IAS Main Exam International Relations : India and Afghanistan

The new global position of India is also influencing the bilateral links within the neighborhood. The changing paradigm of our foreign policy is evident with the increase in number of questions on international relations in UPSC IAS Prelims and Mains Exam. Here, we are providing an analysis of bilateral ties with our recent new member of SAARC – Afghanistan.

Growing importance to foreign policy in UPSC IAS MAINS is evident of India’s rising role in world politics and consistent economic growth. A symbolic shift is seen in UPSC IAS MANS exam where more importance is given to the global polity influencing socio-economic structure in India. Here we will cover India and Afghanistan’s growing relations and their path directed towards prosperity.


Probable Questions:

Q1. “India has become the largest regional provider of humanitarian and reconstruction aid to Afghanistan”- Comment
Q2. What is the impact of major capacity building projects being undertaken by India in Afghanistan on the bilateral links within South Asian countries especially China and Pakistan?

India and Afghanistan: A New Beginning

India and Afghanistan have a strong relationship based on historical and cultural links. All new horizons were achieved in the Indo-Afghan relation by the Strategic Partnership Agreement signing between the two countries.
As Afghanistan has been undergoing simultaneous political, security and economic transitions since the last few years, India has become the largest regional provider of humanitarian and reconstruction aid to Afghanistan and hence making a long-term commitment to the security and development of Afghanistan.

Recent Interactions:

  • Afghanistan's president trip to India in September 2016

India and Afghanistan strongly pledged to put an end to sponsorship of “all forms of terrorism” and signed an Extradition Treaty to facilitate exchange of wanted terrorists and criminals.
Both nations also sealed agreements on peaceful uses of outer space and on cooperation on civil and commercial matters.
India as iterated in mutual strategic partnership extended a $one-billion for capability building in areas.
India also offered Afghanistan affordable pharmaceutical products and medicines.

  • The Afghan-India Friendship Dam

Salma Dam, officially known as the Afghan-India Friendship Dam, is a hydroelectric and irrigation dam project recently opened on 4 June 2016 by Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi along with Afghan President Ashraf Ghani. This hydroelectric plant produces 42 MW of power in addition to providing irrigation for farmland.
The completion of the dam project represents culmination of years of hard work by about 1, 500 Indian and Afghan engineers and other professionals in very difficult conditions. It also highlights India's continued commitment to Afghanistan's reconstruction and development.
The dam is expected to help Afghanistan capitalize on opportunities that will open up once the India backed Chabahar project, linking the port in Iran to Central Asia’s road and railway networks, is completed.

  • In 2015, India donated three Mi-25 attack helicopters to Afghanistan as part of the bilateral strategic partnership to counter the terrorism and Indian Prime Minister inaugurated the newly constructed Afghan parliament constructed under India-Afghanistan development cooperation. It was iterated that the parliament building will stand as an enduring symbol of the ties of emotions and values, of affection and aspirations that bind the two countries in a special relationship.
  • Important agreements and MoUs signed.

Visa Exemption for Diplomatic Passport Holders of India and Afghanistan signed in 2016.
Agreement on Strategic Partnership between the Islamic Republic of Afghanistan and the Republic of India signed in 2016.
Cooperation in the field of Textiles, Clothing, Investment, Compliance and Skill Development signed in 2015.
MOU between the Government of the Islamic Republic of Afghanistan and the Government of the Republic of India and the United Nations Development Programme signed in 2007.
MOU between the Ministry of Human Resource Development of the Republic of India and the Ministry of Higher Education of the Islamic Republic of Afghanistan on cooperation in the field of education signed in 2006.

Why Afghanistan so significant?

Afghanistan holds a strategic position in Asia lying at the cross roads of Asia as it connects south Asia with central Asia and central Asia to west Asia. Therefore, the heart of Asia and Istanbul conference forms a core forum for dialogues for increasing connectivity within Asia and also between outside countries encircling Asia.


Political Ties

Bilateral relations between Afghanistan and India have traditionally been strong and friendly. Whilst the Republic of India was the only South Asian country to recognize the Soviet-backed Democratic Republic of Afghanistan in the 1980 but the relations were diminished during the 1990 Afghan civil war and the Taliban Government.

