Stung by Afghanistan’s security and strategic shift towards Pakistan in the past year, India has rebuffed another invitation from Kabul to revive the Strategic Partnership Agreement (SPA) signed in 2011 to hold a meeting of the Strategic Partnership Council (SPC).
Diplomatic sources at the highest level have confirmed to The Hindu that India has conveyed its inability to hold the meeting that would be chaired by External Affairs Minister Sushma Swaraj and her Afghan counterpart Salahuddin Rabbani “due to prior commitments.”
New Delhi has also conveyed that Ms. Swaraj will not attend the upcoming Regional Economic Cooperation Conference on Afghanistan (RECCA) in Kabul on September 3 and 4, and instead Sujata Mehta, Secretary, Multilateral and Economic Relations, will represent India at the conference. India’s representation will be in sharp contrast to some of the other regional countries participating at the Foreign Minister-level, while Iran is expected to send its Interior Minister and Pakistan its National Security Adviser Sartaj Aziz, RECCA official Asadullah Hamdard confirmed to The Hindu.
While India’s decision to not attend the RECCA conference, which is essentially a development and donor conference, may not affect relations given India’s $2.3-billion strong commitment to Afghanistan, Afghan officials said the delay in the SPC meeting is more significant. India and Afghanistan have held only one meeting of the SPC (in 2012) since former Afghanistan President Hamid Karzai and former India Prime Minister Manmohan Singh signed the historic agreement in 2011.
“After Karzai, we have never trusted Ashraf Ghani’s motivations given the overtures he made to the Pakistan Army,” said the former Ambassador to Kabul Rakesh Sood, adding, “India has always been hesitant about what it wanted from the SPA anyway. The demand for defence equipment, for example, was something we were never able to deliver on.”
India’s development commitment remains robust, and Mr. Modi’s visit is expected to take place once the Afghan Parliament is completed by the Indian Public Works Department by January 2016.