It’s perhaps a first in international diplomacy. Amid the ongoing flux and volatility in their country, 94 out of 102 members of the Upper House of the Afghan Parliament are visiting India, the world’s most populous democracy, to hone their skills in democratic culture and institution-building.
When was the last time nearly all members of parliament of a foreign country visit another country? One will be hard pressed to recall such rare examples of friendship, solidarity and mutual trust between the two nations. Indian officials point out that India is not in the business of exporting democracy, but is all too willing to bolster democratic institutions and practices in another country, but only on invitation. New Delhi, therefore, was prompt to roll out the red carpet for the Afghan delegation led by Mohammad Alam Izedyar, First Deputy Speaker of the Afghan Upper House. Rafiullah Gulafghan, Second Deputy Speaker of the Afghan Upper House and 10 senior officials, including the Secretary General of the Upper House from the Meshrano Jirga, are also part of the delegation.
The Afghan MPs exuded optimism about the future of democracy in their country and were full of admiration for the Indian democratic model of development. They found the training programme in parliamentary procedures and practices, organized by the Bureau of Parliamentary Studies and Training (BPST), “specially useful,” said an Afghan MP, who did not wish to be named.
In their wide-ranging interactions with their Indian interlocutors, nearly all Afghan MPs described India as their “most preferred partner” as their country navigates a difficult and tricky transition in the run-up to the withdrawal of foreign combat troops.
They are also understood to have pressed India to fully implement the strategic partnership agreement, the first it signed with any country, in October 2011 that envisages a bigger role for New Delhi in the training of the Afghan national security force and police. India has quietly but incrementally stepped up training of the Afghan forces since the SPA singed less than two years ago. Most important, the Afghan MPs’ reaffirmation comes amid desperate efforts by Pakistan to influence the Taliban reconciliation process – a source of concern to India as it gears up to protect its strategic interests in Afghanistan.
The message from Afghan MPs should cheer the Indian foreign policy and strategic establishment as New Delhi engaged in multi-track diplomacy to ensure that the “red lines” agreed by the international community should not be breached in pursuing the so-called Taliban reconciliation and reintegration process.
“After 2014, the role of India and the international community is extremely important and we believe that we want India’s continuous support in the areas of agriculture, economic and education sector,” said First Deputy Speaker of the Afghan upper house (Meshrano Jirga) Md Alam Ezedyar. He also pitched for greater Indian investment in Afghanistan. “We want Indian investors to invest more in Afghanistan to support our private sector. Their investment will be of big importance to us,” he stressed.
India had hosted the Delhi Investment Summit on Afghanistan last year which pitched for trade and investment-driven strategy as opposed to aid-centric model to promote economic rejuvenation and stability of Afghanistan. This was the first such conclave India hosted for any other country on its soil, underlining New Delhi’s growing strategic and economic stakes the reconstruction of a country for which it has pledged $2 billion. The conclave culminated in a set of recommendations which were submitted to the July 8 Tokyo conference where major donors pledged $16 billion for Afghanistan. The key recommendations included providing the private sector investment protection and risk mitigation, providing incentives for investing in Afghanistan, the creation of an international fund for SMEs and a ‘mutual compact’ between the government and foreign investors where the interests of both Afghanistan and the international business community are protected.
As the new great game intensifies in Afghanistan, India needs to keep a hawk-like eye on devious moves of rivals like Pakistan to hijack that country by using the Taliban and its allied militant networks as proxies. Whichever way the power game goes, India will continue to have soft power advantage in a country where the popularity of Indian TV sops and Bollywood movies has to be seen to be believed. India also inspires enormous instantaneous goodwill, as this writer saw first-hand during in his visits to Kabul. The credit for this goes to innovative and development-centric policy followed by India’s foreign policy establishment and thousands of Indians who braved threats to their lives to build the Afghan parliament, roads, dams, erecting power transmission lines, digging tubewells and running sanitation projects in Kabul. But such soft power assets are no reason for smugness; in the days to come one can expect New Delhi to step up its game to ensure that all the hard work of the last decade is not undone by the return of the hardcore Taliban and the regressive ideology they represent.
- Manish Chand is Founder-CEO and Editor-in-Chief of India Writes Network (www.indiawrites.org) and India and World, a pioneering magazine focused on international affairs. He is CEO/Director of TGII Media Private Limited, an India-based media, publishing, research and consultancy company.