Afghanistan’s president, Ashraf Ghani, completed his three-day visit to India this week in the low-key manner in which it had begun. India supplied three helicopters to Afghanistan recently, despite Ghani cancelling predecessor Hamid Karzai’s request for supply of major defence hardware. The Strategic Partnership Agreement signed between the two countries in 2011, which focuses on defence cooperation, was not high on the agenda this time. But it is likely that the proposal will be revisited and Delhi could repackage the deal to satisfy Pakistan’s sensitivities, besides increasing its efforts for capacity building of the Afghan armed forces. This could form part of the new defence mechanism being framed by the two countries.
Former President Karzai was seen to be favourably disposed towards India while Ghani is viewed by many as too reliant on Islamabad and Beijing to keep the peace in Afghanistan. There are fears that Pakistan’s increasing role in Afghanistan will allow the Taliban to consolidate its position, which will destabilise the region and bolster jihadi groups targeting India. The peace process with the Taliban — and Pakistan’s role in it — figured prominently in Ghani’s discussions with Prime Minister Narendra
Modi, and Delhi sought clarity from Ghani on the implications of this process for the region. Modi obliquely referred to it when he said at the joint press briefing with the Afghan president, “We have a shared interest in the success of an Afghan-led and Afghan-owned process”.
By all accounts, India remains extremely popular with both the Afghan state and its people due to its soft power initiatives in the war-torn country. While Delhi expects Kabul to safeguard its strategic interests in Afghanistan, India seems to have reconciled itself with Ghani’s outreach to Islamabad and Rawalpindi. Delhi is also hopeful that China will use its influence to control the rise of Islamist jihadi forces and bring stability to the region. This conforms with India’s goals for a peaceful Afghanistan, which will allow Ghani to fulfil his vision of attracting investments to his country. Ghani sees the Indian private sector as a “key partner in transforming Afghanistan from an area shadowed by conflict to a hub where goods, ideas, people flow in all directions” and has rolled out the red carpet for Indian investors, offering them incentives like meetings with him and opportunities to stay in the ancient palace.