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'Afghanistan looks to India to balance Pak's influence in Kabul'

October 04, 2011 14:22 IST
In New Delhi, Afghanistan President Hamid Karzai will sign the first-ever strategic agreement with India. Sheela Bhatt analyses the importance of Karzai's visit and India's budding relationship with its neighbour.

On Tuesday afternoon Afghanistan President Hamid Karzai arrived in New Delhi to ink the first-ever strategic agreement with India. The agreement, says an Indian diplomat in the know of the issue, will cover a wide range of areas. That India is the first country with whom Kabul is signing such a strategic agreement itself speaks of the importance of Karzai's visit, said an officer from the external affairs ministry.

According to his assessment, the strategic agreement will be road map of sorts for the future of Indo-Afghan bilateral relationship. The agreement is expected to touch upon security, political, economic, educational, civilian and parliamentarian relationship between the two countries. It will also highlight the scope and potential of cooperation between India and Afghanistan.

Interestingly, there are two other agreements that would be signed after President Karzai meets Prime Minister Dr Manmohan Singh at 6 pm in Hyderabad House on Tuesday.

The agreements are related to exploration of mineral resources and hydrocarbons. Indian companies have pitched for iron ore mines of Afghanistan and the Indian consortium is led by the Steel Authority of India Limited. If it can rival the bid of other international players, including the Chinese, it proposes to set up a steel plant in Afghanistan.

In the international arena, Afghanistan is known for its rich mineral resources. The Hajigak mines in the Hindukush mountains, have an estimated reserve of 1.8 billion tonnes of magnetite with 62 to 63 per cent iron content. However, economic ties which need the involvement intensive capital is a distant dream for countries engaged in the region.

Naresh Chandra, chairman of task force on national security and former diplomat, said, "The most pertinent question is how relevant we are in Afghanistan?"

He told, "India is very relevant in Afghanistan, we are a ray of hope for the Afghan people. We want to engage in the education, health and economy sectors, which is vital for Afghan's future."

According to him, Americans have military objectives in Afghanistan. Pakistan is relevant for the Americans in Afghanistan because it supports their services and supply chains.  

The powerhouses in Afghanistan often look to India to check and balance Pakistan's influence in Afghanistan, but Chandra believes that Pakistan and Afghanistan relations are unique. "For a land-locked country like Afghanistan, Pakistan maintains its supply chain and also plays a huge role in civil strife. The Afghan refugees are giving a unique dimension to the ties between the two nations," he said.

In a reply to some Western critics who question Indian stakes in Afghanistan he said that Karzai's visit is important because it recognises India's support in rebuilding Afghanistan.

"At the same time India has to decide the scope of its relations with Kabul. Are relations with Afghanistan as important as our relations with the Latin American countries? If so, then the game is over," he said.

Emphasising the importance of sturdy relations with the people of Afghanistan, Chandra said, "We can't leave the ground. We must build up the relation firmly and surely. The Indian policy is doing fine by keeping in focus on the Afghan people."

Talking about the first-of-its kind strategic agreement to be signed on Tuesday, Chandra said," We have to ensure that at no point of time we give any indication of sending Indian troops there. It will be counter-productive to fight the messy war. The Indian Army should never enter Afghanistan."

Sheela Bhatt in New Delhi