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Many Afghans See Their Future with India, Not Pakistan

Afghan President Ashraf Ghani and Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi.

Afghan President Ashraf Ghani and Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi.

Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi was in Kabul on December 25 to inaugurate the new Afghan parliament building constructed with funds from New Delhi, after the original building was bombed by the Taliban.

The buzz surrounding Modi's visit epitomised the warm relations between the two countries, while the story of the Afghan parliament symbolises the fragile country's ongoing struggle with an insurgency many Afghans blame on neighbour and Indian rival, Pakistan.

The day after Modi visited Kabul he was in Lahore to become the first Indian premier to visit Pakistan in over a decade, fuelling hope of better relations between the two countries.

But for many Afghans that have witnessed their own President Ashraf Ghani's failed attempt at outreach to Pakistan, Modi and India remain the main attraction in terms of the country's strategic orientation. A poll from last year showed three out of four Afghans see India as their preferred leader in Asia.

Relations with India, both in the areas of security and civilian aid have been vital for Afghanistan in the post-Taliban era when Pakistan has proved a less constant source of friendship.

Only last month during his trip to Delhi, Hanif Atmar, Afghanistan's national security adviser (NSA) received a pledge from India to provide Afghanistan with four MI-25 attack helicopters.

Also in November, Indian Foreign Secretary Jaishankar and Afghan Deputy Foreign Minister Hekmat Khalil Karzai discussed ways to increase bilateral cooperation that has seen India offer over $2.5 billion in aid to Kabul and has been expanded since the signing of a 2012 strategic cooperation agreement.

For both Pakistan and India, Afghanistan is an object of strategic struggle, serving as a land bridge between South Asia and Central Asia while also connecting South Asia to West Asia.

Some of the projects ongoing between Kabul and New Delhi have obvious geopolitical implications.

One such project is the Zaranj-Dilaram road which connects western Afghanistan's Nimroz province to the Chabahar port in Iran. The road will help facilitate trade exchanges between India and Afghanistan while reducing Afghanistan's dependency on the Pakistani port of Karachi.

As Modi visited, Afghan social media circles poured out their love for India, at the obvious expense of the country's other significant neighbour.

Screenshot of a post from a public Facebook profile of an Afghan social media user. The post ironically compares India's contribution to Afghanistan's development to that of Pakistan, viewed through the prism of the Taliban.

Screenshot of a post from a public Facebook profile of an Afghan social media user. The post ironically compares India's contribution to Afghanistan's development to that of Pakistan, viewed through the prism of the Taliban.

The growth in India-Afghanistan relations in the post-Taliban era was most notable under President Hamid Karzai who famously offered Indian investors “the red carpet while others will get a grey carpet.”

Karzai himself was a beneficiary of an exchange program that allowed Afghan students to study in India in the 1970s.

Ghani, who came to power after a disputed election last year, initially took a different tack, prioritising relations with Pakistan, whose ex-leader belatedly admitted nurturing the Taliban as part of their bid for ‘strategic depth’ in the country in an interview last year.

The bid for better relations was without success, and the Taliban's attacks in the country have only grown more fierce, even as the movement itself has splintered.

Since then Ghani has pivoted back towards India, to the audible relief of those that feared his overtures to Islamabad were doomed from the outset.

Yet while Modi's visit led to a frenzy of appreciation among the chattering classes in Kabul, there is a sense his country could do still more for its conflict-torn neighbour.

For one thing, New Delhi can use the leverage it has built up through aid and investment in strategic infrastructure to push for social reform in Afghanistan, especially in areas where India has experience.

These include but are not limited to: empowerment of women, handling of ethnic and religious minorities and broadening civic participation.

India's supporters argue that its hand in Afghanistan is strong enough to bargain for values as well as security.

13 comments

  • Eqbal Khan

    A student in New Dehli and a Tajik writing? Well, first, how do we know who wrote this Article? Mr. Rustum or it was a RAW provided propaganda. Problem in Afghanistan is that minority Tajiks are running the show, Pictures of Ahmed Shah Masood are all over. Tajiks wants to deny food medicine and even water to Majority Pushtoons. The present Government in Kabul is not going to provide a better life. It will eventually fail for the very reason that the Country is occupied by minority Tajiks and majority Pushtoons are enslaved. But for how long?

