Foreign Policy Watch: India-Afghanistan

Soft power, India’s strength in Afghanistan

Note4Students

From UPSC perspective, the following things are important :

Prelims level : CDRI

Mains level : Paper 2- Afghanistan issue

Context

Over the past few weeks, there has been much talk about India’s diplomatic stakes being threatened by the changing political scenario in Afghanistan.

India’s role in Afghanistan’s development

  • India is currently the fifth-largest donor in Afghanistan.
  • India’s total development assistance over the years has been worth over $3 billion.
  • Soft and hard measures: India’s development cooperation with Afghanistan has encompassed both soft and hard measures.
  • Soft measures have helped build goodwill and greater people-to-people contact and has involved measures focusing on health, education, capacity development and food security, among others.
  • Many projects have been community-driven, thus helping engage a large section of people in development efforts.
  • Hard infrastructure examples include the parliament building which was inaugurated in 2015, financing the Delaram-Zaranj Highway as well as the 42 MW Salma Dam in Herat province.
  • India had also engaged in triangular cooperation under the US umbrella, cooperating with USAID on various programmes.
  • This includes Afghan Women’s Empowerment Programme, a collaboration between USAID and the Self-Employed Women’s Association (SEWA) for providing vocational education for Afghan women.

How India’s approach differed from other donors?

  • Demand-driven approach: India follows a demand-driven approach, which implies that the sectors for investment are chosen by the recipient government.
  • Not condition based: although its aid is extended as a soft means to gain strategic leverage, it comes without political conditions.
  • In PPP terms, the value of the Indian rupee is often underestimated, meaning that the Indian rupee would be able to buy substantially more goods and services at adjusted exchange rates.
  • For example, a study by the Stimson Centre found out that even though Indian aid in 2015-16 totalled $1.36 billion, in PPP terms it could be pegged at over $5 billion.

Way forward

  • Adapt programs to new reality: At the Afghanistan Conference in Geneva in 2020, India announced several development projects.
  • New political developments in Afghanistan are unlikely to lead to a complete disconnect with India and its established socio-economic role.
  • However, India may need to adapt its programmes to new realities.
  • Diversify portfolio: There is still an infrastructure deficit in Afghanistan and a need for rebuilding and reconstruction.
  • As far as development cooperation is concerned, however, India needs to further diversify its portfolios.
  • Resilient Afghanistan to climate change: India can do much to build a more resilient Afghanistan with respect to climate change and disaster risk reduction with it spearheading global campaigns like CDRI.

Conclusion

India needs to establish itself as a neutral entity that is keen on the development of the region but ready to work with all parties concerned.

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