It is ironic that the historical closeness between India and Afghanistan has been surpassed by the diplomatic distance between the two countries. The relationship between the two countries goes back to the earliest period of recorded history. But the rich interaction was snapped in recent memory with the rise of the taliban in Afghanistan. The ties have been restored after the fall of the taliban regime. In this context, the visit of the prime minister, Mr Manmohan Singh, to Kabul ' the first Indian prime minister to visit the Afghan capital in nearly three decades ' is imbued with significance and potential. It needs to be recalled that immediately after the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan in 1979, New Delhi's relationship with Kabul suffered a hiccup because of the former's support of Soviet Russia. But the lost ground was recovered when India, at considerable risk to itself, extended help to the Northern Alliance which played a critical role in the downfall of the taliban tyranny. Given this piece of contemporary history, Mr Singh's warm reception in Kabul was predictable.
India has extended its support to the new democratic dispensation in Afghanistan under the leadership of Mr Hamid Karzai. But there are issues of greater import involved in the relationship than extending help to a fledgling democracy. India and Afghanistan have a common agenda: the fight against religious fundamentalism. Afghanistan has been ruined by the fanaticism of the taliban and the terrorism unleashed by al Qaida. The new regime in Afghanistan is now part of a global project ' of which the United States of America, Nato, Russia and India are all part ' to eradicate terrorism. If Afghanistan is not to descend once again into being a nursery for terrorists, it needs its democratic institutions to be established and consolidated. India is contributing materially to the development of civil society in Afghanistan. Its efforts to help Mr Karzai's new regime is always to be seen in the light of Pakistan's attempts to keep a toe-hold in Afghan affairs. The situation needs deft handling and Mr Singh's visit has created the right ambience for greater cooperation between the two countries despite the shadow of Pakistan that falls invariably on the relationship.
The goodwill produced by Mr Singh's visit has been backed by a substantial aid package. Mr Singh spoke in Kabul of 'a sovereign, stable, democratic and prosperous Afghanistan'. It is critical that such an Afghanistan is India's staunch ally, given the nature of the political and economic chessboard in central and west Asia. The success of Mr Singh's visit will lie in the establishment of a common sphere of influence extending from Kabul to Dacca and from Colombo to Kashmir.