India and Afghanistan historically have shared close cultural and political ties, and the complexity of their diplomatic history reflects this fact. India supported successive governments in Kabul until the rise of the Taliban in the 1990s,and was among the first non-Communist states to recognize the government installed by the Soviet Union after its 1989 invasion.But like most countries, India never recognized the Taliban's assumption of power in 1996 (only Saudi Arabia, Pakistan, and the United Arab Emirates recognized the Taliban regime).Following the 9/11 attacks and the U.S.-led war in Afghanistan that resulted, ties between India and Afghanistan grew strong once again. India has restored full diplomatic relations, and has provided hundreds of millions of dollars in aid for Afghanistan's reconstruction and development. But Pakistan views India's growing influence in Afghanistan as a threat to its own interests in the region. Experts fear for Afghanistan's stability as India and Pakistan compete for influence in the war-torn country.
Afghanistan holds strategic importance for India as New Delhi seeks friendly allies in the neighborhood, and because it is a gateway to energy-rich Central Asian states such as Turkmenistan and Kazakhstan. "India is looking to ensure that other countries in the region favor or at least are neutral on its conflict with Pakistan," says J Alexander Thier, an expert on Afghanistan at the United States Institute of Peace (USIP). Afghanistan, on the other hand, he says, looks to India as "a potential counterweight in its relationship with Pakistan." India's influence in Afghanistan waned in the 1990s after Pakistan-backed Taliban rose to power. During this period, New Delhi provided assistance to the anti-Taliban resistance, the Northern Alliance, comprised mostly of Tajikand other non-Pashtun ethnic groups, according to a 2003 Council Task Force report. After the overthrow of the Taliban...