India to assist Afghan in fight against terror

New Delhi: In a major strengthening of Indo-Afghan ties in defiance of Pakistan-sponsored terror, India agreed to “extend further assistance” to the Afghan armed forces to battle terrorism, even as the two countries agreed on an “ambitious and forward looking next generation New Development Partnership” that will see “116 High Impact Community Development Projects to be implemented in 31 provinces of Afghanistan”.

In a veiled reference to Pakistan without naming it, the two countries also “called for an end to all forms of support, state sponsorship, safe havens and sanctuaries to terrorists against Afghanistan”. Prime Minister Narendra Modi also on Monday said India attaches the highest priority to its ties with Afghanistan and promised strong support to the strife-torn country’s fight against terrorism “imposed” on it, in an apparent reference to Pakistan-sponsored terrorism.

India has already been involved in training of the Afghan defence personnel at military academies in India and this is expected to be further strengthened. Speculation has been rife in the past few years of Kabul seeking a large amount of military equipment from India. India had earlier given four military helicopters to Afghanistan.

The two countries on Monday held their second meeting of the “Strategic Partnership Council between India and Afghanistan, set up under the aegis of bilateral Strategic Partnership Agreement 2011” which was co-chaired by external affairs minister  Sushma Swaraj and Afghan foreign minister Salahuddin Rabbani. The two sides inked four pacts in the fields of transportation, health, satellite communication and the one on 116 development projects. Kabul is already thrilled at the “projects implemented under the US$ 2 billion development and economic assistance extended by India”.

Interestingly, US President Donald Trump had recently declared that India “should do more” in Afghanistan but in any case Kabul has realised that India stands for re-construction of Afghanistan while Pakistan—-through its terror proxy, the Afghan Taliban—-stands for death and destruction there.

Both sides are also working further on a trialateral relationship with Iran, with the two  agreeing “to work towards expeditious operationalisation of the Chahbahar Port in Iran under the trilateral agreement.

The Joint Statement issued by the two countries after the meeting, stated, “It was agreed to strengthen security cooperation between the two countries. India agreed to extend further assistance for the Afghan National Defence and Security Forces in fighting the scourge of terrorism, organised crime, trafficking of narcotics and money laundering.”

It further said, “Both sides expressed grave concern at the incidents of terror and violence in Afghanistan resulting in loss of innocent lives. Noting that terrorism presented the greatest threat to peace, stability and progress of the region and beyond, they called for an end to all forms of support, State sponsorship, safe havens and sanctuaries to terrorists against Afghanistan.”

“We remain united in overcoming the challenges posed by cross-border terrorism and safe havens and sanctuaries to both our countries,” Ms. Swaraj said at a joint media briefing with Mr. Rabbani. She also described the Indian relationship with Afghanistan as an “article of faith” for India.

In what is seen as a scathing indictment of Pakistan without naming it, Mr. Rabban was quoted as saying, “The enabling environment for terrorism is directly linked to continued support they receive from outside of Afghanistan. … Unlike others, Afghanistan has hardly sought security in the insecurity of others.” He also referred to “terrorists groups like LeT and JeM which have been launching attacks against India and indiscriminately killing civilians in this country and engaging in similar terrorist activities along with Taliban, Al-Qaeda and Daesh (ISIS) in Afghanistan”. He said Afghanistan’s friendship with India or any other country does not mean hostility with others in the neighbourhood.

The Joint Statement meanwhile added that the two sides “agreed to initiate an ambitious and forward looking next generation ‘New Development Partnership’. In this context, as per the priorities and request of the Government and the people of Afghanistan, both sides agreed to take up 116 High Impact Community Development Projects to be implemented in 31 provinces of Afghanistan, including in the areas of education, health, agriculture, irrigation, drinking water, renewable energy, flood control, micro-hydropower, sports infrastructure, administrative infrastructure”.

“The Strategic Partnership Council discussed a range of bilateral, regional and global issues of mutual interest and shared understanding and convergence of views on them. The outcomes of the four Joint Working Groups in the areas of political and security issues; trade, commerce and investment; development cooperation; and human resource development, education and culture were reviewed and assessed positively,” it added.

“Reaffirming the importance of connectivity and free and unfettered transport and transit access for Afghanistan and Central Asia, both sides agreed to work towards expeditious operationalisation of the Chahbahar Port in Iran under the trilateral Agreement for Establishment of International Transport and Transit Corridor signed in May 2016. In this context, both sides agreed to explore joint investments. The Afghan side welcomed the imminent commencement of wheat shipments of 170,000 metric tons from India to Afghanistan via Chahbahar Port,” the Joint Statement said.

The four pacts signed  included “Letters establishing the New Development Partnership and launching 116 High Impact Community Development Projects”. Also, “it was agreed to expeditiously conclude the Agreements/ MoUs related to technical cooperation on police training and development; technical cooperation between railway authorities; mutual legal assistance; and cooperation in the areas of food safety”.