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A group of Afghan agriculture experts are in Kashmir to learn modern practices to enhance yield. Kashmir Life takes a look at the Afghan relations with the sub-continent.

Afghanistan is in news in Kashmir again. This time it is because of 15 agriculture extension officers that are currently being trained for advanced horticulture techniques at ICAR run Central Institute of Temperate Horticulture (CITH) near the IAF’s Srinagar airbase.

“Three fourth of Afghanistan is dependent on agriculture,” said Farhad Jalili, one of 15 Afghan officials. “We have enough of theory in Kabul University and other places but we lacked practical experience and that is why we are here.” The group will be trained in Jaipur on protected cultivation systems after their fortnight long training schedule in Srinagar is over.

The programmne is a joint exercise between Practical Training Centre (ptc+), a Danish group funded by Wageningen University and International Horticulture Innovation and Training Centre (IHITC) Jaipur. “It is part of Euro 100 million project aimed at training the trainers so that it yields results on ground,” said Piet Sibma, a ptc+ trainer accompanying the group. “So far we believe we have succeeded in adding to the knowledge base of our Afghan officials and we are planning getting second and third group this year comprising 15 officials each in the first phase,” he said. “Next year there will be five more groups.”

Dr Nazir Ahmad, the head of CITH who is host and trainer to the foreign officials said they are offering whatever they have achieved in the research. “It is easy to train them in the most modern techniques because Kashmir grows same crops as Kabul grows,” said Dr Nazir, who has been serving in Kashmir for last 23 years. “We will train them in techniques but can not offer them plant stock because that is an inter-governmental issue.” He said they also get some feedback while training people who are from different regions.

Ghulam Farooq Omari, one of the eldest officials in the group said they were satisfied with the training. “We are getting trained in some new things which otherwise we do not know,” he said. “Once back home we will transfer the knowledge to our farmers so that it improves our agriculture.”

Decades of turmoil has hit Afghanistan very hard. As technologies were lost with the lack of communication, the yields nose-dived. Barring almonds which fetches Afghans better yield (3.5 tons per hectare as compared to less than a ton per hector in Kashmir), Afghanistan suffers from low yield crisis. It produces barely 7.48 tonnes apple per hectare as the yield for pears is 10 tonnes and 13 tonnes in peach.

Delegation members said training to 15 officials would not trigger a change in Afghanistan. There, they said, some areas are still out of  bounds for Kabul government and not many officials from there are part of the delegation. “We grow saffron in Heraat but I do not think replacing poppy by saffron in other provinces would become an instant possibility,” a member of the delegation said.

This is not for the first time that New Delhi flew Afghans to J&K. In December 2005, a French NGO GERES working on the alternative energy and smokeless hearths in the Himalayan region brought 22-Afghan villagers to interact with the peasants in Ladakh and learn a bit about how life could be made better. They interacted with the farmers, teachers and saw the revolution that a number of NGOs have affected in the arid region.

Over two-third of Ladakh is akin to Afghanistan and at one point of time it was one of the best rearer of Cashmere goats, yaks, and other domesticated animals. The visit, then rekindled the hope in many of the war-survived Afghan residents about reintroducing these animals in the post-war Afghanistan.

Even Omar Abdullah, then an MP flew to Kabul in early 2006. He was the lone Indian parliamentarian who was selected by the UNDP for interaction with then elected Afghanistan lawmakers.

Fate has linked Kashmir and Kabul many times in the past. In distant past, it was the exploitative misgovernance of Kashmir by Kabul rulers. In the recent past it was the Afghan Jehad against the communist USSR that sent even the underprivileged in Kashmir to get radio transmitters and remained informed about Mujahideen. Inspired by the Jehad, scores of Kashmiri youth crossed the LoC and fought along with Afghans. Some of them are still buried in Jalalabad and Kandhar.

It created its own brotherhood and when militancy broke out in Kashmir, Afghans crossed in from Pakistan. They were termed ‘guest militants’ and their gun-battles with the Indian army were a reference point. Over 200 Afghans were killed in various encounters and are buried here. A number of them were arrested as well.

The situation linking Kabul, Srinagar, New Delhi and Islamabad reached its peak when Indian External Affairs Minister Jaswant Singh flew to Kandhar, at the peak of Taliban rule, on December 31, 1999. He took along three detainees – Bhawalpuri cleric Molvi Mohammad Masood Azhar, a British resident of Pakistan origin Ahmad Omar Syed Sheikh, and Kashmiri militant leader Mushtaq Ahmad Zargar for the barter with 162 passengers of hijacked Air India flight (IC-814) that originated from Katmandu.

It was America’s hunt for the still-elusive Osama bin Laden that allied forces overthrew the Afghan government which eventually led to the loss of ‘strategic depth’ to Islamabad. Within last few years as the battle rages every passing day, lot of things changed. India’s work on humanitarian and diplomatic fronts has helped New Delhi to make many friends in Afghanistan. 

The change in Delhi-Kabul axis did impact the ground situation in Kashmir too. State’s counter-insurgency grid is clear that for a long time now no battle-hardened Afghans was reported across J&K.

In the last few years a number of Afghan nationals who were caught in J&K were repatriated. The government informed the state legislature on February 7, 2010 that there were around nine Afghan militants in various jails across the state. The apex court, in a PIL filed by Bhim Singh, has passed many interim orders about the repatriation of various foreigners including Afghans to their homes.

On May 10 a division bench of the Supreme Court granted four weeks time to the government of India to submit the status of five detainees detained under PSA. These included Abdul Qadeer Khawaja son of Fida Mohammad Khawaja, a resident of Shah-Shaheed, Kabul. He was arrested in Baramulla in 1995. Officials said a number of Afghans have been deported after they completed their detention terms.

Regardless of the outcome of New Delhi’s cold war with Islamabad over Kabul, the relationship between Afghanistan and India is expected to go better. India has been not only imparting various skill up-gradation programmes to war-ravaged Afghan residents but also offering its huge market to some of its products as well.
Kabul grows apple, almonds, walnuts, peach, apricot, grapes and lot of vegetables. Part of it is exported. “We export almonds and apples to India, grapes to Pakistan to Iran,” said Jalil. “Our yield is low and sometimes quality also suffers because we have no access to modern techniques like drip irrigation and fruit storage to extend shelf life.”

India is already importing apple and other fruits from Kabul. Apple imports started in 2009 when 12 tones were partly flown and partly driven to India. It has been getting over 500 tons a year of Dastgir apples since then. Afghanistan was one of the major export markets for India till the Russian invasion upset regional trade.

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A journalist with seven years of working experience in Kashmir.

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