How do you see India's role in Afghanistan in view of the changes in American policy under the Obama administration?
India's relations with Afghanistan, as they have developed after the ouster of the Taliban regime, runs independently of India's relations with any other country. So, there is neither a substantial change in India's role now, nor anticipated, as a result of any change in the US administration.
Our relations are with the people of Afghanistan and the government of Afghanistan.
We are trying to build the capacity of the Afghanistan government to develop a credible State system. We are helping Afghans to stand on their feet. Whatever we were doing, we will continue to do.
When you talk of Afghanistan, you think of the terrorists of the Taliban and Al Qaeda. What is the real ground situation?
Afghanistan is truly a tough place today.
On the plus side, there have been two or three big changes compared to the previous period. One, 6.2 million children go to school, of which a third are girls. These girls were not in school during the five-six years preceding 2001. This is a tremendous change.
Incidentally, 26 days of 30 every month, India supplies 100 grams of fortified high-protein biscuits to 2 million Afghan children. The World Food Programme has done a preliminary study on the impact it has on school attendance. They found that the biscuits draw children to schools. What the very young children cannot consume, they take home for their siblings.
The second big change is the roll out of pan-Afghan primary health coverage. Female mortality at the time of child birth has fallen.
The UNODC report for 2008 shows the area under poppy cultivation has reduced by a fifth. A majority of the 34 provinces of Afghanistan have become poppy free. Presidential elections have been announced and the voters enumeration process is going very well. That means the people of Afghanistan are getting used to the idea of democracy. But, then, there are also tremendous challenges.
The Afghan government was depleted of public servants. The system of governance had collapsed. There were institutions to be created, based on the new constitution. Afghans had to get used to democracy and elections.
All these take time. These challenges have been compounded by the resurgence of the Taliban. In the area of security, there has been a precipitous decline in Afghanistan since 2001.
Every succeeding year so far has been worse than the preceding one in terms of security.
Image: Ambassador Jayant Prasad at the Kabul gurdwara.
Also see: Why the Indian embassy in Kabul was attacked