Struggling through the withdrawal of most NATO forces, the upcoming presidential elections in April 2014, and lingering economic instability, Afghanistan now looks toward India for enhanced multidimensional cooperation.
Afghan President Hamid Karzai, during his four-day work visit to India from December 12–15, met Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, Foreign Minister Salman Khurshid, and other Indian officials to discuss ways to enhance bilateral relations and cooperation in trade, defense, and security.
According to a joint press release, the two countries agreed on deepening defense and security cooperation, through enhancement in training and meeting the equipment and infrastructure needs of Afghanistan National Security and Defense Forces that would increase their operational capabilities and mobility. The two leaders also agreed to expand opportunities for higher military education in India for Afghan officers.
A report by Press Trust of India (PTI) highlights that Karzai asked India for stepping up military aid, including lethal and non-lethal weapons. There are indications that the Indian government is not averse to Karzai’s demands. Officials of Indian External affairs Ministry said the demands are being considered as they need to consider many factors like surpluses and licensing from other countries.
Meanwhile, analysts are of the view that this cooperation is to address India’s own security concerns. Manoj Rai, the director of the Society for Participatory Research in Asia said, “There seems to great uncertainty around post-2014 Afghanistan scenario after withdrawal of NATO forces in 2014.”
“The delay in the signing of the Bilateral Security Agreement (BSA) between the U.S. and Afghanistan, coupled with Obama’s zero-option dictate has further deepened suspense on the future of Afghanistan’s security, democracy, and development. Whatever it may be, uncertainty and/or suspense, Indian policy makers and international strategists know it well that India’s own security concerns are bound to rise,” Rai said.
While the security scenario bothers both countries, Afghanistan is also gravely concerned by the impact of the lurking instability on its economy.
Mirweis Azizi, an economist from Kandhar who has worked with various international NGOs in Afghanistan said, “There is already a decline in Afghan business by six positions from last year’s business ranking, and the situation is likely to worsen after NATO withdraws and instability increases.” He said that the Afghan common man wants that India must support Afghanistan in trade and creating employment in the country.
Azizi, who is a part of the local youth movement called “Afghanistan Forward,” said that according to the World Bank’s 2012 report, no concrete plans have been formulated for the economic stability of the country yet, which Afghanistan ranks at 160th out of 183 economies for the ease of doing business. “This situation is likely to worsen after the withdrawal on account of instability,” he said.
Since the war-torn country is going for presidential elections next year, the concerns have become graver as Karzai has already served for two maximum terms. Azizi said there are at least six serious candidates with a chance of winning. “Whoever wins, will face the acute problem of development of the country as whole and guarding against the utilization of country’s natural resources, while simultaneously ensuring that corruption, factional conflict, and imbalance is curtailed.”
Rai points out that incidentally as Afghanistan moves into the presidential elections, India will be facing national general elections for a new government in New Delhi next year; but so far India’s responses to future possibilities in Afghanistan have been business as usual. However, Rai said that NATO withdrawal, fear of Afghan’s turbulent next year’s elections, and the political developments in Maldives, Bangladesh and Nepal coupled with “not so positive so far” responses from new Pakistan government can put India in a difficult situation.
According to Rai, India should help Afghanistan in conducting free and fair elections. “Make investment in deepening democracy there specially strengthening local government there—a pact was signed between 2 governments in this regard but unfortunately not realized,” he said.
While Azizi believes that India should build up ways for mutual trade and provide free route to Afghanis for health care. He said that Afghan people hope that the relation between Pakistan and India improve soon so Pakistan stops interference in Afghanistan internal matters and becomes less skeptic about Afghanistan-India strong brotherhood relationship.
Furthermore, Aziz stressed that Afghan Youth needs the greatest support and attention, as more than 65 percent of Afghan’s population is youth, it’s future. “If tomorrow we have strong educated people in power, it will automatically give us a strong nation, and a strong nation is in the benefits of all countries in Asia and for the whole world,” he said.