India and Afghanistan held their periodic foreign office consultations in New Delhi on Tuesday, consistent with their efforts to keep a close mutual engagement as Kabul prepares for three concomitant transitions – political, economic and security – in 2014.
The Indian External Affairs Ministry sources said the discussions between Afghan Deputy Foreign Minister Ershad Ahmadi and Foreign Secretary Sujatha Singh centered on “events related to Afghanistan that will take place on the margins of the United Nations General Assembly meeting in New York” later this month. Ahmadi also met External Affairs Minister Salman Khurshid.
The foreign office consultation was significant not only as it comes a bit over a week before the UN General Assembly session but at a time when US Deputy Defense Secretary Ashton Carter is on a visit to the region. Carter was in Afghanistan and Pakistan before landing in India for his discussions with Indian officials on Tuesday.
India and Afghanistan have in the past couple of years have forged a close cooperation if the flurry of high level visits between New Delhi and Kabul is any indication.
Foreign Secretary Sujatha Singh was in Afghanistan for a three-day visit in the third week of August, days after Second Afghan Vice President Mohammad Karim Khalili concluded his three day visit to New Delhi. Afghan President Hamid Karzai was in Delhi in May for a two day visit. National Security Adviser Shivshankar Menon was in Kabul in February 2013. India has also held two separate trilateral dialogues involving Afghanistan with Iran and the US. The India-Afghanistan-US trilateral dialogue took place in New Delhi in February this year.
India has urgent security concerns not just in Afghanistan where many of its companies plan to invest heavily in the mining sector but also in Jammu and Kashmir. Intelligence agencies, both Indian and that of the its partners like the US,point to an explosion of terror activity in the Indian state post-2014, a repeat of what took place in the region once Soviet forces withdrew from Afghanistan in 1989.
India also needs to secure its strategic interests like Zaranj-Delaram Highway that it has helped construct and the Chabahar port. Both are its access to Iran and Central Asia’s mineral and energy wealth and improved trade relations.
Afghanistan has been quietly requesting India for military supplies. New Delhi has refused, restricting itself to training Afghan security personnel. The frequent terror attacks on its interests in Afghanistan notwithstanding, New Delhi has maintained that its Afghan policy has no exit policy.
But by all indications New Delhi is likely to be in for a torrid time as NATO forces withdraw by end-2014. It is this post-2014 scenario that New Delhi needs to discuss closely with the US and Afghans and find ways to help the Afghans to have an Afghan-owned reconciliation process and also consolidate its strategic influence in the region. These slew of meetings both with the Afghans and Americans are an effort in this direction.