Indian Decade

Battle of Nerves

Indian angst over an attack on its citizens in Kabul is both understandable and troubling.

(This is the fourth in a series of dispatches from India Decade blogger Sanjay Kumar, who is currently on assignment in Afghanistan.)

This is my fourth trip to Afghanistan—and my most nerve-wracking so far. The confidence with which I used to roam around Kabul and interact with people on the street is somehow missing, despite my best efforts. The attack in February on Indians at a guest house in Kabul, in which seven people lost their lives, has also shaken the confidence of other Indians, a group generally viewed favorably by Afghans.

This time, however, I’ve remained businesslike in my dealings here and haven’t ventured out unnecessarily for shopping or sightseeing. I’m not alone. One Indian I spoke with who has been working in Kabul for the past seven years told me he finds it difficult to trust anyone here.

It’s a common sentiment now, sadly. A news report I saw a few days ago said India had suspended medical aid and teaching programmes in Afghanistan and that Indian businesses and charities are slashing staff over fears that they’re increasingly being targeted by militants.

But does this type of paranoia really suit a regional power like India?

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The other day I was in Charkala, in the west of Kabul. A young woman with two kids started talking to me and learned that I was from India. She asked me, in broken Urdu (many Afghans can speak Urdu as a result of the influence of Bollywood), to suggest some Indian doctors in Kabul who could treat her two-year-old daughter, who is apparently suffering from a mental condition; she wouldn’t leave me unless I give her some names.

The incident made me think of news reports following the February attack stating that the Indian medical mission that is working in five provinces in Afghanistan was being suspended. Can India leave the suffering people of Afghanistan to their own fate? Can India abdicate its responsibility in helping its historical and cultural neighbour and allow dark forces to consolidate again? Pakistan shares a more than 2500-kilometer border with Afghanistan, yet has hardly any goodwill with Afghans. India, meanwhile, has no direct geographical link yet it’s regarded tremendously highly.