Show of support

Prime Minister Manmohan Singh’s emphatic show of support for Afghanistan during his recent visit to that country is heartening. In the context of the growing insurgency and looming uncertainty there, many countries, including the US, have been looking for ways to cut and run. In sharp contrast, the Afghans were assured that India will remain engaged with their country and its commitment is for the long haul.

India and Afghanistan have now entered into a strategic partnership. Singh has said that India is keen on deepening co-operation with Afghanistan and has stepped up its aid  over the next two years to $2 billion. The announcement of a strategic partnership is bound to have stirred anxieties in Pakistan.

India was right to clarify that this relationship with Kabul is not aimed at third countries. Although India and Afghanistan are sure to have discussed in private Osama bin Laden’s death, the two countries did well not to publicly point fingers at Pakistan’s political and military elite for providing him with that sanctuary. That would have only raised hackles in Pakistan without nudging it to mend its ways.

India has been anxious about President Hamid Karzai’s reconciliation process as this involves engaging the Taliban and allowing them into a future government. For India this is fraught with problems as it could result in a sharp increase in Pakistan’s influence in Kabul. Notwithstanding its own anxieties India has graciously extended support for Karzai’s effort, even as it has quietly stress that ‘outsiders’ should not be determining the future of Afghans.

India has contributed enormously to Afghanistan’s reconstruction, working in such key areas as health, education, infrastructure and so on. This has won it much public goodwill. But this might not be enough to protect its interests in Afghanistan should Kabul fall into hostile hands. This makes it imperative for India to build a broad coalition of countries that are committed to securing peace and democracy in Afghanistan. It is not enough for Delhi to extend support for an inclusive peace process. It must ensure that the region backs this too.

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