Highlights

  • Taliban said India interested in resuming pending Afghan projects
  • Projects abandoned after Taliban took over the country in Aug 2021
  • India has provided $3 billion worth of aid to Afghanistan over 20 years

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Taliban desperate for Indian help? Pakistan economic crisis, China debt trap tactic haunting Afghanistan?

$3 billion - that is the amount of money that India has spent to help Afghanistan over 2 decades.

23 years ago, the Taliban helped terrorists hijack Indian flight IC-814 to force India to release three sinister terrorists. Now, the Taliban are trying to convince India to come to Afghanistan and complete the projects interrupted by the fall of the civilian government in 2021.

Why is Taliban warming up to India? And should Delhi respond positively? How has India helped Afghanistan in the last 2 decades, and what's been stuck since the Taliban came to power? Let's take a look.

$3 billion - that is the amount of money that India has spent to help Afghanistan so far. Here are a few examples of what Delhi calls its "gifts" to Kabul.

The Afghan Parliament complex was constructed by India for $90 million. It was inaugurated by PM Modi in 2015. India provided Mi-25 and Mi-35 choppers to the Afghan Air Force, as well as 285 military vehicles for the Army. India also helps the Afghan military under a strategic agreement signed in 2011.

In the energy sector, India's biggest assistance has been the 42 MW Salma Dam in Herat province. There is also the transmission line between Pul-e-Khumri and Kabul, and the Chimtala power substation.

To boost connectivity, India helped build the 218-km Zaranj-Delaram highway for $150 million. More than 300 Indians were part of the project and 11 of them died, including in terrorist attacks. Delhi also gave 3 Air India aircraft to Afghanistan's national carrier Ariana.

In healthcare, India recently sent 13 tonnes of medicines, 5 lakh Covid vaccines. In the past, Delhi rebuilt the Indira Gandhi Institute for Child Health, constructed clinics in at least 10 border provinces, and gifted 10 ambulances. India has also provided schoolchildren with high-protein biscuits.

In education, Delhi financed the establishment of an agriculture sciences university, and rebuilt the Habibia High School in capital city Kabul.

The Afghan national cricket team can use an Indian stadium as its home ground. India also helped build a cricket stadium in Kandahar.

For food security, India constructed a cold storage warehouse in Kandahar, and also sent 20,000 metric tonnes of wheat recently. Delhi has also gifted 400 buses and 200 mini-buses for urban areas, and 105 utility vehicles for municipalities. The country helped in rehabilitation of 3 water reservoirs, and digging of tube wells in many places.

India also contributed to the restoration of the Stor Palace in Kabul.

The Taliban has now claimed that an Indian diplomat has expressed interest in resuming the projects which are stuck since Taliban's takeover in August 2021.

Here are a few which might be on the table.

The biggest pending project might be the Shahtoot dam. The agreement for the $250 million project was finalised in November 2020. The dam in Kabul district will help provide safe drinking water to 20 lakh people.

Another project is the Hajigak mine. An Indian consortium won bids for 3 iron ore mines in 2011. AFISCO had said that it would invest $10.8 billion for a steel plant, but updates about the project are not available.

Also, a hundred community development projects worth $80 million were announced by the Indian foreign minister in November 2020. India has also pledged $1 million for an Aga Khan heritage project to restore the Bala Hissar Fort, lying south of Kabul.

So, is the Taliban trying to woo India?

It's possible because the Afghan economy is in tatters, and humanitarian crisis has been unfolding after decades of continuous war. Also, India has been major source of aid to Afghanistan over the last 20 years. Meanwhile, Taliban's main benefactor Pakistan is going through its own economic crisis, while Pakistan's 'iron brother' China exacts a heavy toll for providing any kind of help.

There are multiple reasons why India may respond positively to this development.

The first is security. Indian investment in Afghanistan can prevent the country from becoming a major breeding ground for anti-India terrorists. Showing Taliban the benefits of Indian partnership can make it resistant to plans that Pakistan may be hatching.

The second reason is geopolitics. Pakistan's direct and China's indirect influence on Taliban are not in India's interest. Delhi may like to establish its own relations with Taliban to maintain balance.

Finally, Delhi would want to safeguard the $3 billion worth of assistance that has been given over 2 decades. India would also like to have an opportunity at getting access to Afghanistan's barely-tapped resources.

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