Afghanistan’s President, Dr Ashraf Ghani visited India on April 28, 2015. It was his maiden visit to the country, and reasserted a sense of unity between both countries, and that both countries can build a future based on their past. For his part, the Indian Prime Minister, Narendra Modi, expressed the value he placed on the friendship and goodwill of the Afghan people, and promised that India would walk shoulder to shoulder with the people of Afghanistan.
In the run up to this meeting, the state of events didn’t suggest this possibility. Afghanistan’s foreign policy had reflected a heavy priority to, as it appeared, lean towards a closer spot to Pakistan. The efforts taken in building relations with Pakistan did make India uncomfortable: and thus, Ghani’s reassuring words couldn’t have come at a better time. When Ghani made it to office, he was clear about maintaining close ties with the Pakistani military establishment: and what ensued put India in a place of worry. India watched quietly in discomfort as Afghan cadets were sent to Pakistan for military training, as Pakistani intelligence officers were allowed to interrogate detainees in Afghan detention facilities, as military operations were permitted to be conducted in Afghani territory when the Pakistani military sought for it.
Ghani is a smart leader: with not just Afghanistan’s future in mind, but also the region’s. If his speech at the 18th SAARC summit in Kathmandu was any indication, it would be in this direction. His recognition and actual terming of Afghanistan’s ongoing state of insecurity as a proxy war between India and Pakistan became an official recognition of the Pakistani interference in Afghanistan, and drove home the point that Afghanistan acknowledged Pakistan’s discomfort at India’s increasing role in Afghanistan
One might be quick to dismiss Ghani’s power play as myopic, for having chosen to welcome one into its fold to the inclusion of the other. But, the truth is, Afghanistan is looking for a path to sustainable peace through the olive branch of full-fledged and sincere cooperation. As it stands, that Pakistan has something of a hold over the leadership of the Afghan Taliban on Afghani soil is something Afghanistan has to acknowledge and work around. Speaking a language of peace, Kabul has sought to make peaceful negotiations possible by embracing Islamabad. At first, the policy of amity with Pakistan may have seemed disparaging to the region’s peace, and may have seemed like an avenue leading to a fall out with India. However, in the bigger picture, it is obvious that peace cannot come to the region until all the key players are willing to sit at one negotiation table.
India has worked with Afghanistan on the development front: from education to institution building. This dimension of associations between India and Afghanistan has a potential ripple effect in store, for it will invariably put all the three nations in the region on a path to peace. But, for this peace to be sustainable, it is important that it start from a place of amity and equality. Against this backdrop, Ghani’s closeness to Pakistan and his visit to India, are not a reflection of an isolation of a nation by another, but rather, a sign of harmonious amity in the days to come, regardless of any social divisiveness.
It is imperative that the three nations cooperate, and build an alliance that includes all the three on an equal footing. Given the fact that extremism, militancy, terror and gender issues are huge challenges that confront all the three nations, there is really no energy left in the subcontinent to spare to a proxy war. While what Ghani makes of the relations with both nations still remains to be seen, there is evidently a positive start in place.