    • Hidayat Almas Khan

      Who is. The people of Afghanistan are interpreted. I see what my country. Punjabi is the Pashtuns in Balochistan government. Pakistan is only intended for Punjabis. Masood was not a king that is so appreciated.

    • Rustam Ali Seerat

      Hello Eqbal Khan,
      Nice to have you here. First, i am a Hazara. Second, i think your understanding of Afghanistan’s government ethnic composition is limited and not entirely true, update it. Thirdly, i have just presented facts it is not fair to label it as ‘RAW provided propaganda’!. My friends are studying in Pakistan by scholarships from your government and they have their own opinions, we will not call them ISI agents, for sure.

  • Eqbal Khan

    Mr. Rustam, I did not accuse of not knowing, I did not say you don’t know. However, you immediately mounted an attack that my understanding of Afghanistan is limited. My understanding of Afghan ethnic composition is not limited. You did not provide any alternate information though. Without providing information or your understanding there is no way to validate your argument. As to my understanding of the ethnic composition of Afghanistan, correct me if I am wrong, is Pushtun 42-50% some ever say its higher, Tajiks 24-26% depends who you talk to, Hazara, 10-19% again depends who you talk to, Uzbecks 6-8%, Aimak 4%, Baloch 2% and others 4%. Pashtuns are majority regardless of which angle or figures you look at. Talk to any Geographer or population expert, Pashtuns are majority. Here is one source that may not be very accurate but for the purposes of this discussion.https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/… . The Government that was established after fall of Taliban was not based on any democratic process, it was based on NATO and US needs at the time, which was that the Northern Alliance was Anti-Taliabn therefore it was given the power. Of course you will argue that Karzai and Ghani both are pushtoons. But facts show that Kabul Government is essentially a Northern Alliance, mostly Tajik Government. According to one source, 60% of Afghan Army is Tajk.https://www.craigmurray.org.uk… Pashtuns are excluded from officer ranks. Some predict that this grip of ANA will result in next ethnic war.http://www.ipsnews.net/2009/11… . Hazara’s were part of the Northern Alliance and still are. Their number is so low that they do not have a voice in the Government. The stuff that you call facts are your facts, based on your opinion and will not pass the rigor of academic intellect. You narrate long list of India’s good will towards Afghanistan. However, you conveniently ignored the Millions of refugees that came to Pakistan. In fact, three million are still in Pakistan, there is now 14 extension on the request of Afghan Government. You forget to point out how poor Afghans come to Pakistan for jobs and medical treatment. The list will be long but I would not burden you with that. This omission makes your article bias or at least one sided. If you read your own article carefully and without a bias, it is a propaganda piece and nothing else. It is meant to portray India in favorable light. This type of news and articles are norm by RAW funded outlets. As to ISI, Mostly Pakistani Pashtuns and the news outlets are minding their own business and do not engage in reporting on Afghanistan or its Government. Therefore ISI probably do not recruit Afghans to propagate. However, India is on all out efforts with bunch of consulates all around Afghanistan doing what? You guessed it, anti-Pakistan activities. As to Afghan’s you go too far either in enmity of Pakistan and/or simply greed. There used to be time when Pakistanis did not care what is going-on on their western borders, you would only see Afghan youth hurling insults to Pakistan and Pakistanis. But new generation now reads the afghan news sources, Indian and foreign. The key shift in attitude now is that resentment in Pakistan against Afghan Government in particular and Tajiks and Northern Alliance is increasing.

    • Rustam Ali Seerat

      Karzai was first a Pashtun president surrounded by mostly Tajik minister but not anymore, that was why i want you to update it. just look at the current cabinet. If you put in whatever scale the anti-Pakistani resentments among all the other ethnic groups of the country is to its highest point, including Pashtuns. We have no official census in our country, any sort of ethnic percentage which is represented is not valid. We appreciate your help of our migrants, thanks for that. The problem with ISI is that it recruits people to blast themselves, we will love if Pakistani like India build domes for us or give us scholarships!. One more think please do not tell us which ethnic is dominant in our country, leave that for us. Ultimately, what we want from Pakistan is that win the heart of our people through soft diplomacy not support of terrorists and bombers. One more thing, northern alliances is a falls categorization and simplification of different anti-Taliban factions which western media propagate more than necessary, all who were fighting the Talibans were not part the so called northern alliance. In Afghanistan there are also people who says Pashtuns and Baloches are sidelined in Pakistan and Pakistani politics and military is monopolized by Panjapies, but i dont support this such idea, its your your internal affairs, its not our business.
      While i am writing this comment my Panjabi-Pakistani roommate is sleeping. I want to say that i do not have any personal reservation for Pakistanis. In my article i have simply represented the facts, when Rahil Sharif came to kabul following the day PM Modi inaugurated our new parliament house nobody chanted for him, at least i did not see anybody, its a fact. The point is Pakistan is losing Afghans to India, it need to change its policies and come softer towards us.

