In the latest sign that India and Afghanistan are continuing to strategically converge, New Delhi committed to providing Kabul with $1 billion in economic aid. Afghan President Ashraf Ghani held talks with Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi during an ongoing two-day state visit to India.
Ghani’s trip to India comes as both India and Afghanistan have seen their relationships with Pakistan deteriorate. Moreover, New Delhi’s new support for Kabul comes shortly after U.S. officials encouraged India to play a more active role in ensuring Afghanistan’s stability through direct security support as U.S. troops continue their draw-down.
Modi pledged the aid to Afghanistan after a meeting with Ghani, vowing to pledge India’s “abiding support for a unified, sovereign, democratic, peaceful, stable and prosperous Afghanistan.” As I discussed in November 2015, the Afghanistan-India bilateral relationship seemingly turned a corner once New Delhi decided to approve the provision of lethal equipment to Kabul. Eleven months ago, India confirmed that it was set to prove four Russian Mi-25 attack helicopters to Afghanistan, demonstrating that the Modi government was comfortable potentially drawing Pakistan’s ire over directly abetting the stability of the Afghan central government in Kabul. Both Ghani and his predecessor Hamid Karzai had requested expanded Indian military assistance leading up to New Delhi’s decision to provide the helicopters.
India’s renewed support for Afghanistan will be especially crucial in the current context given the ongoing intensification of the Taliban’s offensive across the country. Campaigns in Helmand and Uruzgan provinces have particularly intensified in recent weeks, leading to growing concerns in Afghanistan that the government could continue to cede territory to the extremist group that ruled the country before the U.S. invasion some fifteen years ago.
Both Modi and Ghani, in a statement issued after their meeting, additionally expressed concern ” at continued use of terrorism and violence in the region for achieving political objectives,” an implicit reference to Pakistan’s military and intelligence services. According to Voice of America, Indian Foreign Secretary S. Jaishankar clarified that Ghani and Modi spent considerable time discussing approaches to countering terrorism in the region.
Ghani will continue meetings in New Delhi on Thursday. Wednesday’s outcomes underline the steadily increasing cooperation between New Delhi and Kabul. India, in addition to underwriting Afghanistan’s economic and security needs, has partnered with Afghanistan and Iran to develop the Chabahar port in Iran, offering landlocked Afghanistan access to external markets while bypassing Pakistan. Modi, during a visit to Iran earlier this year, concluded the agreement to develop Chabahar, with Ghani and Iranian President Hassan Rouhani by his side.