Thu, Dec 8, 2016 | updated 09:35 PM IST

President Ghani's second India visit promises closer ties

Updated: Sep 19, 2016 17:06 IST

By Anil Bhat

New Delhi [India], Sept.19 (ANI): President of the Islamic Republic of Afghanistan Dr Mohammad Ashraf Ghani's visit to India has pointed to the possibility of an enhanced and new role for India in countering Pakistan sponsored/supported terrorism in Afghanistan.

Afghanistan's army chief, General Qadam Shah Shahim, visited India from August 29 to September 2, , 2016, met the three service chiefs, Union Minister of State for External Affairs, former Army Chief Gen V K Singh and National Security Advisor Ajit Doval..

He also visited the Indian Military Academy, where he met 135 Afghan cadets out of around 800 undergoing training in India, 50 Para Brigade in Agra and Rajputana Rifles Regimental Centre and National Defence College.

The visit sought to strengthen bilateral defence ties and military cooperation between officers and soldiers of Afghan National Army and assurance by Indian government of further military assistance to Afghanistan.

General Shahim's visit coincided with U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry visit to India, and therefore, cannot be a mere coincidence. Kerry's visit also indicates a shift in the U.S. mindset on Afghanistan.

Till recently, a major factor preventing the United States from joining India or supporting its increased involvement in Afghanistan was of Pakistan being extremely "sensitive" on this issue, to put it mildly.

But things have changed. The United States has withheld USD 300 million aid to Pakistan for not delivering on its assurances to end terror in Afghanistan.

In view of this period being the last lap of the Obama administration and the following period being one of the new US president's initial teething phase, the U.S. Defence Department may also be apprehensive about the possibility of Pakistan upping its ante in Afghanistan.

President Ghani's visit on September 14 and 15 was marked by warmth and substance, quite in contrast to his first visit in April last year, when he had received a cool reception. At that time, Ghani was seen as leaning towards Pakistan in a bid to improve Afghanistan's security situation, hoping that Pakistan would use its influence to bring the Afghan Taliban to the table to negotiate peace in Afghanistan.

However, as Pakistan's post-US drawdown intentions have become clear. More Afghan blood got shed by Pakistan's proxies in Afghanistan; Dr. Ghani gave up on Pakistan and tilted toward India, a move that obviously irked Islamabad.

As relations between Kabul and Islamabad showed a downward trend, Afghanistan's relations with India improved. There have been frequent interactions between Prime Minister Narendra Modi and Dr. Ghani on telephone and video conferencing.

Meeting President Ghani, Prime Minister Modi recalled his visits to Kabul in December 2015 and Herat in June 2016, followed the fruitful discussions then and in his other meetings with the President in Tehran in May 2016 and in Tashkent in June 2016.

Both leaders have expressed their happiness at the close and regular consultations between India and Afghanistan at all levels, which have served to guide their strategic partnership and strengthen all-round cooperation.

With a major part of the discussion dwelling on the challenge of terrorism, both have agreed that the use of terrorism as a tool to achieve political objectives is "the single biggest threat to peace, stability and progress in the region and beyond," and they called upon the concerned to " put an end to all sponsorship, support, safe havens and sanctuaries to terrorists, including for those who target Afghanistan and India."

This was an obvious reference to Pakistan, which has been accused of sponsoring or supporting terrorism in the region - charges Islamabad denies.

India has promised USD 1 billion in development aid to Afghanistan and officials of both countries signed three agreements, including a treaty that would allow them to extradite criminals, economic offenders and people linked to terrorist activity.

While President Ghani stressed the significance of the Prime Minister Modi's assurance conveyed during the joint inauguration of the Storay Palace on 22 August 2016 via a video link that 1.25 billion people of India firmly stand with the Afghan people, the latter reiterated India's abiding support for a unified, sovereign, democratic, peaceful, stable and prosperous Afghanistan.

Mr. Narendra Modi has conveyed India's readiness to consider further requirements of Afghanistan for capacity and capability building in spheres such as education, health, agriculture, skill development, empowerment of women, energy, infrastructure and strengthening of democratic institutions.

Besides a sum of USD 1 billion, the Prime Minister Modi also proposed to supply world class and easily affordable medicines from India and cooperation in solar energy through mutually agreed instruments.

It has been agreed that the Strategic Partnership Council headed by India's External Affairs Minister and Afghanistan's Foreign Minister would meet shortly, review the recommendations of the four Joint Working Groups dealing with diverse areas of cooperation and impart further guidance. The leaders expressed satisfaction over signing of the extradition treaty and the agreement on cooperation in civil and commercial matters

It was also stressed that there would be expeditious implementation of the trilateral agreement involving Afghanistan, India and Iran, signed in May 2016. Using Chahbahar will augment connectivity within the region.

In this context, the leaders appreciated the recent decision taken by the three countries to convene a joint forum involving important stake holders, including from business and industry.

Both leaders have looked forward to the resumption of India-US-Afghanistan consultations. Prime Minister Modi has assured President Ghani that India would continue to engage with the international community to assist Afghanistan in all possible ways. In this context, the leaders underscored the significance of the Amritsar Ministerial Conference of the Heart of Asia-Istanbul Process (HoA).

They noted that the choice of Amritsar underscored the value of restoring connectivity and was in consonance with this year's theme for HoA, 'Addressing Challenges, Achieving Prosperity'. It also underscores that India and Afghanistan remain committed to the expeditious realization of seamless two-way connectivity between South Asia and Central Asia.

Mr. Modi has extended an invitation to Dr. Ghani to grace the inauguration of the Amritsar Ministerial Conference, which the latter accepted.

Addressing seniors of Indian industry, President Ghani highlighted the trade and economic opportunities and potential of Afghanistan. His address to a select gathering of strategic experts at the Institute for Defence Studies and Analyses (IDSA) on 'Fifth Wave of Political Violence and Global Terrorism,' was indeed well appreciated.

Dwelling on the current global state of the 'fifth wave' of political violence, President Ghani termed terrorism as a medium term challenge. He called for a fundamental change in the regional and global response to it through improved information sharing and regional understanding, increased state level cooperation, greater public understanding of democratic processes through debates and discourses, and greater role of civil society and businesses.

Describing the 'fifth wave' as probably one of the "most well-financed movements in history" he observed that "in the absence of rules of the game", and due to the willingness of some states to sponsor non-state actors, the phenomena has evolved over the years with deepened and broadened techniques. The understanding of the current political violence has largely been reactive, due to which global actions have been sporadic and not sustained, he observed.

Elaborating on the revolution in networking as a striking feature of the fifth wave, the Afghan president observed that the terrorist networks that previously used to be face-to-face or in small groups have now become face-to-faceless, resulting in a distinct form of mobilisation.

Political violence is not confined to a specific culture, religion or geographic space, and requires careful analysis. Criminality and political violence have become organically related, he said, adding that there is a distinctive form of violence that is inflicted on the citizens and that results in erosion of the state authority.

Insisting that the minority groups should not be allowed to hijack civilisations, the President pointed out that the terrorists target public spaces to disrupt the compact between the citizens and the state. The objective is to induce fear in a systematic manner which effectively breaks the bond of trust between citizens and state.

Director General, IDSA, Jayant Prasad lauded President Ghani for his message of optimism and confidence that reflected the resilience, patience and perseverance of the Afghan people.

The stage seems set for substantial upgradation of strategic and economic ties between India and Afghanistan.

The views expressed in the above article are that of Col (retired) Anil Bhat, a strategic analyst. (ANI)