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Indian, Afghan foreign ministers meet to bolster ties

Indian Foreign Minister Sushma Swaraj (R) shakes hands with Afghan Foreign Minister Salahuddin Rabbani (L) prior to a meeting in New Delhi on Monday. (AFP)
NEW DELHI: On Monday, the foreign ministers of India and Afghanistan held a Strategic Partnership Council meeting in New Delhi.
This second meeting, coming six years after the first, is significant in the wake of the new US policy on Afghanistan and South Asia announced by President Donald Trump three weeks ago.
Trump lauded India’s efforts in Afghanistan and urged New Delhi to “help” more in stabilizing the war-torn country.
“We agreed jointly to embark on a new development partnership in keeping with the priorities of Afghanistan,” said Indian Foreign Minister Sushma Swaraj after talks with her Afghan counterpart.
She added that “116 new high-impact development projects will be jointly implemented, which will bring socioeconomic development, especially in suburban and rural communities in 31 provinces of Afghanistan.”
Afghan Foreign Minister Salahuddin Rabbani emphasized New Delhi’s role in stabilizing his country.
“Current regional trends bring Afghanistan and India closer than ever in order to protect and achieve social, economic and political security and trade interests,” said Rabbani at a joint press conference.
“Both countries suffer from terrorism and violent extremism that threaten us and regional stability. Terrorists groups such as Lashkar-e-Taiba and Jaish-e-Mohammed have been launching indiscriminate attacks and killing civilians. They, along with the Taliban, Daesh and Al-Qaeda, have engaged in similar terrorist activities that have killed many Afghans.”
Since 2001, India has been engaged in largescale civilian reconstruction efforts in Afghanistan, and is one of its five major donors, pledging $2 billion in investment.
The Afghan Parliament building, the Delaram-Zaranj Highway, the Salma Dam in Herat and the Afghan National Agricultural Sciences and Technology University are some of the major projects backed by India.
These are in addition to training and capacity-building for the Afghan Army, and providing hundreds of scholarships to Afghan students every year. New Delhi also recently supplied four military helicopters.
In light of Trump’s latest policy statement on the region, Indian commentators say New Delhi is seeking to redefine its role in Afghanistan.
“In Afghanistan, Delhi is entering a very different domain,” wrote C. Raja Mohan, director of Carnegie India.
“The lack of geographic access has always reinforced independent India’s tentativeness in Afghanistan. The NDA (National Democratic Alliance) government, led by Narendra Modi, seems open to testing the limits of that geographic constraint.”
M.K. Bhadrakumar, a former Indian diplomat, wrote: “India is graduating as a veritable ally of the US.”
He added: “It is within the realm of possibility that India may allow the US and NATO to use its military bases for the war effort in Afghanistan, which would end US dependence on Pakistan.”
Rabbani hinted at New Delhi’s expanding role in Afghanistan, telling The Hindu daily: “We also hope that India, as a good friend of other countries in the region, such as Russia and Iran, can convince them to work with the Afghan government in support of the peace process in Afghanistan.”
But academic Angira Sen Sarma said the “centrality of Pakistan” to Afghanistan cannot be dismissed.
“India won’t get into any kind of military alliance in Afghanistan. It should, however, continue its civilian assistance,” Sarma, who teaches in New Delhi at the Jamia Millia Islamia University, told Arab News.