Afghan President Ashraf Ghani has tried striking up a new relationship with neighboring Pakistan by resisting reliance on its archival India.
But after Islamabad failed to deliver to the negotiating table leaders of the Afghan Taliban who are believed to be hiding in Pakistan, Ghani is in now in India to renew Kabul’s alliance with New Delhi. Ghani’s first official visit to India, which began on April 27, came almost seven months after he took office in late September.
Observers say the warmth that India enjoyed with the administration of former Afghan President Hamid Karzai has been missing in the relations between Ghani’s administration and New Delhi.
Aditi Malhotra, a Germany-based Indian security expert, says Ghani’s policy of appeasing Pakistan, particularly its powerful army, has not helped in improving the security situation in Afghanistan but has only strained relations between Kabul and New Delhi.
“Ghani has been cozying up to the Pakistan Army with the hope it will be able to have a genuine chance at achieving success with [negotiating peace with] the Taliban,” Malhotra told RFE/RL’s Gandhara website. “Only earning ’empty promises’ from Pakistan has brought in a realization that cozying up to Pakistan at the cost of straining relations with India will not be beneficial in the long term.”
Malhotra says terrorist attacks in Afghanistan have not decreased. She added that the attack in Jalalabad on April 18, which killed 35 people and injured 100 more, awakened Afghanistan to the urgency of dealing with the terrorist threat.
Ahmad Rashid, a prominent Pakistani journalist, agrees. He says Ghani is under enormous domestic pressure to either get concrete help from the Pakistani Army and the country’s premier intelligence agency, the Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI), on holding meaningful peace talks with the Taliban or to change his approach toward Pakistan.
“He [Ghani] told the Americans quite frankly during his trip to Washington [in March] that he can only continue this policy of good will and friendship perhaps for another couple of months,” Rashid said. “Beyond that, I will not be able to do it. Because I will have to turn it around; otherwise people will topple me.”
Some Afghans argue that Ghani should let the Indian leadership know that he is for an enduring partnership between Kabul and New Delhi. “It is imperative that, during this important visit, Ghani convince the Indian leadership that ameliorating relations with Pakistan will never undermine New Delhi’s unique and historic role in Afghanistan,” wrote Aimal Faizi, a spokesman for former President Karzai. “His message must be clear: India will remain Afghanistan’s historic and strategic partner.”
New Delhi has provided more than $2 billion in aid for projects related to institution-building, roads, power generation, agriculture and education in Afghanistan since 2001. Kabul says Ghani’s three-day trip to India is focused on improving bilateral relations and Indian assistance to Afghanistan.
Afghan presidential spokesman Ajmal Obaid Abidy says the administration wants to balance relations with India and Pakistan in a way that prevents Afghanistan from being used as battleground for proxy wars between the country’s South Asian neighbors. Abidy added that the Afghan president would also try to attract more Indian investors to Afghanistan.
Aditi says Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s administration is expected to extend assistance to Afghanistan. “India and Afghanistan have enjoyed a long history of partnership, and Ghani’s testing waters in Pakistan will not impede its relations with New Delhi in the long term,” she said.