Singh tells Afghans – we just wanna be friends

On the second day of his official tour of Afghanistan, Prime Minister Manmohan Singh sought to reassure the Afghani lawmakers that India did not want to ‘impose’ its views on the country, and was interested only in ‘friendship.’

In his brief address to the join session of the two houses of Afghani Parliament, Singh mentioned the ‘friendship’ word several times, as he did the fact that Afghanistan was free to frame its own foreign policy without any external pressure.

Singh had, yesterday, pointed out that ‘India is not the US’ when it came to taking military action in other countries.

“I have come to Afghanistan to renew these ties of friendship, solidarity and fraternity. This is the only agenda that I have come with,” he said, trying to soothe any concerns among the local politicians that India intended to become an overbearing ‘friend’ of the northermost country in South Asia.

India and Afghanistan have traditionally had good relations, except for the decade during which Pakistan-supported Taliban were in power. India’s relationship with Afghanistan, including its billions of dollars of aid, are partly aimed at having a ‘friend’ in the country north of Pakistan, which it has historical reasons to be wary of. Similarly, Pakistan has a ‘friend’ in China, which lies to the East of India.

The geo-politics, while understood by the regional politicians, nevertheless makes for awkward moments in politics, particularly in Afghanistan, as leaders are not keen to be seen as ‘India’s men.’

“It is up to you, as the peoples’ representatives, to make decisions about your country’s future without outside interference or coercion. This is your sovereign right. India will respect the choices you make and the decisions you take. Our only interest is to see a stable, peaceful and independent Afghanistan living in peace with its neighbours,” Manmohan Singh reminded the legislators again, further down in his speech.

Yesterday, Singh announced new reconstruction and development aid totaling 500 million US dollars to Afghanistan, taking India’s total committment in the country to $2 billion, making it the largest recepient of Indian aid anywhere. India’s efforts are also aimed at keeping China — which often givens billions of dollars of aid to ‘strategic’ friends — away.

Afghanistan — a virtual laboratory of terrorism at the hands of the US and Pakistan during the 1980s and early 1990s — is still rocked by the aftermaths of its violent past and extremism — a fact noted by Singh.

“Eventually, our centuries old traditions of peaceful co-existence, of living in peace and harmony with each other and with nature will prevail over these deviant ideologies. We cannot and must not allow the flames of extremism and terrorism to be fanned once again,” Singh said.