Operation Cyclone was the code name for the United States Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) covert program to arm and finance the Jihadi warriors, mujahedeen, in Afghanistan from 1979 to 1989, prior to and during the military intervention by the USSR in support of its client, the Democratic Republic of Afghanistan.
As the Taliban push ahead with military offensives across Afghanistan, preparing to take over after the exit of US and NATO forces, India faces a situation in which it may have no role to play in that country, and in the worst case scenario, not even a diplomatic presence, God forbid, if the new rulers Taliban, supported by Pakistan do not give Indians visa to set up embassies, consulates, chancery, cultural centres or trade offices in different parts of the country. That would be a reversal of nearly 20 years of rebuilding a relationship that goes back centuries. As a small child I still remember the Kabuliwala, coming to our house to sell exotic Heeng and chilgoza, a tasty fruit of pine trees grown naturally at heights.
Afghanistan is vital to India’s strategic interests in the region. It is also perhaps the only SAARC nation whose people have much affection for India, due to the India’s unstinted support to Afghans, extensive medical support in India and support with food grains during the existing pandemic – The China Virus.
After a brief break between 1996 and 2001, when India joined the world in shunning the previous Taliban regime (only Pakistan, the UAE, and Saudi Arabia kept ties), one way New Delhi re-established ties with the country in the two decades after the 9/11 attacks was to pour in development assistance, under the protective umbrella of the US presence.
This was the timely help to help Afghani people. After five years of near-mediaeval rule by the Taliban from 1996, preceded by a half a dozen years of fighting among Mujahedeen warlords following the Red Army’s withdrawal in 1989, the decade before that too was of fighting as the US – backed, Pakistan – trained Mujahedeen took on the Soviet military might, Afghanistan was in ruins.
India built vital roads, dams, electricity transmission lines and substations, schools and hospitals, etc. India’s development assistance is now estimated to be worth well over US$ 3 billion. And unlike in other countries where India’s infrastructure projects have barely got off the ground or are mired in the host nation’s politics, like in Sri Lanka, it has delivered in Afghanistan.
The 2011 India-Afghanistan Strategic Partnership Agreement recommitted Indian assistance to help rebuild Afghanistan’s infrastructure and institutions; education and technical assistance for capacity-building in many areas; encourage investment in Afghanistan; and provide duty-free access to the Indian market. Bilateral trade is now worth US$ 1 Billion.
Speaking at the Afghanistan Conference in Geneva in November 2020, External Affairs Minister S Jaishankar said “no part of Afghanistan today is untouched by the 400 plus projects that India has undertaken in all 34 of Afghanistan’s provinces”. The fate of these projects is now up in the air. It is hoped that Taliban does not destroy the working projects.
Salma Dam: Already, there has been fighting in the area where one of India’s high-visibility project is located, the 42 MW Salma Dam in the Herat province. The hydropower and irrigation project, completed against many odds and inaugurated in the year 2016, is known as the Afghan-India Friendship Dam. In the past few weeks, the Taliban have mounted attacks in nearby places, killing several security personnel. The Taliban claim the area around the dam is now under their control.
Zaranj – Delaram Highway: The other high-profile project was the 218-km Zaranj-Delaram highway built by the Border Roads Organisation (BRO). Zaranj is located close to Afghanistan’s border with Iran. The US$ 150 million highway goes along the Khash Rud river to Delaram to the northeast of Zaranj, where it connects to a ring road that links Kandahar in the south, Ghazni and Kabul in the east, Mazar-i-Sharif in the north, and Herat in the west. With Pakistan denying India overland access for trade with Afghanistan, the highway is of strategic importance to New Delhi, as it provides an alternative route into the land locked Afghanistan through Iran’s Chabahar port. Excellency Jaishankar told the November 2020 Geneva Conference that India had transported 75,000 tonnes of wheat through Chabahar to Afghanistan during the pandemic. Over 300 Indian engineers and workers toiled alongside Afghans to build the road. According to a Ministry of External Affairs publication, 11 Indians and 129 Afghans lost their lives during the construction. Six of the Indians were killed in terrorist attacks; five in accidents. India has also built several smaller roads.
Parliament: The Afghan Parliament in Kabul was built by India at US$ 90 million. It was opened in 2015; Prime Minister Narendra Modi inaugurated the building. In an expansive speech about India-Afghanistan friendship, he quoted Rumi, who was born in Balkh, Afghanistan, and the immortal ‘Yaari hai imaan mera yaar meri zindagi’ from Zanjeer, featuring Pran in the role of Sher Khan, the Pathan. Modi described the building as India’s tribute to democracy in Afghanistan. A block in the building is named after former PM Late AB Vajpayeeji.
Stor Palace: In 2016, Afghan President Ashraf Ghani and Prime Minister Modi jointly inaugurated the restored Stor Palace in Kabul, originally built in the late 19th century, and which was the setting for the 1919 Rawalpindi Agreement by which Afghanistan became an independent country. The building housed the offices of the Afghan foreign minister and the ministry until 1965. In 2009, India, Afghanistan, and the Aga Khan Development Network signed a tripartite agreement for its restoration. The Aga Khan Trust for Culture completed the project between 2013 and 2016.
Power Infra: Other Indian projects in Afghanistan include the rebuilding of power infrastructure such as the 220kV DC transmission line from Pul-e-Khumri, capital of Baghlan province to the north of Kabul, to beef up electricity supply to the capital. Indian contractors and workers also restored telecommunications infrastructure in many provinces.
