The Telegraph
Since 1st March, 1999
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Dost and dushman swap places
- India dislodges Pakistan from Afghanistan’s popularity chart

Kabul, Sept. 9: “If you are an Indian, speak in Hindi (Indian hai toh Hindi mein bolo),” a young Afghan taxi driver admonishes this reporter while haggling over fare.

Another accepts the fare reluctantly: “Koi zaroorat nahin, dost (there’s no need, friend).”

At the checkpoint outside the Intercontinental Hotel, the security guard checks every vehicle for bombs and suspicious individuals. “Pakistani'” he asks roughly. On hearing “No, Indian”, he gives a smart salute and waves the car in.

Yunus Qanuni, the Afghan minister for education and national security adviser, shakes the hands of Indian journalists with a broad smile and asks in Hindi: “Kaise ho dost' India mein hamare baki dost bhi khushhaal hain' (How are you my friend' Are the rest of my friends in India well')” Then he turns around to an aid and says: “Ee bachha, mehmanon ko koi taqleef nahin honi chahiye (our guests should be well looked after).”

A taxi-driver starts a conversation about last Thursday’s car-bomb blast that killed 26 people and injured 150. Asked who could be behind it, he says: “Woh Gulbuddin Hekmatyar, aur kaun (that Gulbuddin Hekmatyar, who else)'”

And then, without any prompting, he adds: “Aur uska peechhe hai Pakistan. Bahut ganda mulk hai. Humko barbad kar diya. (And behind him is Pakistan. It is a dirty country. They have destroyed us.)”

His brother, also a taxi driver, was shot dead by the Taliban.

Ten years ago, Pakistanis were hero-worshipped in Kabul. As an Indian journalist, one was well advised to keep one’s nationality secret. And the only way to meet the Mujahideen leaders who had just come in from Peshawar to assume power after the fall of Najibullah was to tag along with one’s Pakistani colleagues.

Today, the anti-Pakistani feeling among the Afghans is palpable. They openly accuse Pakistan of trying to destabilise their country.

At a ceremony to commemorate the first death anniversary of Ahmed Shah Masood, Pakistan was blamed not only for assisting those who killed him but also for the assassination attempt on President Hamid Karzai.

Except for the Pushtuns, who are still a bit reluctant in blaming Pakistan for the woes of their country, no one minces words in criticising their southern neighbour. Thus, Prof. Mohammad Akbar Popal, the president of Kabul University and a Pushtun, is very careful about apportioning blame for the attempt to assassinate President Karzai.

Choosing his words carefully, he says: “Any organisation or organisations against democracy and freedom could be behind this. At this stage, I won’t accuse any foreign country. But everything is possible.”

His friend, Miandad Panjshiri, an adviser to the ministry of agriculture and a Tajik, laughs, slapping Popal on the back saying: “He won’t tell you. He is very political. I will tell you who tried to murder Karzai — the al Qaida, the Taliban elements and the Hizb-e-Islami of Hekmatyar, assisted by Pakistan. They are also responsible for the bomb blasts in Kabul. They don’t want a stable Afghanistan.”

Of course, nobody has any evidence but the point is that Pakistan is seen as an enemy.

In contrast, India is seen as a loyal ally. An Afghan diplomat said: “Only India is cutting through bureaucratic red-tape to help us. Our people see this and recognise who is their friend.”

In July this year, India gave a cash subsidy of $10million for the Afghan budget, 19 doctors and paramedics were sent to Kabul and Mazar-e-Sharif for medical assistance, 95 tonnes of medicines and artificial limbs/Jaipur Foot were sent for amputees at the Kabul Military Hospital. A local area network (Lan) access via V-sat was provided to the Afghan foreign ministry to access the Net through VSNL, three Airbus aircraft were gifted to Ariana Afghan Airlines, 50 buses were provided to restart the public transport system and 51 airline staff, 40 diplomats, 250 policeman and 15 journalists are being trained in specialist institutions in India. And there is much more in the offing.

“This is Pakistan’s worst nightmare come true,” says a western expert on Afghanistan. “India has been smart about providing aid which is highly visible — aircraft, buses that are seen plying in Kabul, teachers for schools and doctors. They make a tremendous impact. India is already training Afghan diplomats, flight crews and the police. And the day is not far when Afghans will go to India for military training. Can you imagine what this does to Pakistanis when they see Indian influence growing in their neighbourhood'” he asked.

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