Foreign Policy Watch: India-Afghanistan

Soft power, India’s strength in Afghanistan


From UPSC perspective, the following things are important :

Prelims level: CDRI

Mains level: Paper 2- Afghanistan issue


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.


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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