Manmohan Singh's Kabul visit: Some lessons for Pakistan
September-01-2005, The News
Prime minister Manmohan Singh's August 28-29 visit to Kabul marked yet another diplomatic stride in spheres ranging from mutual vows to fight terrorism to India's promise to continue its assistance for the reconstruction in Afghanistan.
In the joint statement issued after the talks both President Manmohan Singh and President Hamid Karzai condemned global terrorism as a threat to democracy and declared that there can be no compromise with those who resort to terrorism. They reiterated their commitment to work together to ensure that Afghanistan would never again become a safe haven for terrorism and extremism.
Karzai also thanked India for more than $500 million worth of infrastructure, humanitarian assistance, and institutional and human resource development projects as well as a new pledge of $50 million assistance. Both countries also signed bilateral cooperation agreements in the areas of Agriculture and Health, with Singh announcing that India will adopt 100 villages in Afghanistan to promote integrated rural development by introducing solar electrification and rain water harvesting.
India will also finance the rebuilding of the 102-year old Habibia School which was destroyed in the war, and Singh also committed $25 million for the construction of Afghanistan's Parliament House. It will augment Afghan health facilities (the Indira Gandhi Children Hospital) in the capital Kabul stands out as a permanent reminder of a facility ex-premier Mrs Gandhi had donated during her 1976 visit to the city.
One major element of the bilateral talks was the focus on terrorism. "There is convergence of views that terrorism poses a threat anywhere and everywhere and we have to deal with it together," emphasised Singh during the joint press conference.Karzai said Afghanistan still faced "occasional terrorist activity and that he was negotiating with 'brothers in Pakistan' because all of us -- India, Pakistan and Afghanistan -- need to join hands to fight this global menace."
Karzai's rather soft statement in the presence of the Indian premier was indeed a pleasant surprise in a situation wherein Pakistan is receiving flak from the US and British officials (public praise for General Musharraf notwithstanding).
This amounted, perhaps, to a breather for Islamabad, which has invested quite a lot of time and energy in wondering as to how India has managed to make inroads and regained the ground it had lost during the mujahideen and Taliban era, but done little tangibly to make its imprint there.
The convergence of Singh-Karzai views on terrorism and the importance of Pakistan for regional economy, however, also offers some food for thought to the establishment in Islamabad.
Let us examine the course both Islamabad and New Delhi have charted since the January 2002 Tokyo Conference on Afghanistan; India's total commitments now exceed $500 million. In food aid, close to a million Afghan children are receiving biscuits from about 17,000 tons of high-protein biscuits donation. More than 274 buses to municipalities are running on the roads of major Afghan cities like Kabul, Mazar-e-Sharif, Herat, Shebargan and Kandahar, where Indian medical teams are working at hospitals, with the help of more than 260 tons of medicine, medical instruments and equipment to different hospitals. So Afghans have a cogent reason to remember India while eating biscuits, or getting a 'Made in India' vaccine.
As many as 300 additional vehicles have been gifted to the national army besides the construction of a road from Delaram to Zaranj in mid-2004. Restoration of basic telecommunications networks in 11 provincial capitals since early 2004, establishment of computer training centres in five cities, and some 65 electronic voting machines from India for UN assistance mission during the October presidential elections are some other examples of Indian attempts to make its presence felt.
It is quite mind-boggling if compared to what Pakistan, the immediate neighbour with quite high stakes, has offered to Afghanistan since the Tokyo Conference; an initial commitment of $100 million; out of this, Pakistan has pledged 200 trucks (foreign-brand), and is reconstructing the Jalalabad-Torkham Highway. General Pervez Musharraf had offered, during his Kabul visit two years ago, two full-fledged schools, but work on them has yet to begin. Pakistan had made a similar promise during the Taliban regime but it never materialised.
Viewed against this lacklustre performance, still embedded in suspicion and a reactive approach, one wonders as to whether this is commensurate with Pakistan's longstanding involvement in Afghanistan at the cost of the country's image and the blows this involvement delivered to its economic interests. Except for the trucks, there is not a single landmark in Kabul or other big towns (like a hospital or school) which can serve as a positive reminder for the Afghan nation.
Despite repeated requests by diplomats based in Kabul and elsewhere, the establishment in Islamabad is still sitting over promised projects. It also took simply too long to enable the National Highway Authority (NHA) begin the Jalalabad-Torkham highway reconstruction.
It was due to the lack of pro-active and imaginative approaches that Prime minister Shaukat Aziz's Kabul trip last month evoked half-hearted responses from the Karzai administration. Privately Afghan leaders continue to suffer the crisis of credibility -- not only within the Afghan administration but also among non-Afghan international players.
Pakistan is still seen as one of the trouble-makers in Afghanistan; charges against it range from abetment of terrorism, to sanctuaries for Taliban, to insincerity in the war against terrorism. Even the new US ambassador Ronald Neumann finds it difficult to move away from Pakistan-bashing that his predecessor Zalmay Khalilzad had practiced so efficiently before taking up his assignment in Iraq. "On the issue of the border it is very complex. We are urging and pressing for the government of Pakistan to take every necessary action to control extremism, just as we are working with the government of Afghanistan," said the US ambassador.
And to rub salt into injuries, the Indian foreign secretary Shyam Saran, a day before Singh's arrival in Kabul, alleged that Pakistan is hindering its attempts to provide assistance to Afghanistan by not allowing it transit access through Pakistani territory. "Part of the difficulty we have in reaching assistance to Afghanistan is because we have to take a rather circuitous route through Iran to get to Afghanistan precisely because we do not have transit as yet through Pakistan," Mr Saran told journalists in Delhi.
Both Singh and Karzai discussed the matter in detail, and Karzai responded to a related question by saying that "the improvement of relations between India and Pakistan is such a necessity for the people of this whole region that it overtakes every other consideration."
By making this statement, President Karzai clearly put the onus on Pakistan, something which Islamabad needs to ponder over. It must concentrate on winning strategic wars and not mere tactical battles, which have so far brought the country nothing but discredit and flak not only from Afghans but also from outsiders.
If given a free hand, the civilian bureaucracy could probably come up with more imaginative and lasting measures not only to mend fences both with India and Afghanistan, but also to become part of a triangular axis of regional cooperation.
The writer is a freelance columnist. Email: firstname.lastname@example.org