As Afghanistan and India draw closer, will Pakistan be left in the dust?

Afghanistan President Ashraf Ghani met with Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi behind closed doors last week in New Delhi to discuss a range of crucial topics for the two South Asian countries. These discussions included furthering ties and cooperation as well as the status of the ongoing conflict with the Taliban across Afghanistan. Afghanistan recently announced that they are ready for direct peace negotiations with the Taliban, who have been destroying the country for years with a deadly war. This announcement comes after over 100 foreign national fighters were killed by Afghan security forces. Most of these foreign fighters involved with the Taliban turned out to be Pakistanis, as their bodies are being sent back to their villages in Pakistan. As there are more and more deadly attacks between the Taliban and Afghani security forces almost daily, pressure is mounting for the parties to come to a formal peace agreement to try and limit the significant damage already done by the conflict.

Tensions between Pakistan and Afghanistan have been uneasy lately. Pakistani officials promised that India would have “no role to play in Afghanistan” in bringing peace to the nation and with the Taliban. Pakistan’s Information and Broadcasting Minister Fawad Chaudry said that PM Imran Khan and Chief General Qamar Javed Bajwa were both in agreement that India should have no role in the Afghan peace talks with the Taliban. However, these statements come with confusion as it seems that one country, Pakistan, is dictating to two other countries, India and Afghanistan, what their relationship should be. PM Modi and President Ghani clearly do not agree with Pakistan’s view as India promised to give “unwavering commitment” in Afghanistan’s effort to end the conflict with the Taliban and finally bring peace to Afghanistan.

While it is not clear whether or not India will have direct influence in peace talks, this sort of comment from Pakistan will only make things more difficult between the Taliban and Afghanistan. Pakistan has directly supported the Taliban since the 1990’s as many members of the Pakistani government have links with the Taliban, as Pakistan tries to heavily influence Afghan politics. While Afghanistan is trying to root out the Taliban from its borders, and Pakistan continues to support the Taliban, India and Afghanistan will only draw closer with their common goals. Both countries would benefit from an eradication of the Taliban and will likely work together in defeating a common enemy. However, this relationship may not be as smooth as hoped. The Afghan ambassador to India, Dr. Shaida Mohammad Abdali, quit from his position last week at the end of President Ghani’s visit to India. The ambassador took to Twitter saying that he has helped Afghanistan from abroad, but it was his duty to return home and help from the inside. Some believe that he may be running for public office because of his strong opposition to the current Ghani government. Modi also hoped to gain insight from Ghani on the whereabouts of seven Indian nationals who were abducted by the Taliban in May. This conversation with Ghani is a part of a larger picture on the overall security situation in Afghanistan, something that the Ghani administration has been struggling with.

 

Besides conversations on the Taliban, Modi and Ghani discussed future development projects, as well as India’s commitment to the future of Afghanistan. Modi highlighted continued cooperation on the Chabahar port project. The Chabahar port is a seaport co-operated by Iran and India in the southeast of Iran, serving as Iran’s only oceanic port. The port is considered a gateway to potentially golden opportunities of trade with central Asian and Arab Peninsula nations. With future cooperation with India, the port could prove as a basket of economic and trade opportunities for Afghanistan as their ties in the region grow.

 

Besides the port, Ghani and Modi also discussed their continued direct air freight corridor cooperation. Afghanistan and India establish a direct Kabul to Delhi air freight corridor last year to trade goods. With this route, Afghanistan will be able cash in on the rapidly growing economy of India. The corridor will provide Afghanistan with easy access to the markets of India, as well as India’s economic and trade networks. Afghanistan and India are aiming to achieve 10 billion dollars in trade over the next five years. Modi said that India is completely backing Afghanistan in their effort to emerge as an economically vibrant country.

 

With India and Afghanistan drawing closer, it seems that Pakistan is beginning to be left behind. While it is unlikely that Afghanistan will ever directly ally with India, they seem to be drawing much closer in all aspects. These economic and foreign policy relations will bind Afghanistan and India for years to come down the road. Especially as Pakistan continues to fund the Taliban, and Afghanistan is trying to defeat them, Afghanistan will move even farther away from Pakistan and towards India. These recent conversations between Modi and Ghani are crucial steps in bringing the nations closer together, and could be the beginning of a newly formed relationship in the region.