Society for Policy Studies in collaboration with India International Centre held a Round Table on the Current Developments in Afghanistan : Policy Options for India led by an expert panel comprising : Shakti Sinha, former Head of Governance, UN Assistance Mission in Afghanistan; Britta Pettersen, Senior Fellow, Observer Research Foundation and Shanthie Mariet D’Souza , President and Founder, Mantraya. It was chaired by Amb. Jayant Prasad, former Indian Ambassador to Afghanistan.
Venue: Venue: Conference Room II, India International Centre, New Delhi
The Society for Policy Studies, in collaboration with the India International Centre, held a Round Table April 23, 2015 on “India’s Policy options in Afghanistan” ahead of the visit to India by Afghan President Ashraf Ghani.
The session was chaired by former Ambassador Jayant Prasad and the panelists included Shakti Sinha, former Head of Governance, UN Assistance Mission in Afghanistan; Britta Petersen, Senior Fellow, Observer Research Foundation and Shanthie Mariet D’Souza , President and Founder, Mantraya. Amb. Prasad set the context for the discussion, noting that there was little doubt that India is the most popular country, thanks to the popularity of Bollywood movies and India’s the draw of soft power in terms of medical and training opportunities available in India.
India will do everything in its power to “continue to enable” conditions in Afghanistan so that the people there are able to stand on their own feet and take their own decisions, Prasad said. India’s thinking is that “Afghanistan will never be stable without resources, which can come only when the country becomes a hub for trade and transportation, becomes a crossroads between Central Asia, Iran, India and China”, Prasad said, adding that “that’s why the Chinese presence there in a constructive way would be welcome” to India.Prasad said that for India “our problem with Afghanistan is also related with our problems in Pakistan, because if Afghanistan goes down, with it, it will also take down Pakistan. .. which will create for us far greater headaches than we have today, that’s our stake in Afghanistan.”
Shakti Sinha, former Head of Governance, UN Assistance Mission in Afghanistan, said that India’s developmental assistance in Afghanistan “must continue and be guided by the priorities of the Afghan government”.Sinha suggested that India should “commit a certain amount of money, not a large amount” towards Afghanistan budgetary support. “Funding projects is one thing, giving money to Afghanistan through its budget increases the credibility of the government in its own country,” he said.
According to Sinha, President Ghani is committed to strengthening the East-West corridor, which “is in India’s interest”. He said that the Indian envoy recently “gave a demarche to the Afghan government to be included in the Afghan-Pakistan trading path, which has delivered the first results. The Pakistan commerce minister announced that the Afghan trucks can go back from Wagah (India’s land border with Pakistan) carrying goods directly” when earlier they had to return empty.
Britta Pettersen noted that in her conversations with President Ghani long, before his campaign for the presidency, she came to understand that he genuinely believed that he can bring Taliban to the mainstream. She said there seemed to be little progress on the gender front, there was need to support more girls’ education but Ghani’s wife coming out in the public as the First Lady was a good step.
Shanthie D’Souza noted that things are neither very bad nor good but it is at an inflection point. There was no clear road map of where the peace talks are and every country has had its own way of dealing with the Taliban. A lot of money has gone back to donor countries via phantom aid. Commitments made by India have been delayed which might prove to be counterproductive in the longer run. She also noted that there was a need to build on strategic communications, train journalists, computer literacy. Afghans in India face a lot of problems when here and a facilitating agency needed to be set up to address the problems they faced.
C. Uday Bhaskar, President, SPS, noted that China has a capacity to play a significant role in the triangular relationship between t India, Pakistan and China. Afghanistan needs assistance in all aspects of security, including in training and bolstering the police, army, and intelligence.
Former special envoy Satish Lamba, a diplomatic veteran, pointed to Iran and its two pronged policy of preserving the stability of Afghanistan and oppose foreign occupation. Iran would not be opposed to minimalist Taliban influence in the country. India needs to do a lot more in the areas that it is already helping including capacity building, the private sector, information technology and so on.