Since the recapture of Kabul by the Northern Alliance and coalition forces in 2001 from the Taliban many nations including India have made significant investments in Afghanistan for various reasons in many different sectors mainly with the aim of helping the people of Afghanistan by providing resources and basic infrastructure in the war torn country. Some of these investments are aimed at governance and administration, to allow the new government exercise greater control over the lands. Others are made for humanitarian causes at the more grassroots level to improve the living conditions of common Afghans in the countryside.
Over the many years India, along with other countries, has made significant investments in this area which has created a positive change in the lives of many Afghans, from agricultural investments in villages to the creation of a new Parliament building in the capital city, India has provided monetary resources to the Afghan government to gain its as well as the goodwill of the local populations.
But due to the recent fall of the Afghan government and subsequent Taliban takeover, there are many concerns over the Taliban’s behaviour in terms of introducing laws and governing the country. Its ability to even maintain administrative control and enforce law and order is questionable. This paired with the extremist origins of the new regime and past experience of its radical methods cast a dark shadow over the investments made by India for the Afghan people over the years.
Indian Investments: Stuck?
Over the years India has made significant investments into Afghanistan in various sectors with the ultimate goal of rendering humanitarian relief to the people of Afghanistan. To this effect, some of the investments made by India are: –
New Parliament Building – It was inaugurated in 2015 by PM Narendra Modi during his state visit to Afghanistan, it was built for Afghanistan by India at the cost of $90 million. It is a project which deepened bilateral relations between the two countries and improved India’s soft power in the region.
Salma Dam – This 42 mW Dam is used for hydropower and irrigation projects. It was built against all odds and opened in 2016. It is known as the Afghan-India Friendship Dam. Located in Herat province, it is one of India’s high-profile projects. This will supply power to the surrounding communities and boost the region’s agriculture.
Stor Palace – Its a renovated palace in Kabul that was originally built in the late 19th century and held the headquarters of the Afghan foreign ministry until 1965. It was inaugurated in 2016 by President Ghani and PM Modi. A tripartite agreement for its restoration was reached in 2009 by India, Afghanistan, and the Aga Khan Development Network which was completed in 2016.
Zaranj-Delaram Highway – It is a road constructed by Indian investment and engineers from Zaranj near the Iranian border up to Delaram. This is connected by road in Iran up to the Chabahar port which provides India an indirect access to Afghanistan by passing Pakistan. The road was envisaged by India to continue further north all the way up to Kabul to provide greater access into the country, but later had to be scrapped in the face of Iranian objection. Instead this road ends after connecting with the Afghan ‘Ring Road’.
This road in recent years has significantly improved trade between the two nations estimated to be more than $1 billion. India has also waived off all customs duties and tariffs on goods coming from Afghanistan to boost trade between the nations.
Power Infrastructure – India has also invested in projects in Afghanistan which include the reconstruction of electrical infrastructure, such as the 220kV DC transmission line from Baghlan province, to Kabul in the south, to increase energy supply. Telecommunications infrastructure was also repaired in various regions and provinces by Indian contractors to provide for better communication facilities for the people as well as the government.
Healthcare Investments – India rebuilt a children’s hospital it had helped establish in Kabul in 1972, which was in shambles due to the war. Free consultation camps have been organized by ‘Indian Medical Missions’ in a number of locations. Prosthetic limbs have been fitted to thousands of people who lost them during the conflict. Even the most distant parts of the country have benefited from these medical assistance programs.
Transportation – According to the MEA, India provided urban transportation with 400 buses and 200 minibuses, 105 utility vehicles for municipalities, 285 military vehicles for the Afghan National Army, and ten ambulances for public hospitals in five cities. When Ariana, the Afghan national airline, was resuming operations, it even received three Air India aircraft.
Miscellaneous Investments – India has contributed to the education of the children of Afghanistan by providing basic infrastructure such as desks and benches for schools, solar panels in remote villages for electricity, and Sulabh toilet blocks in Kabul. India has also played a major role in capacity building, we have established training institutes, scholarships to Afghan university students, mentoring programs for government employees and other professionals across various fields as well as training for doctors, medical professionals and other individuals.
India had also signed a deal with Afghanistan for the construction of the Shatoot Dam in Kabul which would provide safe drinking water to upwards of 2 million residents. There have also been many small scale community development initiatives, undertaken by India, across the cities as well as the countryside, these projects, costing a total of $80 million, have garnered goodwill for India from the grassroots of Afghanistan.
Next Moves for India
On August 15 the Kabul government collapsed, president Ghani fled the country, and Taliban took over control of the country. As of 1st September 2021 the US military has left the Hamid Karzai International Airport (HKIA). There still happen to be many foreign citizens stuck in Afghanistan as well as people who collaborated with foreign countries and their families. At this point of time HKIA remains an uncontrolled airport without ATC or other navigational services.
After the fall of Kabul India evacuated its embassy from Kabul along with many other countries for security reasons. The memory of the fall of Afghanistan last time and the violence at the hands of the Taliban, such as the killing of Iranian diplomats in Mazar-i-Sharif and the storming of Najibullah’s UN compound are amongst other reasons why many countries evacuated their embassies.
But unlike last time Taliban has not indulged in widespread violence and killings as it did in 1996, this Taliban 2.0 seems to have taken a moderate approach in its policies. Many pro-government employees and collaborators have been granted amnesty and the kind of harassment minorities were expected to face has not been seen either. Taliban has the intention of creating a ruling government in Afghanistan along the lines of Sharia for which they require resources and the services of the people of Afghanistan.
The Taliban representatives have also met with Indian diplomats in Doha and have assured India of their government’s commitment towards the protection of minorities and not allowing its territory to be used against any country. Due to the fragmented nature of Taliban and the lack of a set organizational structure, training or discipline amongst its fighters, there happens to be a significant divide between what is being said and what is being done on the ground. As such it may be rational to presume that Taliban’s ‘assurances’, at this point of time are untrustworthy.
Taliban has also asked India to continue its investments and humanitarian assistance for the people of Afghanistan and have called India an important partner in the region, they have also asked for the continuation of trade between the two countries. Taliban along with the Haqqani Network have stated that Kashmir is a bilateral issue between India and Pakistan and have officially showed no interest to interfere.
In spite of Taliban’s assurances with respect to minorities, women’s rights, terrorist activities, trade and commerce, it is unlikely that most of these promises will be fulfilled by the Taliban, there have been many cases of women and minorities being attacked as well as many terrorists from jails all across Afghanistan being freed, as such it may be right to presume that in the coming months cross-border terror may intensify to some degree.
Till now no country has officially recognized the new Taliban government, Boris Johnson has appealed to countries not to recognize the new regime, India has also refuted claims of it recognizing Taliban. But as time goes by to foster better relations with the Taliban, which is in India’s interests, we may be forced to recognize the government or send an envoy to Kabul to negotiate with the Taliban to protect India’s interests and investments in Afghanistan. Until such a time that India is able to establish a cordial relationship with the current regime it is highly unlikely that anything can be said or predicted about the political landscape of Afghanistan.