Afghanistan president Ashraf Ghani is no longer seen as the pro-Pakistan leader many thought him to be as he arrives in India on a two-day visit from Wednesday.
For New Delhi, this is a heart-warming change. But it takes more than Ghani’s growing disillusionment with Pakistan to bring regional stability. The change in Ghani’s pro-Pakistan posture has been gradual and he grew wiser with the experiences.
Ghani will meet Prime Minister Narendra Modi, who will host a lunch in his honour, among other engagements in the country.
Here’s what the two leaders may talk about:
Counter-terror cooperation and concern over Pakistan
The two countries would easily agree on one concern this time around: Safe haven for terrorists in Pakistan.
The change in Ghani’s pro-Pakistan posture has been gradual and he grew wiser with the experiences. India was not among the first countries he visited after assuming office. Ghani jetted into China, Saudi Arabia, and Pakistan before he set foot in India.
Soon after taking office, Ghani took the unprecedented step of calling on Pakistan army chief Raheel Sharif in Rawalpindi. Pakistan accorded Ghani a reception which it reserves for a Chinese president or the king of Saudi Arabia. Prime minister Nawaz Sharif and military chiefs were on the red carpet to receive him and a 21 gun salute blasted off.
However, disillusionment set in soon enough with Afghanistan blaming Pakistan for not reigning in the terrorist outfits which Kabul thinks are under its control. For India, what happens in Afghanistan has direct national security implications. Two countries are looking at ways to deepen counter-terrorism ties. The extradition treaty which is set to be signed after the meeting between Ghani and PM Modi is a step in this direction.
Afghanistan has been keen on stepping up the defence ties with India beyond the training of personnel. The Modi government has responded positively in firming up defence ties. Afghanistan has been demanding increased defence supplies, including lethal weapons from India, which for the first time gave four Mi-25 attack helicopters to the war-torn country. Measures to step up ties in this area is expected.
Ghani is not likely to get this one so easily: Trade route access to India via Pakistan. For Pakistan, that is like giving concession to India rather than anything else. With India and Pakistan locked in a war of rhetoric, this plan will not materialise anytime soon.
Islamabad brushed off Kabul’s recent threat to block Pakistan’s trade access to the Central Asian states if it didn’t allow Afghanistan to trade with India via the Wagah border. Ghani will be disappointed. In the meeting, the two leaders will talk about benefits that will accrue to Afghanistan and from direct access for Afghan goods and trucks to Indian territory including all Afghan commodities.
Peace talks with Taliban
The peace talks with Taliban remain a non-starter primarily because of the growing trust deficit between Pakistan and Afghanistan. In December last year, the US, Afghanistan and Pakistan were keen on restarting the peace process with Taliban. They seemed keen on making considerable progress in “result-oriented” peace process before April this year.
The high hopes Ghani had pinned on Pakistan started to wear thin. The terror attacks in Afghanistan were traced to Pakistan for its planning. With Mullah Omar’s death, Taliban ceased to be the coherent group they once projected they were.
However, there is no denying the fact that no Taliban integration is possible without Pakistan’s help.