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Traditional friends, modern allies

India and Afghanistan’s Strategic Partnership Agreement will help achieve shared objectives in many areas as well as bolster the overall human security situation in Afghanistan

Friendship between the people of India and Afghanistan dates back to centuries. It has only grown deeper in the modern era. Kabuliwala — a timeless work of Rabindranath Tagore and a classic reading in Indian schools — sums up the ever growing relationship between Indians and Afghans. Kabuliwala correctly characterises the friendship, loyalty, and generosity of the Afghan people, who think highly of India’s rich culture and civilisation, to which Afghans have both contributed and learned from at the same time. The diversity of India marvels Afghans, who naturally identify with its pluralistic society, where people of diverse ethnic, linguistic, religious, and sectarian backgrounds co-exist. Hence, Afghans welcome the world’s largest democracy’s rise as a global economic powerhouse, and unforgettably appreciate Indians sharing their own bread with Afghanistan.

Since the signing of the Indo-Afghan Friendship Treaty in 1950, Indian aid programmes have reached large parts of Afghanistan and improved the lives of many Afghans. Through major infrastructure projects, India has helped connect Afghanistan internally and with the region, facilitating cross-border transit, trade and investment. And through small rural development projects, India has addressed the problem of impoverished communities across Afghanistan, in line with the objectives of the Afghan government.

Natural strategic allies;

With such a background of deep-seated ties, India and Afghanistan are natural strategic allies. While India’s democratic institutions have long been established and matured, those of Afghanistan are nascent and in need of further institutionalisation. To help create an enabling environment for the Afghan people to realise their vision of a functioning democracy that contributes to regional peace and prosperity, Afghanistan and India signed a Strategic Partnership Agreement (SPA) in October 2011.

One of the core objectives of the SPA is to help Afghanistan against the intertwined threats of terrorism, extremism, and criminality, which continue undermining stability in Afghanistan, peace in the region, and security in the world. In this regard, Afghanistan gratefully welcomes the recent announcement by India to provide Afghan forces with four MI-25 helicopters to enhance its air capability in the fight against a relentless terror campaign — one which aims to kill and maim the innocent people of Afghanistan daily.

In the weeks and months ahead, we look forward to building on the timely security assistance from India, fully operationalising the implementing mechanisms of the SPA to achieve our shared objectives in the following areas: trade and economic cooperation; capacity development and education; social, cultural, civil society; and people-to-people relations. Further progress in each of these areas will bolster the overall human security situation in Afghanistan, increasingly beset by an economic recession that unfortunately benefits terrorist networks, which often exploit poverty and joblessness among youth to recruit rental fighters.

But we can deny terrorists the opportunity to bank on our vulnerable human terrain, by working together to address Afghanistan’s prioritised needs, within the SPA framework of cooperation. This much-needed endeavour can begin with holding the second meeting of the SPA Council for Partnership, through which we will be able to assess Afghanistan’s security and development needs in order to determine the way forward in our strategic partnership.

At the same time, to ensure the regional leadership and ownership of addressing the challenges and threats that commonly confront us, it is imperative that our other neighbours, including China, Iran, and Russia, collaborate with India to ensure regional stability through securing Afghanistan. As these countries are aware, terrorist networks, including the Al-Qaeda and the Islamic State, have converged in our vulnerable environment, from where they have every intention to strike targets throughout our neighbourhood.

Like Afghanistan and India, China, Iran, and Russia have also been targets of terrorist attacks in the past. Time and again, they have committed in such multilateral forums as the Shanghai Cooperation Organisation (SCO) and the Heart of Asia Process to jointly counter the same threats that destabilise Afghanistan. Now is the time for all of us to walk the talk by ensuring unity of regional effort in support of Afghanistan’s stabilisation. Our shared success in defeating terrorism and extremism will undoubtedly safeguard the long-term national security interests of all of our neighbours in an already interdependent region and world.

(Hekmat Khalil Karzai is Afghanistan’s Deputy Foreign Minister for Political Affairs.)

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