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#2660, 27 August 2008
Indo-Afghan Relations and Pakistan Factor
Bimla Kumari
Lecturer, Patna University

The Afghan President, Hamid Karzai's visit to India on 4 August following the SAARC summit held in Colombo, was significant to India in many respects. Karzai, was the first to hold the Pakistani spy agency responsible for the 7 July suicide attack on the Indian embassy in Kabul. Though Yousaf Raza Gilani, Pakistan's Prime Minister initially rejected these allegations, after Manmohan Singh raised the issue during the SAARC summit, he assured to conduct an independent investigation to ascertain the involvement of the ISI.

Afghanistan has long accused Pakistan's intelligence agencies for backing the Taliban-led insurgency. It also has complained repeatedly that Pakistan-based militants are crossing the border to launch terrorist attacks in Afghanistan. Sufficient funding has been allocated to organize systematic attacks on the Afghan government and Indian personnel. In fact, the ISI's anti-India efforts have already been boosted by a resolution adopted at a conclave of jihadi outfits in early June in Rawalpindi this year. These militant groups, like the Hizb-ul-Mujahideen, the Jaish-e-Mohammad and the Lashkar-e-Tayiba, primarily operating in Jammu & Kashmir, have committed more fighters for operations in Afghanistan. This has the potential of taking the 'proxy war' from Kashmir to Afghanistan, where ISI's operations are almost three-decades old and its penetration levels are extremely comprehensive.

Rekindling of Indo-Afghan bonhomine has become an eyesore for Pakistan. The Karzai government has strengthened its ties with India, and allowed Indian consulates in Jalalabad, Kandahar, Herat, and Mazar-e-Sharif. It has also kept alive the possibility of inviting India to help train the new Afghan army, and to help in dam construction in the northeastern Afghan province of Kunar. During Hamid Karzai's visit, Manmohan Singh had conveyed India's "abiding commitment" to Afghanistan's efforts to build a stable, pluralistic and prosperous society. "Such an ambition is not only in keeping with our age-old association with Afghanistan but is necessary for regional peace and stability," the Prime Minister underlined. As a demonstration he announced a new assistance of US$450 million (approx Rs 2,000 crore) to meet the requirement of ongoing and forthcoming projects. This aid package is ! in addition to US$750 million already committed by India in Afghanistan to implement projects in various sectors including infrastructure development, education, healthcare and social development. The Indian Prime Minister also offered to consider extending a US$50 million Line of Credit facility to Afghanistan in order to promote bilateral trade and investment. Manmohan Singh described the crucial Zaranj-Delaram highway, being constructed by India in western Afghanistan as a "symbol of cooperation", which has been completed and would be handed over soon to the Afghan government.

The ISI is upset and apprehensive about growing Indian profile. India's engagements with Kabul have been the bone of contention between Pakistan and India. The war in Afghanistan is part of Pakistan's larger struggle with India. Afghanistan has been a prize that Pakistan and India have fought over directly and indirectly for decades. The new initiative by India, Russia and Iran to construct trade routes that bypass Pakistan and especially its eastern port of Karachi has also put Pakistan in the dock. Also, Iran and India are planning to construct new rail and road links that will link Western Afghanistan with Iranian ports on the Arabian Sea.

There is another problem - poppy which unites Taliban, ISI and Pakistan-supported terrorist organizations which are keen to destabilize the situation in the area. Most of the poppy cultivation is in southern Afghanistan, close to the Pakistan border. The poppy crop is profitable for the farmer, the corrupt bureaucracy and above all, the Taliban. As a result Taliban gets unlimited resources to fight the war against the US and does not allow the Karzai government to establish its auhtority. The poppy cultivation in southern Afghanistan and Taliban's stake in it, also hinders development projects in which India has invested heavily. Increased flow of drugs through Pakistan is bound to affect India.

For the ISI, with an enduring interest in the destabilization of Afghanistan and reinstating its prot??g??s in Kabul, Indian projects are seen as undermining Pakistan's influence in that country. As a result, the execution of a plan of action to force India to quit Afghanistan or at least to scale down its presence has become inevitable. The challenge is indeed serious in nature, necessitating urgent attention if long-term Indian interests are to be sustained and to ensure that Indo-Afghan relations are not held ransom to such forces. Indeed, Afghanistan has emerged as a new theatre of Pakistani aggression on India's interests.

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