign policy. But before his visit to India, he explained this by: “India is a part of our neighbors, which goes from Azerbaijan to India. India is a part of Asia and of donors of Afghanistan”.
Efforts in Keeping Balance Foreign Policy
Afghan President Ghani has criticized the non-aligned policy. Besides, he tries to keep a diplomatic balance in the region. Therefore, when he supported Saudi Arabia in the Yemen crisis, he then, visited Tehran too. Besides constructing warm relations with Pakistan, he now visited India to keep its foreign policy more balance.
Keeping in view the efforts, it can be said that Kabul for the first time tries to have good relations with both countries: simultaneously. This balance will be continues until Pakistan honestly cooperate in bringing peace and security to Afghanistan. When Kabul loses confidence on Islamabad, once again it will get closer to Delhi.
Achievements of Ghani’s visit to India
- Ghani has decreased the lack of confidence which emerged after Ghani’s visits to Pakistan and China. Therefore the Indian Prime Minister Narrendra Modi accepted Kabul’s long-awaited demand of heavy weapons.
- In the transit sector, Indian officials demanded to be a part of APTTA. Though keeping in view Pak-India relations it seems unlikely that Pakistan would accept Indian exports through Wagah border. But, through Karachi port, its possibility can be predictable;
- The construction work on Chabahar Port was suspended due to Iran’s nuclear issue with the World, but after the 5+1 countries deal with Iran it has been restarted.
- If Pakistan does play a positive role in peace and stability in Afghanistan in the upcoming months, the relations between Kabul-Delhi will become closer and closer.
- A memorandum of understanding was signed which will pave the way for the Afghan Doctors to be trained in India.
- Indians has expressed their readiness to assist Afghanistan, which would probably exert pressure on Pakistan.
 Suhasini Haidar, in step with Ghani’s Afghanistan, the Hindu, April 24, 2015.