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Why Afghanistan matters to India

The brutal murder of another Indian in Afghanistan has underlined India's high strategic and economic stakes in the country.

india Updated: May 01, 2006 14:23 IST

The brutal murder of another Indian engineer in Afghanistan has underlined India's high strategic and economic stakes in the reconstruction of the war-torn country that acts as a gateway to resource-rich Central Asia.

The murder of Hyderabad-based engineer K Suryanaryana by the Taliban militia is the third incident in the past five months in which an Indian working in Afghanistan has been killed to intimidate Indians into leaving that country.

This has led some to question the Government's decision to expose around 2,000 Indians working in Afghanistan to potential terrorist attacks at the hands of the Taliban.

But New Delhi has not been unnerved by these attacks as it has vital stakes in a "stable, democratic and prosperous Afghanistan" in the words of Prime Minister Manmohan Singh.

Instead, the Government has reinforced security for Indian workers and sent a powerful message across that such acts of terror will not stop it from continuing its "fraternal assistance" to Afghanistan.

The reasons for New Delhi's tenacity in the face of terror attacks are not far to seek: Afghanistan, owing to its strategic location and its history, is much too important a country to leave like that, specially after New Delhi had regained its influence in the country post 9/11.

India's profile in Afghanistan is growing and its relations with Kabul are becoming broad-based straddling diverse sectors including economy, education and technology in sharp contrast to the situation over five years ago when it has practically no contact with the Taliban regime that was almost hostile to New Delhi.

This was evident when Indian negotiators were dealing with the hijackers of the IC-814 in Kandahar.

The renewed India-Afghan bonhomie is being deeply resented by Pakistan that treated the country, specially when it was under the Taliban rule, as its backyard.

Islamabad justified its power games in Kabul saying that it provided it necessary strategic depth.

No wonder, five months ago the Taliban terrorists targeted Maniyappan Ramankutty, an Indian driver working with Border Roads Organization on the crucial Zaranz-Delaram road that sought to connect Afghanistan to Iran and Central Asia and reduce dependence on Pakistan.

Most importantly, India's engagement with Afghanistan is vital for its ongoing battle against terrorism in the region that derives its moral and material support from the Taliban and powerful Afghan opium lords.

During Afghan President Hamid Karzai's visit to India early this month, India and Afghanistan decided to deepen their cooperation in fighting terrorism and asked Pakistan to "join hands" against the common scourge.

India has pledged $650 million for Afghanistan's reconstruction in a slew of projects ranging from roads and infrastructure to grassroots development.

Besides security issues, the importance of Afghanistan in promoting economic and cultural integration between South Asia and Central Asia can't be missed. If Pakistan allows India overland transit rights, it can multiply its trade with Central Asia a hundred times.

"We hope a day will come when goods and people can move freely from India to Afghanistan and Central Asia through the overland route in Pakistan," Karzai said.

The prospects of enhanced trade and investment between the two countries are bright with the Afghan economy recovering and foreign investors showing an interest in investing in that country.

According to Karzai, the World Bank rates Afghanistan among the best countries to do business with and where investments are fully protected.

Most importantly, Afghanistan is central to regional stability and with the country's inclusion in the South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation (SAARC), its importance for India can only grow in the coming months.