India: Manmohan Singh bids to regain foothold in Afghanistan
Prior to his two day visit to Kabul, Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh promises to restore his country influence in Afghanistan. This is the first high level visit of an Indian Premier since 1976. However, Singh is not expected to sign any bilateral agreement despite meaningful commercial links between India and Afghanistan. Some argue New Delhi would try to comply with some American interests in the region after having been granted the green light on the US-Indian nuclear deal. Both Pakistan and Iran have had a larger political stake in Afghanistan in the past.
NEW DELHI: India’s prime minister visits Afghanistan next week, the first by a Indian premier in nearly three decades, to help New Delhi regain its foothold in Kabul after losing out to arch rival Pakistan during the 1990s. Although India and Afghanistan shared close historic and cultural links, the turmoil in the central Asian nation had not allowed an Indian prime minister to visit Kabul since a trip in 1976 by Indira Gandhi. Singh’s two-day visit is largely symbolic and no major agreements are expected to be signed between the two countries. But the trip would signal India’s strong commitment to help rebuild the war-torn nation, officials and analysts said. “Reconstructing a state is not simply fighting terror,” said Sukh Deo Muni, a professor of international relations at New Delhi’s Jawaharlal Nehru University, referring to the US-led war on terror that was launched in Afghanistan to oust the Taliban regime. “A great deal needs to be done to restore life there and the prime minister’s visit is likely to give a final shape to rebuilding Afghanistan as a real, viable state,” he said. New Delhi was a key supporter of Afghan opposition forces led by the Northern Alliance that helped overthrow the Taliban and has been one of the main regional backers of Karzai, pledging aid of about $500 million. India is involved in training Afghan armed forces, police and diplomats, building roads, schools, hospitals, power lines, digging wells and supporting trade and services as Afghanistan makes slow progress to recover from two decades of conflict. Islamabad has not allowed overland transit for Indian goods bound for Afghanistan and further on to Central Asia, hampering trade. This has forced India to route trade through Bandar Abbas port in Iran and onward by a long, overland link. Besides holding talks with Afghan President Hamid Karzai and Foreign Minister Abdullah Abdullah, Singh is scheduled to take part in the groundbreaking ceremony for a new Afghan parliament building being constructed with Indian assistance. “We have had historic links and relations with Afghanistan. It is our desire to see Afghanistan prosperous and strong,” Singh said during his speech on India’s independence day anniversary this month. “We will try to strengthen and support democracy and economic growth in all possible ways,” the prime minister said. Singh and Karzai are also expected to discuss how they can encourage Pakistan to join them in boosting business and trade links and improve living conditions in one of the world’s poorest regions, officials said. Kabul is also keen that India join a proposal to pipe gas from Turkmenistan through Afghanistan and Pakistan and on to India. The project envisages building a $3.3 billion pipeline that would run for 1,600 km (990 miles) and feed India’s growing energy needs.