  • Waqas

    Rustam Ali Seerat Thanks for sharing your thoughts with us. We all had our share in what happened in Afghanistan. You cannot simply brush everything on Pakistan. Global interests in Afghanistan keeping its geographic importance made it to what it is today. Do you know our first prime minister was murdered by an Afghan sent by CIA and government in Kabul at that time. Do you know all rebel groups were sheltered in Afghanistan in pre-Soviet Afghan war era. Please confirm if Abdul Rasheed Dostum and Ahmed Shah Masood were not among the five groups bombing kabul to take it from Najib government. Were they not involved in the genocide. and can such warlords suddenly claim to be not biased sitting on top government positions.
    We as common Pakistanis welcomed all refugees regardless of there ethnic backgrounds. We never interfered in there culture or matters of living. I eat daily in an Afghan hotel, get my car fixed from an Afghan mechanic, they build our houses, drill wells, bring goods from china and central asia and are in every walks of life, from being our class mates to neighbors. live in luxury to normal neighborhoods. We consider all Afghans nice and respectful people. We attend each others weddings, do business together.

    Now try opening a hotel in India, put some kabli pullao with cow meat there, you will understand the investment they are making is for profit not moral. there profit is in stability of Afghanistan-Pakistan. They want our nations stuck in war, while they get the mining and minerals. putting the chabahar port issue to light, do you seriously think not addressing the concern of jobless youths and building alternate roads will bring stability, one end of the country is lawless and controlled by taliban and other can benefit. Dont you think this will make the country polarized geographically and ethnically as well may be.

    We are not so big economically to throw billions as our own political class is as corrupt as yours. Do benefit from every one but don’t sell yourself my friend, a neighbor cannot be changed, we can wish but cannot get sweden and switzerland. you got us and we got you. lets give a high priority to people to people contact, rather then politician talking who run away abroad when time is hard.
    I wish peace in Afghanistan. Afghan deserve it more then any one else. but while I am writing this I won’t mind curses of Afghans on me or my country. we are not the best neighbor but our hearts are always open for all Afghans.

    • Rustam Ali Seerat

      Hello Waqas, thanks for the comments, i agree with you about lots of things you have said, and i see your points. I have written a critique of Indian Foreign Policy in regard to Afghanistan. I guess it might bring about some other issues in the concern what you have said. Definitly, i will share it with you and Mr. Eqbal Khan when it comes out.

      • Waqas

        Thanks for the response Rustam, I do not ask of any critiques of Indian foreign policies. but we as immediate neighbors must not be full of hate towards each other. I am happy and open to engage with educated Afghan youth like you to understand there grievances towards my country, that way we can straighten our path rather than being used against each other.
        I wish you a happy new year and hope peace prevails soon in your mother land.
        Best Regards from Mansehra Hazara KPK, Pakistan

  • irfan D

    I really do not understand the mindset of the People of Afghanistan . From last several decades ( even before 1950 ) Afghanistan was very unstable , economically weak country , poorest infrastructure , no defense , no university , poor health care facility , living in caves, Tribes were busy fighting each other like today.

    When Russian came in 80’s , it was revealed that they cannot defend themselves. Millions of Afghani Rushed to Pakistan ( Country whose independence opposed by Afghanistan) for Aid. WHY?

    USA provided the weapon through Pakistan . Anyone have better plan than this ? Pakistan should have closed borders and let millions of Afghani die ? This is what Afghani people want ?

    If people of Afghanistan were any Talented, they must have shown their strength even before Russian Arrival. Charlie Wilson . Russian Left, tribes start fighting each other again.

