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New phase in Indo-Afghan relations
By AU Asif, New Delhi

“Badaltaa hai rang aasmaan kaise kaise” -- how quickly does the colour of the sky change!

Exactly two years ago, the situation was that our government was feeling helpless to deal with the then ruling Taliban in Afghanistan in the wake of the hijack of the Indian Airlines plane from Kathmandu to Kandahar and our external affairs minister Jaswant Singh had to travel to the Afghan city to hand over three hardcore terrorists in exchange for 155 passengers and crew of the hijacked plane. Now the situation is that Jaswant Singh himself went to Kabul to represent India on December 22 at the handing over of power by Prof Burhanuddin Rabbani to the new interim administration, headed by Hamid Karzai. He spoke at the historic function of the close ties between the two nations. 

On this occasion, Jaswant Singh reopened the Indian embassy after a gap of five years. The embassy was closed on September 26, 1996, barely 12 hours before the entry of Taliban into the capital of the land-locked country. 

After unfurling the national flag at the premises of the embassy with strains of the Indian national anthem renting the air, he said: "I have the distinction of formally reopening the Indian Mission in Kabul after a painful gap of time. India by conviction is a great power. But it is not flexing its muscle. We are simply telling the rest of the world that India is on the march and it will not be stopped. It is much better that the rest of the world recognise this fact." 

To a question, whether India has offered police help to the beleagured country which witnessed factional fighting for over two decades, he said: "India has offered police help but it was up to the interim government to decide on that. Visa and consular sections of the embassy would start functioning soon and India would strive to provide assistance to Afghanistan in the fields of education, vocational training, re-establishment of the medical facilities, software and above all extend substantial credit line."

It is to point out that there was recently a beeline of the important visitors to this country from the present ruling group in Afghanistan. The then nominated interior minister Yunus Qanooni, labour and social affairs minister Mirwaiz Sadiq, and foreign minister Dr Abdullah Abdullah have already come and gone. Although they had come here to see their family, residing in Delhi as refugees, their visits were given so much prominence that an English daily called New Delhi as the "Winter Capital of Afghanistan". The reason was that they met the Indian leadership and discussed official matters and besides, some of them even made certain remarks against Pakistan. 

It is to point out that the UN-sponsored pact at Petersberg, near Bonn was signed by four groups---Northern Alliance, Rome Group, Peshawar Group and Cyprus Group. But the Cyprus Group opted to be out of the new 30-member interim administration. It is said that this group, led by Houmayoun Jareer, son-in-law of the Hizb-e-Islami chief Engineer Gulbuddeen Hikmatyar, living in self-exile in Teheran after Taliban's mysterious takeover of Afghanistan in 1996, had decided so at the instance of Er Hikmatyar. 

Interestingly, most of the participants to this nine-day round table conference were the kith and kin of once the veteran Afghan Mujahedeen leaders, the ex-king Zahir Shah and some others. As for example, there was one Mirwaiz Sadiq, son of the famed commander Ismael Khan who is back in power in the city of Herat and much of the northwest of the country. The others were Mustafa Zahir, grandson of the ex-king and Rona Mansoori, the Germany-based daughter of the late former Afghan premier Mohammed Yousouf, and Sayed Hamed Gailani and Anwarul Haq Ahadi, son and son-in-law of the Pashtun head of the Pakistan-based Peshawar Group, Pir Syed Ahmed Gailani, respectively. 

The new interim administration is a mix of old friends, even older enemies, Afghans who endured decades of war, Afghans who sided with the Soviets and its backed Communist regimes and Afghans who fled to the relative safety of the West. The 30-member new team consists of 18 from Northern Alliance, 11 from Rome Group and only one from Peshawar Group. There are 11 Pashtuns, 8 Tajiks, 5 Shia Muslim Hazaras, 3 Uzbeks and 3 from minority communities in the new team. Although the interim administration is headed by Hamid Karzai, a relative of Zahir Shah and Pashtun tribal leader from Rome group, the key portfolios are dominated by the Northern Alliance representatives. Significantly, three top cabinet portfolios---interior, foreign and defence---have been given to Yunus Qanooni, Dr Abdullah Abdullah and Mohammed Faheem Khan of a single party Jamiat-e-Islami Afghanistan, a constituent of NA, sparking criticism from other alliance leaders.
It would not be out of tune to mention here that most of the leaders of the seven-party Islamic Alliance and Hizbe Wahdat led by Karim Khalili, active in the struggle against the Soviet forces and Soviet-backed Communist regimes, were conspicuous by their absence at the historic ceremony. Only Prof Burhanuddin Rabbani, Ameer, Jamiat-e-Islami Afghanistan was present there to hand over power to the head of the new administration. 

Prof Rabbani, who was embraced by his young successor Hamid Karzai, was missing his old colleagues like Er Gulbuddeen Hikmatyar, Prof Abdur Rab Rasool Sayyaf, Molvi Nabi Mohammedi, Molvi Yunus Khalis and Prof Sibghatullah Mojaddedi and of course, late Er Ahmed Shah Masood also. There is no news whether Pir Syed Ahmed Gailani participated in the ceremony or not. However, warlords unhappy with the UN-brokered interim arrangements, Ismael Khan and Abdul Rashid Dostum, were also there. 

