By Mohammad Anil Qasemi
If there is one nearby neighbour that ordinary Afghans have always felt especially close to, it is India.
The country has been a friend to us in word and deed. It is the biggest regional donor to Afghanistan and our fifth largest donor globally, having generously given us over $3 billion in assistance. India has built over 200 public and private schools, sponsors over 1,000 scholarships and hosts over 16,000 Afghan students.
In the aftermath of the 2008 Indian embassy bombing in Kabul, the Afghan Foreign Ministry talked of India as a "brother country" and the relationship between the two as one which "no enemy can hamper".
In 2011, relations between Afghanistan and India grew closer still, with the signing of a strategic partnership agreement — Afghanistan's first since the Soviet invasion of 1979.
Whatever the outcome of the current bilateral peace talks in Doha between the Taliban and the American government — and we all pray fervently for peace — India will continue to play a big role in Afghanistan's future.
To the surprise of some, Afghanistan's government is not officially represented at the Doha talks — but, along with India, it is keeping a close eye on how they are progressing. I hope that if sufficient progress is made, both my government, and, in time, India will become more actively involved.
President Ashraf Ghani has himself called for the holding of a Grand Assembly — or Loya Jirga — to bring all sides together in the peace process and the Taliban are likely to be invited later in March.
The escalating crisis between India and Pakistan is now a further worrying and complicating factor in the talks as obtaining peace in Afghanistan is part of a much wider jigsaw of countries, politics and personalities.
Four decades of war have made the people of Afghanistan yearn for peace. There are generations that have grown up now — including my own — that have never, in our lives thus far, experienced peace. As our leading businessman Hamed Warasta wrote last month, businesses can only thrive in a secure environment.
But there is a vicious circle between terrorism and unemployment — terrorism results in businesses relocating or shutting down, which in turn lead to unemployment, which in turn leads to the resentment that fuels still more terrorism and so, still more businesses closing.
All the while, the dreams and hopes of young people continue to be dashed.
Afghanistan's relationship with India is, therefore, a source of great hope during particularly challenging times. The air-corridor that we have opened as part of the bilateral trade we have with India is especially great news. According to the Ministry of Agriculture, Irrigation, and Livestock, Afghanistan exported 8,000 tons of figs in the past year to India, UAE and Europe.
Afghanistan has now started exporting to India through the Chabahar port of Iran. We are a landlocked country — India is one of the largest export destinations for us which makes it a key partner in improving our damaged economy. Earlier this week, 23 trucks were dispatched from Zaranj city of Afghanistan to Chabahar port from where this cargo will be shipped to Mumbai in India.
It was telling that President Ghani was joined not just by the Iranian ambassador but also Vinay Kumar, India's tireless ambassador to Afghanistan, at the inaugural ceremony of this major route — It was a huge day for my nation and people across the country were grateful for the support of India. Ambassador Kumar said India has dedicated $500 million to help develop and prepare the Chabahar port.
Behind the scenes, Mr Kumar is positively engaged with officials and politicians of Afghanistan to support the ongoing negotiations and has usefully met and discussed the status of the peace process with the High Peace Council members and the former President Hamed Karzai, who led a delegation to Moscow direct talks with the Taliban.
India has also announced a clear and consistent position on Afghanistan and they have pledged support to the peace and reconciliation efforts.
Whatever happens in these talks, one thing to me is very clear — Afghanistan will only be able to realise its great potential as a contributing member of the family of nations with the support of its "brother country".