Analysis: India's Northern Exposure
Council on Foreign Relations
December 5, 2007
Author: Jayshree Bajoria
India’s appetite for Afghan nuts and Kabul’s love for Bollywood may be reframing the geopolitics of the region. When Afghanistan joins the South Asia Free Trade Agreement in February 2008, it can start exporting a wide range of products to India at zero import duty. India has offered $750 million in aid to Kabul (Reuters) since 2001, making it the largest regional donor to Afghanistan. Besides helping to rebuild Afghan roads, airlines, and power plants, and providing support to the health and education sectors, New Delhi also seeks to spread its own brand of democracy in Kabul. Not only will future Afghan parliaments sit in a building that India helped construct, but Afghan civil servants, diplomats, and police officials will have received training from their Indian counterparts.
India and Afghanistan historically have shared close cultural and political ties. India supported successive governments in Kabul until the rise of the Taliban in 1992, viewed then—as now—as a front for radical Pakistani interests in the region. Afghanistan holds strategic importance for India in more ways than one. India hopes for transmission lines bringing electricity from Central Asia, as well as a pipeline for oil and gas. There is also an Iranian-Indian venture to develop a port (Economist) in the Gulf of Oman, which will require road links across Afghan territory.
By helping to rebuild a new Afghanistan, India strives toward more regional stability, but also hopes to counter Pakistan’s influence in Kabul. India wants new land routes to be able to move goods to Afghanistan, bypassing Pakistan. “Pakistan is wary of providing a land route to India, since the two countries are competing for the same consumer-goods market in Afghanistan,” says an op-ed in Pakistan’s Daily Times.
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