India aided the overthrow of the Taliban and became the largest regional provider of humanitarian and reconstruction aid to Afghanistan. Indians are working in various construction projects, as part of India's rebuilding efforts in Afghanistan.

The Strategic Partnership Agreement between the two sides provides assistance to help rebuild Afghanistan's infrastructure and institutions, education and technical assistance to re-build indigenous Afghan capacity in different areas, encouraging investment in Afghanistan's natural resources, providing duty free access to the Indian market for Afghanistan's exports support for an Afghan-led, Afghan-owned, broad-based and inclusive process of peace and reconciliation, and advocating the need for a sustained and long-term commitment to Afghanistan by the international community.

The two sides strongly condemned the recent terrorist attacks in Afghanistan and India, and time and again stressed the need to fully eliminate all forms and manifestations of terrorism meanwhile supporting peace and stability in the region.

Commercial Ties

India recognizes the supremacy of Afghanistan as a junction of trade routes between central, south and west Asia. Although the bilateral trade is at a modest figure going by the actual potential but it is estimated to rise or closer connects engagement between both the countries and completion of various ongoing infrastructural projects related to trade routes around the region like development of chabahar port and TAPI pipeline etc.

However, the trade relations can realize its true potential if the Wagah-Attari route is opened for bilateral trade with Afghanistan. One of the objectives of building Zaranj-Delaram road by India was to boost bilateral economic relations besides offering Afghanistan another outlet to Sea port.

The successful operation of the Chabahar port in Iran could capitalize on the road to offer a new transit route of Afghan products to India while opening a new route for India, and the rest of the world, for trade with Central Asia.
India and Afghanistan have also signed a Preferential Trade Agreement in 2003 under which both allowed substantial duty concessions to certain category of products to each other’s products.

Transit is a major bottleneck in Indo-Afghan trade, most of the trade occurs via Bandar Abbas port in Iran or through Dubai which consumes a lot of time moreover it involves a third party medium for trade to occur.
Many Indian companies are engaged in the infrastructural development of Afghanistan and are contributing in the development of the country.


Cultural ties and Indian Diaspora

India and Afghanistan share centuries old cultural heritage with deep rooted linkages in the field of music, arts, architecture, language and cuisine. Afghanistan has been an important trading and craft center for over 2000 years connecting the civilizations of Persia, Central Asia with India. However, over 3 decades of war have undermined Afghanistan’s unique traditions of art and architecture.

In the field of music most Afghan musicians were trained in the Patiala Gharana. Today, Indian films, songs and TV serials are hugely popular with the masses, contributing significantly to the popularization of Hindi and familiarization of the populace with Indian socio cultural value system.
As part of India’s restructuring programme for Afghanistan, India has aimed to take up projects that will render Afghanistan's cultural heritage sustainable. The Indian cultural centre has also been working towards building a shared cultural heritage.

Presently, there are estimated to be about 3500 Indians in the country and most of the Indian Diaspora are engaged as professionals in banks, IT firms, construction companies, hospitals, telecom companies, security companies, Government of India sponsored projects, Government of Afghanistan and UN missions. Security is the prime concern of the Indian Diaspora in Afghanistan. The Indian Diaspora in Afghanistan Mission periodically issues security advisories to all registered Indians apprising them of the security situation and security precautions to be taken while staying in the country.


India has played a significant role in the reconstruction and rehabilitation process in Afghanistan. India's extensive developmental assistance programme is a strong signal of its abiding commitment to peace, stability and prosperity in Afghanistan. This makes India one of the leading donor nations to Afghanistan and by far the largest donor in the region.

For India, Afghanistan has immense strategic potential. India has also signed the TAPI pipeline project that aims to bring natural gas from Turkmenistan through Afghanistan and Pakistan to India. It is noteworthy that a friendly and stable regime in Kabul is like a geopolitical insurance against Pakistan’s deep state policy in the central Asian region.

But keeping in mind the vulnerable transitional state of Afghanistan, India should decide for itself whether it’s ready from playing a bigger role in a country whose stability is vital for its regional ambitions and whose people traditionally share a common vision with India.

Moreover, India can also explore softer diplomatic way along the central Asia like the Chabahar agreement brought together India, Afghanistan and Iran, India should work to bring together more regional powers invested in Afghanistan’s stability and economic development.


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