New Delhi spent billions of dollars on infrastructure and humanitarian aid in Afghanistan after the United States overthrew the Taliban regime in 2001.
From building highways to transporting food and building schools, India “has invested time, money and effort” in rebuilding Afghanistan, according to an Indian business expert.
The expert, who asked to remain anonymous, said Indian projects in Afghanistan would require regular maintenance and could only survive in an “enabling environment”.
India’s notable investments in Afghanistan
Aparna Pande, director of the Hudson Institute’s Initiative on the Future of India and South Asia, said India’s investment in Afghanistan “won’t go away just because the Taliban took power ”.
Some of New Delhi’s most important projects include a highway that connects India to Afghanistan. The $ 150 million Zaranj-Delaram highway in southwestern Afghanistan was completed in 2009. It allows India to trade with Afghanistan through the Iranian port of Chabahar. The road link is important for India because Pakistan does not allow New Delhi to transport goods to Afghanistan through its territory.
India also helped build the Afghan parliament in Kabul and a dam that generates electricity and irrigates fields.
India has also built schools and hospitals, trained Afghan officers in its military academies, and offered other technical assistance.
In 2017, New Delhi and Kabul opened a direct air cargo corridor, which boosted trade between the two countries.
Besides these projects, India has committed around $ 120 million to develop various small and medium scale projects ranging from education, health, water management and sports facilities since 2005.
India also helped set up a medical diagnostic center in Kabul in 2015.
As of July 2020, India had signed five more agreements to build schools and roads worth $ 2.5 million.
At the 2020 Geneva conference, Indian Foreign Minister S. Jaishankar said New Delhi will build the Shatoot dam in the Kabul district. The dam would provide drinking water to more than 2 million Afghans. In addition, India would also undertake more than 100 projects worth $ 80 million in Afghanistan, Jaishankar said.
Additionally, New Delhi has offered scholarships for Afghan students to study in India.
Why did India invest in Afghanistan?
India had supported the anti-Taliban resistance when the Islamic fundamentalist group ruled Afghanistan between 1996 and 2001. After the fall of the first Taliban government in 2001, New Delhi found an opportunity to increase its influence in the country .
Gautam Mukhopadhaya, Indian Ambassador to Afghanistan between 2010 and 2013, told DW that the main objective of investing in Afghanistan is to gain public trust and political goodwill.
“These were ‘gifts’ for the Afghan people,” he said, adding that India did not want to use financial aid as political leverage in any way.
But some experts believe India’s goals also included Afghanistan’s political and democratic transformation.
Atul Mishra, an expert in international relations and governance studies at Shiv Nadar University, said India is projecting itself as a state builder to “ensure that a secure democratic and inclusive regime exemplifies the importance of political transformation in a predominantly Islamic country ”.
India and Afghanistan signed a strategic partnership agreement in 2011, under which India also assisted the Afghan army. New Delhi also wanted to ensure that anti-Indian Islamist militants did not launch attacks on Indian soil from Afghanistan, according to Mishra.
New Delhi has repeatedly accused Pakistan of supporting Islamist militants in the region as proxies against India.
Can India work with the Taliban?
India has always been critical of the Taliban, which it sees as close to its regional rival, Pakistan. But the Islamist group has hinted that it would like to have good relations with all countries in the region this time around.
According to Mukhopadhaya, working with the new Afghan leadership could prove difficult.
“For example, extending humanitarian aid to the Taliban is a complicated business,” he told DW.
Pande believes it is crucial that India continues to provide humanitarian aid to Afghanistan, but not through the Taliban.
New Delhi is still skeptical of the Taliban, with Pande saying Taliban support for the hijackers of an Indian Airlines flight in 1999 still lingers in most Indian memories.
Mishra is of the opinion that India lost its influence over Afghanistan after the American withdrawal from the country and the rapid capture of Kabul by the Taliban on August 15.
Experts say India must now “wait and watch” to see how the new Taliban regime deals with its regional neighbors. Until then, Indian investments in Afghanistan will be in limbo.