India and Afghanistan Strengthen Their Cooperation

05.05.2018 Author: Dmitry Bokarev

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The Islamic Republic of Afghanistan (IRA) is still going through hard times. The country is teeming with terrorist groups who are fighting both with the legitimate government and with one another. Many countries, including the US, believe that the issue should be resolved first and foremost with military means, which is proved by US President Donald Trump’s program that he expressed in August 2017. But the recent decades have already shown that relying exclusively on force leads to failure in the case with Afghanistan. Permanent foreign military presence on Afghan soil, alongside poverty and unemployment, incites anger in the people and pushes them to join the terrorists. That is why outside help in its socio-economic development has now great value for the IRA, as well as investment in its peaceful projects. Meanwhile, the US does not mention any plans in this area. In his August speech, Donald Trump called for India to take on this duty.

It is worth noting that India already has great credit for the peaceful Afghan economic recovery, including the energy sector, regardless of the calls by Washington, DC.

One of the key events that have to do with the recovery of the war-ravaged Afghanistan was the opening of the reconstructed Salma Dam in Herat province. The war caused great damage to this strategically important construction that was built in 1976. India took on the reconstruction work. The solemn opening of the reconstructed Afghan-India Friendship Dam, as it is called now, took place in June 2016. The IRA President Ashraf Ghani and the Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi were present at the ceremony. According to Narendra Modi, this was a historical moment in the Afghan-Indian relations. He also stated that putting the dam into operation, which provides both agricultural irrigation and electricity generation on a large territory, is an important event for the whole region and marks the peaceful and prosperous future of Afghanistan.

There are many other projects on the Afghan recovery that India is either planning to take part in or already doing so. These include the transport infrastructure and water supply reconstruction, building new housing and medical institutions. September 2017 saw the meeting of the IRA Minister of Foreign Affairs Salahuddin Rabbani and his Indian counterpart Sushma Swaraj, which resulted in the arrangement that India would take part in 116 of those projects in 31 IRA provinces. Among other things, India is planning to build several new hydroelectric and solar energy power plants.

Special attention has to be paid to the project of the Shahtoot HPP, which is going to be built near the IRA capital Kabul. This power plant is to play a major part not only in electricity generation, but also in providing clean fresh water for the capital denizens. The media claim that the recent years saw the depletion of groundwater and increasing overpopulation in Kabul, which caused a greater need for this crucial resource. The Shahtoot HPP will be able to provide water for 2 million people. The project financing is expected to come from the Indian investment. The HPP construction cost will roughly amount to $260 million.

Another important Indian-Afghan project is the Chabahar international transport corridor, which joins the two countries via Iran. The key point of this roadway is the port city of Chabahar, which gave its name to the whole project. It is located at the seashore of the Gulf of Oman and it is the biggest Iranian port after Bandar Abbas. One can get there in no time from the largest Indian port of Mumbai across the Arabian Sea.

In order to get convenient transport connections with Afghanistan and other Central Asian countries around its longtime enemy Pakistan, India chose to take part in the development of Chabahar and made large investment into it. As a result of the trilateral Iranian-Afghan-Indian agreement, India received two Chabahar docks for lease in order to make them a transit point through which Indian goods will go to the landlocked Afghanistan and Afghan goods will go to India via Iran.

The Chabahar international transport corridor will require a lot of further work, however it is already operative. Large Indian agricultural shipments already went through it to Afghanistan in 2017. The Chabahar project is expected to generate increasing profit to the countries involved, as the port and the transport infrastructure get further development.

The natural continuation of improving the transport links between India and Afghanistan is negotiating creating a number of free economic zones in both countries, which would enable them to export their goods to each other on favorable conditions. These negotiations came to light in October 2017. According to the IRA Ministry of Commerce representatives, if these negotiations end successfully, the Indian-Afghan bilateral trade will greatly increase. Moreover, Afghanistan will be able to trade with other countries via India.

India takes part in strengthening the Afghan defense capability as well. The IRA soldiers are trained in the Indian territory. Moreover, India provides Afghanistan with military hardware. Thus, in December 2017, the media reported the Indian intention to ship a new consignment of Russian-made combat helicopters. Afghanistan previously received Russian helicopters from India, which play a crucial part in the Afghan air force. In March 2018, the media reported that those were four Mi-24 helicopters, which would be bought from the Republic of Belarus. India intends to pay for the purchase. India also intends to support Afghanistan by providing repair works for other Russian helicopters of the IRA air force.

In conclusion, we may note that the Indian support of Afghanistan is very important for the whole Central Asia. Various extremist activities turned Afghanistan into a source of terrorist threat both for the neighboring countries and for the whole world. The US military operations did not solve the problem completely and in a way led to escalating violence. Only sustainable economic growth can enable Afghanistan to completely derail terrorism and establish the rule of law. Even the US had to admit that India does more work in this sphere than any other neighboring country of the IRA. Thus, at the end of 2017, Pentagon published a report which called India the most reliable partner of Afghanistan in the region, because it provided the biggest contribution to the development of the whole region. However, despite having given credit to India, Washington, DC is not rushing to follow the New Delhi lead, limiting its participation in the Afghan fate to increasing its military presence.

Nevertheless, there is hope that other neighboring countries of the IRA will join India over time, when they see the positive results of its activities.

Dmitry Bokarev, political observer, exclusively for the online magazine “New Eastern Outlook.