This will be Mr. Ghani’s first visit to India after taking over as the President of the battle scarred Afghanistan late last year from Mr. Hamid Karzai. Mr. Modi invited Mr. Ghani at the last SAARC meeting in Kathmandu to visit India and though they had some bilateral talks on the sidelines of the summit, this will be for the first time that the Indian PM will be having detailed talks with the new Afghan President on the India- Afghanistan relations as also the future political shape of the neighbouring country.

Indian officials were earlier apprehensive that Mr. Ghani would not be that pro-India as Hamid Karzai vis a vis Pakistan, but they have revised their views after the initial discussions at the SAARC meeting where Mr. Ghani gave firm indications that he fully appreciated India’s position on cross border terrorism and he would be with India in jointly taking steps to restore peace and tranquility in the South Asian region. He also gave hints that there should not be any misgivings about his so called pro-Pakistan bias. He would not do anything to hurt India’s interests and his efforts will be to take Pakistan on the right side to fight the terrorists. He candidly said that for Afghanistan, good and friendly relations with both Pakistan and India are important and he is only working for that. Indian officials are a bit relieved at his elaboration of his policies but still, they will wait for the Delhi meeting in late April to have final view.

Earlier in March this year, Indian foreign secretary S. Jaishankar had talks with the new Afghan President in Kabul and these focused on the security, Afghanistan’s development needs and status of talks with the Afghan Talibans. Afghan President was very optimistic about the future of the bilateral relations and he termed India as a partner of choice.

India is certainly interested in knowing the strategy that the Afghan regime takes in dealing with the Afghan Talibans. India has been training Afghan military and police personnel in that country as part of its efforts to stabilize Afghanistan. India has also handed over three helicopters to the Afghan Government. India will consider other requests from Afghanistan also but India expects that it be apprised of the moves taken by the Afghan Government during the crucial talks with the Talibans.

As of now, the new Afghan Government has established preliminary contacts with the Afghan Talibans but the formal talks are yet to begin. India has played a crucial role in the reconstruction of Afghanistan since the fall of the earlier Taliban regime and the total aid would be around US$ 2 billion. India has played a significant role in Afghanistan’s economic reconstruction and India is in a position to meet other pressing requirements of Afghanistan. Indian embassy in Kabul is in touch with the Afghan Government in assessing the needs for speedy reconstruction as also the requirements of more weapons for the Afghan soldiers in whose training, India has played an important role. Prime Minister Narendra Modi is interested in announcing a special economic package for Afghanistan and he is eager to impress the new Afghanistan president with his new neighbourhood friendly policy.

Indian officials feel that 2015 year will be a delicate one for the Afghanistan Government and Mr. Ghani has to tread a cautious path to take along USA, India and Pakistan along for charting out its path of political stability. A decade of democracy has opened up Afghan society and India’s cooperation programmes have helped develop sustainable linkages cutting across ethnic lines around the common vision. Afghanistan has to vigorously pursue dialogue with neighbours including Pakistan. There is an apprehension among Indian officials that in 2015 with the process of transition progressing, the US might depend more on Pakistan for assistance in dealing with Talibans and in 2016, due to the Presidential elections, the US may play little active role and let Afghan Government to fend for itself to deal with the emerging situation. That way, India wants definite moves by the Afghan Government in 2015 so that the situation still remains under control in 2016 despite US withdrawal from most of the activities related to Afghanistan.

For India, the Afghan Government’s policy post US withdrawal is crucial as India has invested a lot of political goodwill and economic resources for the reconstruction of Afghan economy. The erstwhile president Hamid Karzai was aware of the Indian sensibilities and he kept India informed of his moves relating to feelers to Talibans and talks with the US administration. India has to establish the same comfort level with the new Afghan president Ghani in the course of discussions in Delhi.

There are reports that Afghan Government is also finding it difficult to have meaningful talks with Talibans as the group is not monolithic now and Pakistan’s ISI’s control is also limited over the rebels having different groups with their own leaders. Some of these groups are hostile to the Pak establishment and Pakistan does not want the Afghan Government to have effective talks with these anti-Pakistani elements.

With the US administration increasing losing interest in Afghan affairs, it is up to the Afghan president to make use of his negotiating and diplomatic skills for arriving at an understanding that will be acceptable to also India and Pakistan. Prime Minister Narendra Modi has to equally ensure that in the coming talks, Afghan President gives assurance about taking care of Indian sensibilities while working on a solution of the Afghan problem in consultations with the Afghan Talibans. (IPA Service)