A week after a US-led invasion overthrew the Taliban regime in November 2001, a plane carrying a small delegation of Indian diplomats landed in Bagram airbase, north of Kabul, the born-again capital of the newly-liberated country.
It marked New Delhi’s re-entry in Afghanistan – five years after it was forced to escape the country – after Taliban assumed power in Kabul on September 26, 1996.
The Taliban was defeated by Afghanistan’s Northern Alliance forces helped by the US-led NATO forces in the wake of the deadly attacks on US soil in September 2001.
“When we returned to Afghanistan, the perception of India was mixed,” recalled former Indian ambassador to Afghanistan, Gautam Mukhopadhya, who was part of the first delegation that arrived in Kabul in 2001.
The daylong visit was among the first diplomatic missions to have arrived in the Afghan capital to reopen their embassy, signifying the strategic importance of Afghanistan for India.
Since then, India has cultivated a strong relationship with successive Afghan governments, investing heavily in the development and infrastructure of the war-ravaged country, with the total aid of nearly $2bn since 2001, the largest that New Delhi has contributed to any nation.
India’s Afghan outreach, that of developmental aid, people to people contact and so on relied on the security cover provided by the US and its allies. With that gone, the policies of New Delhi will need a serious re-visit.
KABIR TANEJA, FELLOW, THE OBSERVER RESEARCH FOUNDATION
“For the victorious Northern Alliance and their constituents and supporters, we were allies. But for a lot of ordinary Afghans who opposed the PDPA [People’s Democratic Party of Afghanistan], we had to overcome a trust-deficit going back to our support for the latter,” Mukhopadhya, who is now a senior fellow at the Center for Policy Research, told Al Jazeera.
The PDPA was a pro-USSR party under whose government Afghanistan was invaded by Soviet forces in December 1979. The United States intervened in the Afghan civil war, supplying arms and ammunition to fighters or mujahideen against Soviet occupation.
Much of mistrust was overcome with a combination of support for anti-Taliban forces, humanitarian initiatives, scholarships and, of course, the popularity of Indian popular culture, especially Bollywood, he added.
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