Almost a decade and a half after the American-led western power bloc went all guns blazing into the rugged and deadly terrain of Afghanistan, the promised state of freedom and emancipation is yet to arrive. Afghanistan has the dubious distinction of being one of the few countries where no western country has ever been able to conquer and consolidate. Disastrous interventions by Western powers began with the British invasion and occupation of Afghanistan in 1839–42, known as the First Anglo-Afghan War. The conflict resulted in the near complete destruction of an entire British army, with deaths of 4,500 British and Indian soldiers, plus 12,000 of their camp followers. 173 years after that infamous invasion, not much has changed. There may not be many western soldiers dying unnecessary deaths in the deadly valley of Korangal; nevertheless Afghanistan remains a graveyard of western imperial ambitions to this date. Given this historical context, India should probably tread carefully in extending its hand of unconditional friendship to the Ashraf Ghani regime, which is visiting India for a landmark bilateral visit. There is a reason for this note of caution. For one, Kabul has sent confusing signals to New Delhi by its dramatic shift in foreign policy and efforts to appease Islamabad in an unprecedented way.
From the day, he has assumed office Ghani has been a Pro-Pakistan foreign policy hawk who has made enough overtures to Pakistan to send alarm bells ringing in New Delhi. In his seven months in office Ghani has made a number of foreign policy overtures to Pakistan: maintaining close ties with Pakistan’s military and intelligence establishment, sending Afghani military cadets to train in Pakistan and most alarming of all, labeling the present conflict in some regions of Afghanistan as a “proxy war” between India and Pakistan. India can perhaps rationalize Ghani’s overtures as the foreign policy maneuvers of a newly elected president striving for peace in a war-torn country. However, for that to happen, it is imperative that Ghani allay these well-founded fears by assuring India that repairing a damaged relationship with Pakistan would never be done at India’s expense. Unlike his predecessor Karzai, Ghani is a pragmatic technocrat as opposed to the shrewd politician that the former was. He will perhaps see the benefit in trade intensification between India and Afghanistan, especially at a time when his country is starved for investment to build critical infrastructure and institutions. Ghani must conduct a dialogue with his Indian counterpart, Prime Minister Narendra Modi over repealing the cumbersome Afghan Pakistan Transit and Trade Agreement (APTTA), which prevents vital and strategic trade between the two countries. India must seek to play a pro-active part in Afghanistan’s reconstruction. At the same time, the mandarins in South Block would do well to pay heed to lessons of history as well. India would do well to pay heed to Alexander Pope’s immortal lines, ‘fools rush in where angels fear to tread’.