Beyond the Hindukush: A Door called Afghanistan

As is said, a picture speaks a thousand words, so does the photograph of the Indian president, Pranab Mukherjee, posing with the Vice-President of Afghanistan, Karim Khalili. The 5 feet tall Mukherjee was seen shaking hands with the 6.5 feet tall Afghan deputy head.

Afghanistan is in the economic headlines because of a mining ordinance which the country is trying to pass as a law which in turn is expected to hamper the Indian influence in the country. Afghanistan is a land rich in minerals like gold, the important industrial metal copper for the electric industry, oil and gas. However, a decade of rule by a medieval regime of Taliban and another decade of war has left the country in tatters. The recent withdrawal by the NATO forces from the country has given rise to speculations that the country will disintegrate into pieces with the power being transferred at the helm of the drug lords who have made a fortune exporting opium.

During the war time, India had sent its teams of peace keeping forces and engineers for the development of the infrastructure, has had a huge success. The roadways network of highways has been built at the sole responsibility of the Indian engineers and companies. No wonder, there has been innumerable attacks on the Indian embassy at Kabul to thwart this initiative. In addition, India has also been apprehensive and critical of the approach of the Afghan President, Hamid Karzai, who has advocated entering into talks and discussion with the Afghan Taliban groups and the warring druglords.

Hence, here lies the opportunity. Afghanistan is a war torn country which is trying to stand on its feet. The people of the country after having seen the brutality of the NATO forces is hardly convinced to have further influence on its land by the West. As such, India, which is not a new name in the streets of Kandahar and Kabul, can vouch for the infinite opportunities this land of the Pathans offer.

India with its high quality and cheap engineering skills can give the most optimum solution which the Afghanistan infrastructure seeks. India has been supplying helicopters and other defense equipment to the war torn country and the demand seems to have reached a stage when the Afghan vice President is seeking permission to buy lethal weapons and missile from the Indian arsenal. Apart from these, there has been a 10% increase in the export of packaged food like processed meat.

However, the most valuable item which India can hand over to Afghanistan is in the area of soft skills like education and service skills in the vocational sector. Many of us would remember the film Khuda Gawah with Amitabh Bachhan playing the role of Badshah Khan, an Afghan pathan or for that matter the Feroze Khan film Dharmatma. Films like these, particularly Khuda Gawah acquired cult status in the country in 1991-92. Unfortunately, immediately after a year, the Taliban came to power and the rhythm was lost. In contrast, in the last five years, there has been a considerable shift and push from the Indian side in restoring the lost opportunity. Afghan students can be seen flocking the Delhi University campuses and other technical institutes in southern states of India. Indian NGOs have been providing health and vocational skills to Afghan people, particularly women in the field of carpet weaving and running small scale industries.

However, the most critical reason why Afghanistan is so much important to India is that it offers the doorway to the energy reserves of Central Asia. With Pakistan proving to be a fragile and not so trustworthy neighbour in the west, India’s bond with Afghanistan is even more important in this context. The gas and oil supplies from countries like Iran and Kazakhaztan can be easily solved if India has a dominating influence in Afghanistan. The recent invitation of the Afghan cricket team to play with the junior Indian cricketers is a welcome sign. This in short, will open the door to the huge trade and market of the Central Asian economies which hitherto are dependent on the cheap Chinese expertise but devoid of quality.

Hence, what the picture of the 5 feet tall Indian President meeting the 6.5 feet tall Afghan vice President depicted was the little opening India has created in Afghanistan and the huge and imposing opportunity it can grab which will not only help in the creation of a new Afghanistan and thereby new trade opportunities for the Indian entrepreneurs but a doorway of infinite energy resources lying in the Central Asian beds.