Veteran diplomat Amar Sinha, the outgoing Indian ambassador in Afghanistan, says New Delhi will not be deterred from standing by Kabul despite attacks on its diplomatic missions in the country. Sinha says India will help Afghanistan develop its economic potential and will also give military support.
RFE/RL: The Indian diplomatic presence in Afghanistan seems to have been under constant attack during the past decade. Just this week, gunmen tried to storm your consulate in the northern city of Mazar-e Sharif. Who do you think is responsible for these attacks and what are their motives?
Amar Sinha: The attackers are the same people our prime minister [Narendra Modi] described as enemies of humanity. They are nervous about close relations between Afghanistan and India. I can do no better than to quote our prime minister, who said such attacks will not deter us from always standing with the Afghan people.
We're thankful to the Afghan national security forces for their bravery and sacrifices, and for defending the right of their country to choose its political system and also its friends.
RFE/RL: You have previously expressed concerns that Pakistan might present the Haqqani network as Taliban leadership in Afghan peace talks. Do you still think this might happen, and what are India’s recommendations to keep this from happening?
Sinha: After the death of [Taliban leader] Mullah Omar, the way the leadership has been announced, there's [the new leader] Akhtar Mansur, there's [his deputy] Siraj Haqqani and there's [the second deputy] Mullah Haibatullah. So Siraj Haqqani [leader of the Haqqani network] is very much part of it. You would have noticed that both the Afghan and the U.S. governments have asked Pakistan to take action against the Haqqanis. So, ultimately the way forward will be decided in January.
RFE/RL: In recent months Pakistan has been pushing for peace talks between the Afghan government and the Afghan Taliban. What do you think is causing the urgency? Does it mean that international pressure on Pakistan is mounting?
Sinha: The fact that there is a need for peace talks. It is already fourteen years overdue. So the urgency is natural on everybody's part. The question is what form it takes; whether it is Afghan led, whether it is mediated by other countries, whether other countries have a positive role in pushing the Taliban. Because we have to understand that it's not the Afghan government that needs the pushing and pressure, it is the Taliban, which is acting against the government. If Pakistan is willing to do that, it's a move in the right direction.
RFE/RL: Former Pakistani President General Pervez Musharraf told a journalist that the Indian consulates are his country's problem in Afghanistan. Would India close its consulates if Pakistan asks?
Sinha: I wouldn't like to react to a former president but he should know diplomacy and the diplomatic norms. All consulates are open with the agreement of the host government. And it is for the sovereign government of Afghanistan to decide which country to have relationships with. For a third party to say this is not only outrageous, it's ridiculous.
In all places where India has consulates, Pakistan has its consulates, too. India has not said Pakistan should close its consulates or shift them to somewhere else. It's up to them and for the Afghan government to decide. Similarly, our relationship with Afghanistan is concerned with only Indian and Afghan governments and their people.
RF/RL: The focus of the Heart of Asia process is Afghanistan, and a major conference of the process is to be held in India this year. How are India-Pakistan relations affecting this process?
Sinha: As you saw, we made sure the state of our bilateral relations [with Pakistan] -- whether we're engaged in peace talks or not -- didn't affect the Heart of Asia conference participation from the Indian side [in December].
Our [foreign] minister was there, and it also provided a very good platform for us to restart our stalled bilateral process [with Pakistan]. Similarly, India will be hosting it in 2016. This process is about Afghanistan so we have to keep our own bilateral, multilateral or regional interests and competitions away from it, we need to work together, and I'm sure we have done that.
RFE/RL: Some analysts suggest that, while the Turkmenistan-Afghanistan-Pakistan-India (TAPI) pipeline will ultimately benefit India more, Islamabad might use it to pressure on New Delhi even if it costs Pakistan. What do you make of these views?
Sinha: I don’t think any country which is party to the TAPI agreement would take such a unilateral step. Because ultimately it's good for regional connectivity, it's good for regional economic development. That’s why we're fully committed and we have absolutely full trust that all countries, including transit countries, which will sign it will stick to their commitment.
I wouldn’t say the major benefit would be for India only, because ultimately each country would project what is required and what it wants in terms of the end use. So, it will benefit both Afghanistan and Pakistan. Afghanistan right now is looking at the transit rights and I think in future, when the situation is right, the gas can be used to produce more value here in Afghanistan.
RFE/RL: India recently built a new parliament building for Afghanistan and gave four helicopters as military support to Afghanistan. Will India give more military support to Afghanistan?
Sinha: All the support we provide to Afghanistan is fairly open and well known. This is a part of the overall policy of the new Indian government that we have to develop together in the entire South Asia region. Prime Minister Modi has called it sab ka sath, sab ka wikas, (eds: Hindi for together with all, development for all), which means an inclusive growth. So we're looking at each country rising to their full economic [potential and] power.
In terms of military support, we realize that air support was a critical gap. And Afghan security forces required it for defending their territory. So the Indian government has stepped in. While we totally understand it is the responsibility of NATO and ISAF forces, and now the Resolute Support Mission, to equip the Afghan security forces, we're really looking at the gaps. What are the critical shortages? What is needed immediately? And we've been assisting in that form. I wouldn’t say there's a definite wish list, but that depends on what the Afghan government will require.