    Millions of Afghani were welcomed in Pakistan Like families . Living Peacefully , doing business , including the Karzai ( domestic enemy) .

    Two Afghani cannot sit together to resolve their own dispute , but sure they will sit together to blame Pakistan .

    Blaming Pakistan for the failures of Afghanistan is not going to work . Stop acting like your country was like Japan , USA , Germany before this war , it was a ruined land like today. People of Afghanistan need to take matter in their own hand . Their future is with other Afghani , as no one going to resolve their internal disputes.

  • Eqbal Khan

    Your article was about comparing
    Pakistan/India pertaining to Afghanistan. Your opinion was that you have
    accurately narrated facts. My view is that you are biased and the article is
    nothing but a propaganda piece funded by RAW. That is where we started. I also
    stated that Tajik minority is running the Government. You countered that my
    understanding of ethnic composition of Afghanistan was inaccurate. I gave you
    figures which you did not contend and offered no alternate figures or the
    facts, probably agreeing to the fact that Tajiks are a minority. You also did
    not counter the fact that Afghan Government is basically run mainly by Tajiks.
    You do not provide any facts to oppose that ANA is 60% Tajik. Now, you seem to
    change the discussion except few initial points. Your argument that Karzai was
    surrounded by Tajiks but not anymore is weak. How do you get rid of 60% of Army
    trained by the US by spending Billions of Dollars? You cannot. Tajiks have
    solid grip on the Military Power. Go to Kabul and you will see portrait of
    Ahmed Shah Masood, what does it tell you? That is the soft propaganda force of
    Tajiks. In the non-military arena, NDS is run by Tajiks and Ministry of Defense
    was filled with Tajiks by Fahim, those are still working at the MOD. Abdullah
    Abdullah, Salahuddin Rabbani – Foreign Affairs, Dr. Abdul Sattar Murad –
    Minister of Economy, Ahmad Eklil Hakimi – Minister of Finance, Abdul Sattar
    Murad Economy, Abdul Basir Anwar Justice, Assadullah Hanif Balkhi Minister of
    Education, Ali Ahmad Osmani Water and Energy, Ferozuddin Feroz Public Health,
    Assadullah Zameer Agriculture, Massoud Andarabi – NDS, Bismillah Khan Muhammadi
    Mohammadi – Ex Army chief and Defense Ministry are all Tajiks. Now add up all
    non-pushtun ministers and see what is left? By reducing numbers of Tajik
    minister alone does not fix the problem. Your next point is that Anti-Pakistan
    sentiment is high among all groups including Pashtuns, is based on the Kabul
    crowed, A majority Pushtuns do not have any voice. The propaganda Machine run
    by RAW/Tajik and constant blast of media images and sound bites has created
    stirrer. When it comes to the Anti-Government Pashtuns, this same crowed calls
    them Pakistani. This same crowed is not interested in any reconciliation but to
    kill every Pashtun that opposes them. Even the representation of Pashtuns that
    took part in election has been reduced. Only about 100 Pashtuns made it to
    Parliament, previously the number stood at 115. That is critical power loss.
    Ethnic politics of Afghanistan and Pakistan are connected and cannot be separated;
    of course, I and you would love to separate them, which would be a good thing.
    But unfortunately we cannot. This meddling started with Afghanistan’s initial
    animosity towards Pakistan for objecting to Pakistan’s membership to the UN and
    then Afghan Government raising the issue of Pushtonistan and claiming that they
    own the then NWFP and Baluchistan. Although Pakistan broke its tradition of
    supporting some candidates, Afghanistan did exactly the opposite. http://irdiplomacy.ir/en/page/… But same was not reciprocated by the Afghan side. Afghan
    Government in fact put their money in Pakistani Elections and supported some
    Candidates in Pakistani Elections. http://arynews.tv/en/afghan-in… but Pakistan still stayed out of Afghan Elections. Therefore,
    your argument that you should be left alone is disingenuous. If you interfere
    into Pakistani affairs then you should expect us to do the same. In Pakistani
    media there is hardly any mention of Afghanistan, it’s very limited, but in
    Kabul it is actually a uniting force. I knew you will bring up issue of
    Pakistan Army and call it a Punjabi Army. This is exactly the RAW line that you
    adopted. Punjab is a majority population province. Approximately, 60% of
    Pakistan population is Punjabi therefore they are going to make up the biggest
    portion of defense forces. However, In Afghanistan, 60% Army comes from 20%
    group. The fixing needs to be done in Afghanistan and not in Pakistan. Just for
    the thought, Pakistan had Pushtoon and even a Hazara Chief of the Army staff,
    General Musa. There have been Sindhi, Pushtun and Baloch Prime Ministers and
    even a Hindu Supreme Court Judge. Your last point, that Pakistan is losing
    Afghanistan to India: Honestly, people in Pakistan do not care much. You would
    not hear a person talking on the streets about Afghanistan. You presented this
    issue as if it is a loss for Pakistan. No sir, it may be a blessing, this may
    stop inflow of population, drugs, weapons and lot more. We have seen worst time
    this. At one point, Afghanistan had a well equipped and well trained Army,
    viable Air force and very dangerous rhetoric against Pakistan. But history
    shows that Afghan Government failed in taking on Pakistan. It was a new country
    back then with limited resources and defense capabilities. Now, it’s a
    different story, at least in the foreseeable future, we can simply ignore
    Afghanistan. A while back an Indian analyst said to the Indian Government that
    “you need to read the map.” No one is losing anything here, it is a
    hollow rhetoric. Not respecting Raheel Sharif and Pakistan may look good and
    give Afghans some emotional respite, but this attitude maybe the fore-cursor of
    the future conflict. Remember, Afghan Government’s stand in the UN? This is
    similar situation. For the Taliban, now Russia is talking to them http://www.express.co.uk/news/… and also Iran is doing the same thing http://www.arabnews.com/column… . Of course, you can imagine that the others are doing the same
    thing. as a matter of fact Iran has been supporting Taliban in big way. Iran
    has a long history but I see no mention of Iran? Why? Simple Answer is INDIA
    AND RAW. http://www.reuters.com/article… . There is no other explanation. Last point, Afghan peace is
    desirable for every rational Pakistan. But Pakistan is used to and can and will
    live in the conflict if it has to and history shows that Pakistan has managed
    the worst situation than one at hand. It is for Afghans to decide, if they want
    to reconcile among themselves or continue fighting? My opinion, Please forgive
    me, is that Afghans will chose war over the peace. Why? It is their history,
    since becoming a political entity, there have been 28 rulers, and all were
    murdered by their own except 6 that died of natural causes. Intellectual
    honesty requires me to think that the situation has not changed. The internal
    conflict is so big that at least I do not see war ending anytime soon. As to
    India, no one knows India better than Pakistan and no one knows Pakistan better
    than Indians. For Afghanistan, it would be wise not to side with one, it’s
    dangerous. Again, please forgive me if I offended you and forgive my speed
    writing. I am a Pashun from Pakistan, origin from Ghanzni.

