IAS Gyan

Daily News Analysis


9th March, 2023 International Relations

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Context: India will send its next consignment of wheat as aid to Afghanistan under the Taliban regime via Chabahar, the MEA announced


  • While India had sent about 40,000 metric tonnes (MT) of 50,000 MT promised last year after an agreement with the previous PM Imran Khan government, the shipments had to be called off after floods in Pakistan, and the time period allowed by Pakistan ran out.
  • India has used the Chabahar route in the past, prior to 2021, to send shipments of wheat to Afghanistan


  • The decision, that was announced at the first meeting of the India-Central Asia Joint Working Group (JWG) on Afghanistan in Delhi, came after the agreement with Pakistan to extend for sending the wheat over the land route expired, and talks on extending the time have failed to proceed.
  • The JWG meeting comes more than a year after the India-Central Asia summit in January 2022, where the decision to hold a special contact group on Afghanistan was announced.
  • At the JWG, India also agreed to offer “customised capacity building courses” for UNODC (United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime) officials and stakeholders and cooperate on initiatives to counter drug trafficking and rehabilitation efforts for Afghan drug users, especially women.
  • According to UNODC reports, opium production is up by nearly a third in the past year, especially after the Taliban took control of Kabul.
  • More than 80% of the world’s opium and heroin is smuggled out of Afghanistan, where an estimated 3 million people, or nearly one tenth of the population is addicted.
  • The issues of drugs, the export of terrorism and radicalism, and refugees has been at the top of concerns for neighbouring countries in Central Asia. 
  • However, the release did not specify if the training courses would be provided through the Indian Mission in Kabul, that has a ‘technical team’ posted there, or whether the government would extend visas for Afghans to travel to India for the training.
  • At present, India has cancelled all visas issued to Afghans prior to August 2021, when the Taliban took control of Afghanistan, and has not issued new visas for Afghan students or others wishing to travel here.
  • The JWG also emphasised the “importance of formation of a truly inclusive and representative political structure that respects the rights of all Afghans and ensures equal rights of women, girls and members of minority groups, including access to education


  • India and Afghanistan have a strong relationship based on historical and cultural links. Afghanistan has been suffering wars and civil strife for decades, and remains one of the poorest countries in the world.
  • India has played a significant role in the reconstruction and rehabilitation of Afghanistan.
  • We believe that democracy and development are the key instruments to ensure that Afghanistan becomes a source of regional stability.
  • This has been reflected in the Strategic Partnership Agreement, signed between Afghanistan and India during Afghan President Hamid Karzai's visit to India in October 2011
  • The commitment is also reflected in our extensive developmental assistance programme, which now stands at around US $2 billion, making India the 5th largest bilateral donor in Afghanistan after the US, UK, Japan and Germany. This, by any reckoning, is a substantial amount for a non-traditional donor like India.

Why relations with Afghanistan matters?

Geostrategic and geopolitical location

  • Afghanistan has been a key player in Asian geopolitics owing to its geostrategic and geopolitical location.
  • Being situated at the crossroads of the Middle East, Central Asia and the Indian subcontinent, it has been a transit and transport hub since the ancient Silk route.
  • It has borders with six other nations including Iran, Pakistan, China, Turkmenistan have made it a hot-bed for conflict and cooperation.

Regional organisation

  • It is also perhaps the only SAARC nation whose people have much affection for India.
  • After a break between 1996 and 2001, when India joined the world in shunning the previous Taliban regime, one way New Delhi re-established ties with the country was to pour in development assistance.

Historical background:

  • India and Afghanistan have a strong relationship based on historical and cultural links.
  • The relationship has its foundations in the historical contacts and exchanges between the people.
  • In recent past, India-Afghanistan relations have been further strengthened by the Strategic Partnership Agreement, which was signed between the two countries in October 2011.

Afghanistan is important to India for the following reasons:

  • Security: A stable Afghanistan is crucial for regional and domestic security and stability for India.
  • Connectivity:The most important role of Afghanistan is always considered as India’s gateway to Central Asia.
  • Energy ambitions:Peaceful Afghan is essential to address the energy needs of India.
  • Regional Balance of Power:Afghanistan is tied to India’s vision of being a regional leader and a great power, coupled with its competition with China over resources and its need to counter Pakistani influence.
  • Natural Resources: The country is home to resource deposits worth one trillion dollars, according to the US Geological Survey.

India’s major projects in Afghanistan:

SALMA DAM: The hydropower and irrigation project, completed against many odds and inaugurated in 2016, is known as the Afghan-India Friendship Dam. The Taliban claim the area around the dam is now under their control.

