Indo-Afghan ties blossom amidst turmoil

Afghanistan's ties with India this year were reflected by high-level visits and a reaffirmation by New Delhi to ensure the uplift of war-ravaged country.

india Updated: Dec 27, 2006 17:05 IST

Even as it battles internal turmoil, Afghanistan's blossoming relations with India this year were reflected by high-level visits and a reaffirmation by New Delhi to ensure the uplift of the war-ravaged country.

A move piloted by New Delhi to make Afghanistan a member of the South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation (SAARC) marked a high point in bilateral ties.

India also remained a key player in Afghanistan's reconstruction, hosting an international meet in November that discussed developmental efforts.

The security of Indians in Afghanistan, however, remained a worry for New Delhi, especially after two of its citizens -- Maniappan Kutty and K Suryanarayana -- were abducted and killed by the Taliban in a bid to drive Indians out of the country.

In monetary terms, Indian aid to Afghanistan now stands at close to $700 million, placing it at the top of the table among countries rendering help to Kabul.

A senior Afghan foreign ministry source here said though India is technically not a "donor" country under the terms devised as part of the Bonn process in 2001, it offers 1,000 scholarships for Afghan students for study in India besides making a deep contribution in all fields of reconstruction.

These include the construction of the country's new parliament complex that will be ready by 2007, the building of roads, dams, schools, hospitals and power stations, and helping set up quality control mechanisms for better channelling of donor aid.

The foreign ministry source said Afghanistan's relations with India were "warm and historical", while those with "donor countries" were essentially a "relationship of help".

The source noted that Afghanistan's bonds with India were deeper and closer than those with any of the countries with which it shared a border, and there were no exceptions.

"Our thinking about the international situation is also alike, and the two countries have good coordination in the United Nations," the source said.

India's ambassador Rakesh Sood said the warmth of the relationship was re-elected by the fact that President Hamid Karzai visited India twice this year - on a state visit in April and in November for the Regional Economic Cooperation Conference.

Karzai also received the Indira Gandhi prize for peace and international understanding.

Prime Minister Manmohan Singh visited Afghanistan in August and announced a slew of measures that were put into effect in the year.

"In that sense, we see stepped up activity this year but in a fundamental sense, the relationship has been steady and consistent since 2001 when President Karzai came to head the government after the Bonn accord," Sood said.

Besides, Indian projects and social or physical infrastructure-building activity has not been confined to any particular region of the country though workers and professionals from India have been killed by extremists while performing their duty.

Indian public companies have built roads in southern Afghanistan where many foreign entities dread to set foot.

In Kandhar, the hub of Taliban activity, India's Central Warehousing Corporation has built a cold storage facility with a 5,000-million tonne capacity.

India-assisted dams and power stations have been built in Afghanistan's northern plains region and the Herat area in the west.

Earlier this month, India gave Afghanistan defensive military equipment, such as armoured checkposts and watch-towers, worth three million dollars.

When in New Delhi last month, Karzai sought Indian aid in agri-technology that would halt desertification, deforestation and water wastage in Afghanistan.

Uptil the 1970s, the country was self-sufficient in food, but war, drought and mismanagement since then has wreaked havoc with its agricultural system.

India-Afghanistan relations have grown progressively since the start of the Bonn process in 2001 following the ouster of the Taliban regime in the country, and Foreign Minister Rangeen Dadfar Spanta said this year that he envisioned Afghanistan as a "bridge between the Islamic world and the family of pluralistic democracies".

First Published: Dec 27, 2006 12:03 IST