On this occasion, besides the UN mediator Lakhdar Brahimi, foreign ministers of Pakistan and Iran, Abdus Sattar and Kamal Kharrazi, respectively, were also present. Pak foreign minister was, however, not invited to speak. Iranian foreign minister came, spoke and went, but one missed the emotions and strategy adopted by his one predecessor late Sadeq Qutubzadeh. It is said that he had gone to Islamabad to participate in the conference of foreign ministers of OIC countries along with the Mujahedeen leaders of the seven-party Islamic Alliance of Afghanistan, not with his entourage, emphasising that a conference called to discuss the Afghan situation should be participated by Afghan Mujahedeen leaders. 

Having a good contact with most of the NA leaders, India hopes to have good relations with the new administration. On November 21 India opened a liaison office here. Since then a group of five doctors are there as part of India's relief effort and are working at the Indira Gandhi Institute for Child Health, set up with Indian aid in the late 1960s.

It is to point out that even before the takeover by the new administration, some prominent leaders had begun rushing to New Delhi. This created uneasiness not only in Pakistan but also reportedly alarmed the designate-head of the new administration Hamid Karzai. He was reported to have had expressed his unhappiness over such hurried visits to India even before the takeover. It is said that perhaps that was why he decided to pretend his entry into Kabul and immediate after dealing with Taliban in Kandahar proceeded to Kabul. His sudden change of programme surprised even the nominal Afghan President Prof Burhanuddin Rabbani, who was not happy with the new arrangement. 

Besides, after Karzai's arrival in Kabul, there seems to be a halt to the visits to India by the designate-ministers. Earlier, it was announced that the nominated defence minister Mohammed Fahim Khan was to arrive in New Delhi most probably on Dec 18. But his programme is now understood to have been postponed.

So far as the Chairman of the new interim administration, the 44 year-old Hamid Karzai, is concerned, he did his post-graduation in political science from Shimla in the 80s. Afterwards, he went to Pakistan. He is alleged to have been in contact there with the CIA and ISI. It is said that was why when he applied for visa to India to do his PhD, he was refused. When Taliban came to power, he supported it. Taliban thought to send him to the United Nations as a representative, but the matter ended with the UN not recognising the regime. Afterwards, he sided with the NA. 

The news of Karzai's nomination was received in India with joy, but the government remained cautious perhaps due to the above reasons. One can understand the mind of Karzai in the light of what Karan Thapar wrote recalling his last interview in Kabul in May, 1992 with him as deputy foreign minister under the interim leadership of Prof Sibghatullah Mojaddedi in his weekly column "Sunday Sentiments" (HT, Dec 23, 2001): "The context was set by Karzai's belief that India let down the Afghan people by supporting the Soviet invasion of December, 1979. That, of course, is an opinion most Afghans share. But Hamid Karzai went further. To begin with he seemed to suggest that Afghanistan's relations with India would be affected by the treatment of Indian Muslims: Our relations with India will very much be affected, in a good way or bad way, depending on how the Muslim community in India are treated.Later in the same interview Karzai appeared to support what he called the Kashmir struggle: We support every movement that is just.Finally, when I asked him how it might take for Indo-Afghan relations to return to their traditional friendliness, he deliberately and carefully said it would depend on how things developed. He was not holding out great hope but was not quashing it either. 

"Nine years have passed and much has happened in that period. Afghanistan has been through the Taliban experience and Karzai is back in Kabul this time as its new ruler. His agenda is to seek reconciliation and in the eyes of at least his interior, defence and foreign ministers, India is a friendly country. Their families live in Delhi. But how much have Hamid Karzai's views changed since May 1992? One disquieting thought is that for the last six years he and his family have lived in Quetta and it is possible that memories of---and gratitude to---Pakistan could colour his opinions." 

India has, no doubt, traditional relations with Afghanistan. Its first government-in-exile was formed in the first quarter of the last century in Kabul under an AMU alumnus Mahendra Pratap, Barkatullah Bhopali and Obaidullah Sindhi. Netaji Subhas Chandra Bose had first taken refuge in Kabul after his last disappearance from India. It is said that there he emerged in the dress of a Kabuliwaala and introduced himself as Molvi Ziauddin Ahmed. 

India's relations with most Afghan regimes remained cordial except the Taliban rule. However, it is to point out that unlike Afghan regimes' support to India's Independence struggle, Indian governments in general did not extend support to the struggle of Afghan people against the Soviet forces and Soviet-backed Communist regimes. It was another matter that the Indian people continued to support morally to the Afghan people during their struggle. Recently a committee for the relief of Afghan refugees, headed by Kumari Nirmala Deshpande has been formed in Delhi. According to its secretary, Nawed Hamid, a delegation has met the Prime Minister Atal Behari Vajpayee and discussed with him how to move in this direction. 

The restoration of India's traditional relations is a welcome development. But there is felt a need to be cautious in our approach. Sometimes over-enthusiasm results in an adverse way. We have before us an example of Bangladesh. Barring Awami League led by Sheikh Mujib's daughter Sheikh Hasina, all groups, active in the liberation of Bangladesh, do not like us.
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