The bonhomie between India and Afghanistan has scarcely been lacking ever since Hamid Karzai took over the presidency after the fall of the Taliban government in Kabul. However, it has been entirely the prerogative of the Afghanistan government to either downplay or go over the moon about this friendship, depending on how its equations were with Pakistan at that particular moment. There has been no dramatic change in Afghanistan’s relations with Pakistan lately, except for an intensification of the border tensions and that sinking feeling that Afghanistan will once again be vulnerable to Pakistan’s machinations after the draw-down in 2014. That feeling has brought back into focus Afghanistan’s relationship with India, and the hopes of balancing the undue advantages that Pakistan enjoys in the country by way of a common border and its shadow warriors, who now stand a chance of winning political power. Mr Karzai, on the last leg of his presidency, knows that the only way to ensure this is through deepening India’s involvement in his country and getting into Afghanistan as many players as he possibly can. Hence his determination to bind half the world in strategic partnerships with Afghanistan while getting them to commit to the long-term financing of Afghanistan’s development. But the best way to ensure that the players remain committed is by giving them a direct stake in Afghanistan’s peace and development. Little surprise, therefore, that Mr Karzai has been so busy selling his country as an investment destination. In India, too, he held out a red carpet for a “friend” in the mining and fertilizer sectors.
The renewed focus on India also reflects the growing anxiety of the non-Pashtun political forces in Afghanistan over Taliban ascendancy and their keenness to keep India involved. The moment presents a challenge for India since it is aware that its involvement is bound to escalate tensions with Pakistan and undermine its recent reconciliation moves with its neighbour. But then India has already evolved a middle path in this journey by enhancing its soft power in Afghanistan through development efforts and downplaying its strategic partnership with it. India has also retained ties with Iran, despite severe pressures. India should stick to this path without getting waylaid.