ZARANJ-DELARAM HIGHWAY: The other high-profile project was the 218-km Zaranj-Delaram highway built by the Border Roads Organisation. Zaranj is located close to Afghanistan’s border with Iran. With Pakistan denying India overland access for trade with Afghanistan, the highway is of strategic importance to New Delhi, as it provides an alternative route into landlocked Afghanistan through Iran’s Chabahar port.

PARLIAMENT: The Afghan Parliament in Kabul was built by India at $90 million. A block in the building is named after former PM AB Vajpayee.

STOR PALACEIn 2016, Afghan President Ashraf Ghani and Prime Minister Modi inaugurated the restored Stor Palace in Kabul, originally built in the late 19th century. In 2009, India, Afghanistan, and the Aga Khan Development Network signed a tripartite agreement for its restoration. The Aga Khan Trust for Culture completed the project between 2013 and 2016.

POWER INFRA: Other Indian projects in Afghanistan include the rebuilding of power infrastructure such as the 220kV DC transmission line from Pul-e-Khumri, capital of Baghlan province to the north of Kabul, to beef up electricity supply to the capital. Indian contractors and workers also restored telecommunications infrastructure in many provinces.

HEALTH INFRA: India has reconstructed a children’s hospital it had helped build in Kabul in 1972 —named Indira Gandhi Institute for Child Health in 1985 — that was in a shambles after the war. ‘Indian Medical Missions’ have held free consultation camps in several areas. Thousands who lost their limbs after stepping on mines left over from the war have been fitted with the Jaipur Foot. India has also built clinics in the border provinces of Badakhshan, Balkh, Kandahar, Khost, Kunar, Nangarhar, Nimruz, Nooristan, Paktia and Paktika.

TRANSPORTATION:  India gifted 400 buses and 200 mini-buses for urban transportation, 105 utility vehicles for municipalities, 285 military vehicles for the Afghan National Army, and 10 ambulances for public hospitals in five cities. It also gave three Air India aircraft to Ariana, the Afghan national carrier, when it was restarting operations.

OTHER PROJECTS: India has contributed desks and benches for schools, and built solar panels in remote villages, and Sulabh toilet blocks in Kabul. New Delhi has also played a role in building capacity, with vocational training institutes, scholarships to Afghan students, mentoring programmes in the civil service, and training for doctors and others.


  • India had concluded with Afghanistan an agreement for the construction of the Shatoot Dam in Kabuldistrict, which would provide safe drinking water to 2 million residents.
  • India pledged $1 million for another Aga Khan heritage project, the restoration of the Bala Hissar Fort south of Kabul, whose origins go back to the 6th century.
  • Bala Hissar went on to become a significant Mughal fort, parts of it were rebuilt by Jahangir, and it was used as a residence by Shah Jahan.

Political relations:

  • Prime Minister of India visited Herat in 2016 and inaugurated the Afghan-India Friendship Dam, earlier known as Salma Dam.
  • Prime Minister along with a high level delegation paid a visit on 25 December 2016 to inaugurated the newly built Afghan Parliament with approx INR 970 crore; announced new 500 scholarships for the children of the martyrs of Afghan Security Forces and gifted four Mi-25 Attack helicopters to the Afghan Air Force.
  • President Ghani paid a working visit to India in 2018 and expressed satisfaction at the increase in bilateral trade that had crossed the US $ 1 billionHe expressed determination to strengthen connectivity between the two countries, including through Chabahar port and Air-Freight Corridor.
  • It was agreed to deepen the ‘New Development Partnership in the areas of high impact projects in this field of infrastructure, human resources development and other capacity building projects in Afghanistan.

Commercial Relations:

  • Given the geographical proximity and historical linkages, India has been a natural trading partner for Afghanistan and is the largest market in South Asiafor its products.
  • The total bilateral trade between India and Afghanistan for CY 2019-20 was at US$ 5 billion.
  • Difficulties in transit via Pakistan was a major hurdle in expanding the trade ties.
  • In order to expand trade to India, the Afghan government in collaboration with Government of India launched a dedicated Air Freight Corridor on 19 June 2017.
  • Operationalization of the Chabahar Port in December 2017, followed by commercial agreement to manage port operations in February 2018, clearly demonstrate the feasibility of Chabahar Port as a transit point for Afghanistan and eventually to Central Asia.

Afghanistan-India Culture Relations:

  • Afghanistan has been an important trading and craft centre 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.
  • Today, the biggest challenge for Afghanistan is to rediscover and sustain its ancient art and architectural knowledge.
  • India and Afghanistan share centuries old cultural heritage with deep-rooted linkages in the field of music, arts, architecture, language and cuisine
  • There have been several exchanges of artistes and music troupes over the past few years.
  • In addition to the above people to people exchanges, the two Governments came together to establish an India- Afghanistan Foundation (IAF)in 2007. IAF is a trust fund which finances projects aimed at fostering India-Afghanistan relations through enhancement of economic, scientific, educational, technical as well as cultural cooperation.

