Representatives from more then 50 countries are meeting in London this week to consider ways to stabilise Afghanistan ahead of Washington’s 2011 deadline to begin drawing down troops.
India and Pakistan are seen as key players in any regional approach but their six-decade rivalry is a major obstacle because it spills over into Afghanistan. New Delhi’s growing role in the war-torn nation has stoked fears of encirclement in Pakistan, which considers Afghanistan part of its sphere of influence.
Following are details of their competition in Afghanistan:
* INDIA’S ASSISTANCE TO AFGHANISTAN
India’s USD 1.2 billion of aid to Afghanistan makes it the sixth-largest donor, four times higher than an estimated USD 300 million by Pakistan. Indian agencies are involved in construction of highways, buildings and urban infrastructure, seeking to win goodwill through a series of simple but targeted forms of help.
It offered to rebuild the Afghan national airline Ariana, donating Airbus aircraft despite a shortage in its own fleet. It also trained Afghan commercial pilots.
New Delhi has donated 600 buses, provided experts who have restored telecommunication networks in at least 11 provinces, and built power transmission lines in northern Afghanistan. It is also building the new premises for the Afghan parliament, again a symbolic move to underline close ties between the two countries.
Its most significant development activity, however, is the construction of a road that connects Delaram in western Afghanistan with Zaranj on Afghanistan’s border with Iran and another that links Kandahar with Spin Boldak, a town near the Afghanistan-Pakistan border.
The construction of these roads provides access to strategic ports for India and landlocked Afghanistan, lessening the latter’s dependence on Pakistan. New Delhi, denied overland access to Afghanistan through Pakistan, is seeking to ship goods to the Iranian port of Chabahar and then transport them into Afghanistan on the roads that it is building.
Pakistan’s aid effort, by contrast, has been much more restrained, in part perhaps because of the differing economic conditions in India and Pakistan.
Islamabad sees India’s rapid insertion of material support as a strategic loss and one that rolls back decades of efforts to establish an Islamic alliance between Kabul and Islamabad.
* INDIAN CONSULATES IN AFGHANISTAN
Since the fall of the Taliban in 2001, India has raised its diplomatic footprint in Afghanistan, opening new consulates in Herat in the west and Mazar-i-Sharif in the north. It also reopened two others in the southern city of Kandahar and Jalalabad in the east which had been shut since 1979.
India says the consulates are necessary because of various development projects it has underway in Afghanistan.
Pakistan says the consulates are largely staffed by intelligence agents involved in stirring up unrest inside Pakistan, especially in southwest Baluchistan province on the Afghan border where a low-key insurgency that has raged for decades is showing signs of escalation.
India denies any involvement in the Baluch insurgency. In July last year it agreed to include a reference to Baluchistan in a joint statement signed by Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh and his Pakistani counterpart Yusuf Raza Gilani at the end of a meeting in Egypt to improve ties.
* INDIA’S MILITARY INVOLVEMENT IN AFGHANISTAN
India does not have any troops on the ground in Afghanistan. But there are more than 500 men from the Indo-Tibetan Border Police and the Border Roads Organisation involved in construction of roads, according to reports in the Indian media.
These forces are not part of NATO and their objective is to provide security to consulates, Indian labourers and businesses.
India also trains a small number of officers from the Afghan National Army at defence institutions in India. In April 2008, Afghanistan’s then defence minister Abdul Rahim Wardak visited New Delhi and met his Indian counterpart AK Antony. He also travelled to Srinagar, capital of Indian Kashmir and visited the headquarters of the Indian army’s 15 Corps involved in fighting the revolt in the Himalayan territory.