    • Kareem Sahibzada

      Salaam. Your strange, barely concealed contempt for Afghans is shameful and the root cause, I suspect, of Afghan discomfort with Pakistanis, notwithstanding the enormous help Pakistanis have extended to Afghans in the past few decades. There’s a saying in Urdu very appropriate to this discussion: “Apnon mein ehsaan nahin jataya karte”.

      Afghanistan is a country in its own right but Pakistanis want it to be nothing more than their plaything; hence the Afghan warmth toward India, which at least treats them like grownups. This is not to absolve India of any sins, but only to emphasize that Pakistani foreign policy, mirroring just about every other policy direction, is utterly bankrupt.

      Is Pakistan an Islamic country? No, because Muslims are not very safe in it or from it. Is it a secular entity? Not by a long shot, given the choke hold Islamists have on Pakistani imaginations. Pakistan is in reality a schizophrenic in need of sustained therapy.

    • Hello Eqbal Khan,
      I will much appreciate if read this article of mine as well.
      http://southasiamonitor.org/detail.php?type=emerging&nid=15599

  • […] Many Afghans See Their Future with India, Not Pakistan Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi was in Kabul on December 25 to inaugurate the new Afghan parliament building constructed with funds from New Delhi, after the original building was bombed by the Taliban. The buzz surrounding Modi's visit epitomised … Read more on Global Voices Online […]

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