Sports Cooperation:

  • India and Afghanistan have robust relations in the field of sports.
  • Since 2011, Afghanistan Under-14 & Under-17 Boys’ and Under-17 Girls’ football teams have been participating in the Subroto Cup International Tournament organised every year by the India Air Force.
  • Cricket has been a major factor in promoting people-to-people ties between the two countries. Afghanistan Cricket Board (ACB) has been alloted three cricket home grounds in India (Noida, Dehradun and Lucknow).
  • India is also involved in construction cricket stadiums and grounds in various provinces of Afghanistan.

High Impact Community Development Projects (HICDP):

  • Since 2005, India and Afghanistan have partnered in the area of community development through the HICDP program.
  • Under this scheme, US$ 120 mn has been committed till date to various small to medium scale projects in areas such as education, health, water management, government buildings, sport facilities, agriculture and irrigation, etc.
  • Around 433 High Impact Community Development Projects have been completed with Indian financial support in all 34 provinces of Afghanistan so far and around 110 projects are ongoing in various provinces of Afghanistan.
  • During FY 2019-20, 37 projects were completed in various provinces of Afghanistan under the High Impact Community Development Project (HICDP) scheme of Government of India.

Human Resource Development and Capacity Building:

  • Human resource development and capacity building initiatives constitute an important segment of India's assistance in Afghanistan.
  • On an average, more than 3,500 Afghan nationals undergo training/education in India every year.
  • More than 15,000 Afghan students pursue education in India on self-financing basis.
  • India’s assistance in human resource development has helped to create a large pool of trained manpower that has been an asset to both the public and private sectors in Afghanistan.

Indian Diaspora in Afghanistan:

  • Presently, there are estimated to be about 1710 Indians in the country.
  • Most of the Indians in Afghanistan are engaged as professionals in Banks, IT firms, construction companies, hospitals, NGOs, telecom companies, security companies, universities, Govt. of India sponsored projects, Govt. of Afghanistan and UN Missions.

Chabahar Port:

  • It is located in the Indian Ocean in the Sistan province of Iran.
  • The Chabahar port is considered a gateway to golden opportunities for trade by India, Iran and Afghanistan with central Asian countries.
  • The port, which is easily accessible from India's western coast, is increasingly seen as a counter to Pakistan's Gwadar Port which is being developed with Chinese investment.
  • Chabahar Port provides an option of alternate supply route to everyone, thus reducing the importance of Pakistan with respect to trade.
  • It is located on the Gulf of Oman and is only 72 km away from the Gwadar port in Pakistan which has been developed by China.
  • China is aggressively pursuing its own Belt and Road Initiative (BRI) under the One Belt One Road (OBOR) project.
  • In future, the Chabahar project and the International North South Transport Corridor (INSTC) will complement each other by optimising Indian connectivity with Russia and Eurasia.
  • Also, it gives India direct access to Afghanistan and other Central Asian Republics

About United Nations World Food Program:

  • The World Food Programme (WFP) is the food-assistance branch of the United Nations.
  • It is the world's largest humanitarian organization the largest one focused on hunger and food security, and the largest provider of school meals.
  • Founded in 1961, it is headquartered in Rome.
  • WFP is an executive member of the United Nations Sustainable Development Group, a consortium of UN entities that aims to fulfil the 17 Sustainable Development Goals (SDG), with a priority on achieving SDG 2 for "zero hunger" by 2030.
  • The World Food Programme was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize in 2020 for its efforts to provide food assistance in areas of conflict, and to prevent the use of food as a weapon of war and conflict.
  • WFP operations are funded by voluntary donations principally from governments of the world, and also from corporations and private donors.
  • The European Union is a permanent observer in WFP and, as a major donor, participates in the work of its executive board

About United Nations World Food Program:

  • The United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime is a United Nations office that was established in 1997 as the Office for Drug Control and Crime Prevention by combining the United Nations International Drug Control Program (UNDCP) and the Crime Prevention and Criminal Justice Division in the United Nations Office at Vienna and was renamed the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime in 2002.
  • The agency's focus is the trafficking in and abuse of illicit drugs, crime prevention and criminal justice, international terrorism, and political corruption.
  • It is a member of the United Nations Development Group. In 2016–2017 it had an estimated biannual budget of US$700 million.


Q) India has played a significant role in the reconstruction and rehabilitation of Afghanistan. Discuss. (150 words)