Transportation: According to the MEA, India gifted 400 buses and 200 mini-buses for urban transportation, 105 utility vehicles for municipalities, 285 military vehicles for the ANA Afghan National Army, and 10 ambulances for public hospitals in five cities. It also gave three Air India aircraft to Ariana, the Afghan national carrier, when it was restarting operations.
Other Contributions: India has contributed desks and benches for schools, and built solar panels in the remote villages, and Sulabh toilet blocks in Kabul. New Delhi has also played a role in building capacity, with vocational training institutes, scholarships to Afghan students, mentoring programmes in the civil service, and training for doctors and others. The author has trained batches in the area of eGovernance.
Social Projects: At the Geneva Conference in November, Jaishankar announced that India had concluded with Afghanistan an agreement for the construction of the Shatoot Dam in Kabul district, which would provide safe drinking water to 2 million residents. He also announced the start of some 100 community development projects worth US$ 80 million.
Last year, India pledged US$ 1 million for another Aga Khan Heritage project, the restoration of the Bala Hissar Fort, south of Kabul, whose origins go back to the 6th century. Bala Hissar went on to become a significant Mughal fort, parts of it were rebuilt by Jahangir, and it was used as a residence by Shah Jahan.
Despite the denial of an overland route by Pakistan, India-Afghanistan trade has grown with the establishment in 2017 of an air freight corridor. In 2019-20, bilateral trade crossed US$ 1.3 Billion, Afghan government officials said at a recent interaction with Indian exporters in Mumbai. The balance of trade is heavily tilted, exports from India are worth approximately US$ 900 million, while Afghanistan’s exports to India are about US$ 500 million. Afghan exports are mainly fresh and dried fruit. Some of this comes overland through the Wagah border; Pakistan has permitted Afghan trade with India through its territory. Indian exports to Afghanistan take place mainly through government-to-government contracts with Indian companies. Exports include pharma, medical equipment, computers and related materials, cement, and sugar.
Two air corridors, Kabul-Delhi and Herat-Delhi are operational now. Trade through Chabahar started in 2017 but is restricted by the absence of connectivity from the port to the Afghan border. Trade volumes are minuscule.
Afghanistan is bordered by Iran on the west, by Pakistan on the east and south, and by Turkmenistan, Uzbekistan, and Tajikistan on the north; a narrow strip, the Vakhan (Wakhan), extends in the northeast along Pakistan to the Xinjiang Uygur Autonomous Region of China.
What are Russia’s goals in Afghanistan? Putin’s worldview is all about reviving Russia as a global power with clout in strategic regions such as the Middle East and North Africa. Moscow wants to see Afghanistan stabilised so the Islamic State cannot establish a foothold close to its southern flank. The Kremlin’s most senior Afghanistan official accused the Afghan government of hypocrisy on Wednesday and said it needed to start proper negotiations with the Taliban about the country’s future before it was too late.
The Hazaras (Persian: هزاره, romanised: Hazāra; Hazaragi: آزره, romanised: Āzra) are a Persian-speaking ethnic group native to, and primarily residing in, the mountainous region of Hazarajat, in central Afghanistan. Since late 2001, the new Afghan government under ex – President Hamid Karzai had engaged in cordial relations with both Iran and the United States, even as relations between the United States and Iran have grown strained due to American objections to Iran’s nuclear program. India and Iran have expressed concern about the deteriorating security situation in Afghanistan and called for strengthening intra-Afghan dialogue to find a comprehensive political solution against the backdrop of the drawdown of US and international forces
More than 1,000 Afghan troops fled into neighbouring Tajikistan on Monday following clashes with the Taliban, as the insurgents’ amassed momentum on the battlefield. It will not like the refugees to enter in their country.
Afghanistan is responsible for more than 90 percent of the world’s illicit opium production, and 15 percent of the opiates produced in Afghanistan are smuggled through Central Asia on their way to Russia, Eastern Europe, and China. Furthermore, 20 percent of Afghan heroin, which accounts for more than 90 percent of world supply, is trafficked through Central Asia including Turkmenistan, which will intensify under Taliban.
Leader of Uzbekistan proposed transformation of “6 plus 2” into “6 plus 3”, which foresees involvement of 6 neighbouring countries to Afghanistan plus the United States, Russia and NATO.
There is also the fear of pan-Islamic groups based in Pakistan and Afghanistan stepping up support to Uighur groups in their quest for independence from China. The Chinese have not forgotten the ideological support for Uighurs by Islamic State leader Abu Bakr in July 2014, where he had thundered that “Muslim rights are forcibly seized in China, India, and Palestine”. Even earlier, in 2013, Al-Qaeda boss Ayman al-Zawahiri extended full support to fight “China’s takeover of East Turkestan”.
As officials from China, Pakistan and Afghanistan revealed an inclination to extend the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC), a flagship Belt and Road Initiative (BRI) project into Afghanistan, experts said that such projects could help boost Afghanistan’s exports, which is conducive to the country’s journey of economic slavery by China and India’s EAM took a dig in the SCO meet at Danube.
Turkey is all set to take over Hamid Karzai airport operations in Afghanistan. Knowing the Turkey Pakistan relationship and Pakistan’s immense hold on Taliban, it’s a major win for Pakistan.
As Taliban prepares for a forceful takeover in Kabul, Delhi needs to play the waiting game.