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Karzai in India, to cement ties

Last updated on: August 04, 2008 11:28 IST

Prime Minister Manmohan Singh and Afghanistan President Hamid Karzai will meet on Monday in New Delhi. Karzai arrived in the capital on Sunday night.

The delegation includes, Minister of Foreign Affairs Dr Rangin Dadfar Spanta and National Security Advisor Dr Zalmai Rassoul.

According to sources in the prime minister's office, the deadly suicide attack on the Indian embassy in Kabul will not affect the relationship between the two countries.  Instead, the meeting, New Delhi-based experts believe, will accelerate the ties between two countries.

"India and Afghanistan are likely to be engaged in defence co-operation and small development projects and help in local self-governance," says Vishal Chandra, research scholar at Institute of Defence Studies and Analyses.

Government sources believe that Karzai's speech at the recent SAARC summit indicates that Afghanistan will widen the co-operation with India on combating terror.

In other words that means that Afghanistan wants India's help to fight the menace of cross-border terrorism along the Durrand Line on its eastern border with Pakistan.

However, the United States will keep a close eye on India and Afghanistan as they have high stakes in the region.

"Not only Pakistan, even the US will have anxiety on the issue. The US would like India and Afghanistan's co-operation up to a point to push Pakistan to deliver," says a New Delhi-based retired diplomat.

The Americans want to ensure that Pakistan administration sees that the ISI end its support to the militants and take action against Taliban. Pakistan is not showing any signs that it is responding sincerely to demand of the US and North Atlantic Treaty Organisation.

Reports suggest Pakistan does not see the US foreign policy is in its national interest.

On the balance, Indian side has taken view that it can not leave mission in Afghanistan half-way.

Chandra said that India may agree to train the Afghanistan National Army. In the past, India helped train Afghan police force. If India does help the Army now, Pakistan will staunchly oppose the move.

India has spent around $ 1 billion since 2003 in various projects in Afghanistan, claims a high-level officer in the security establishment.

India's engagements with Kabul have been the bone of contention between Pakistan and India. The attack on Indian embassy in Kabul, allegedly by ISI, was to deter India's ambition in Afghanistan.  However, despite the fact that security is a big issue for Indian companies working in Afghanistan, according to sources, there is no rethink on the Afghanistan policy of India. Government sources said India's overall engagement is miniscule compared to many other countries. Second, after Russia's offer to help the Afghan Army who is working closely with the NATO is a sign of changing realities.

'There is a risk involved, but the fight has to go on," says Chandra.

Afghanistan, which remains at the bottom in most human indexes, will continue to receive help from India at grassroots level in rebuilding the country.

High-level government sources, who deal with Pakistan, said, "As India cannot object to Pakistan's relation with say, Bangladesh, Pakistan should not have any grouses when  India helps Afghanistan. You must remember that India built roads on its Western border only because Pakistan steadfastly refuses access to India from the eastern side."

Americans view the complex triangle of India-Afghanistan-Pakistan with concerns and self-interests.

Robert D Kaplan, writing in latest issue in The Atlantic, commented,  "The war in Afghanistan is part of Pakistan's larger struggle with India. Afghanistan has been a prize that Pakistan and India have fought over directly and indirectly for decades. To Pakistan, Afghanistan represents a strategic rare base that would (along with the Islamic nations of ex-Soviet Central Asia) offer a united front against Hindu-dominated India and block its rival's access to energy-rich regions. Conversely, for India, a friendly Afghanistan would pressure Pakistan on its western border -- just as India itself pressures Pakistan on its eastern border -- thus dealing Pakistan a strategic defeat."

Kaplan says, "The Karzai government has openly and brazenly strengthened its ties with India, and allowed Indian consulates in Jalalabad, Kandahar, Herat, and Mazar-e-Sharif. It has kept alive the possibility of inviting India to help train the new Afghan army, and to help in dam construction in the northeastern Afghan province of Kunar, abutting
Pakistan. All this has driven the ISI wild with fear and anger."

Kaplan's is not the lone voice. Former US Ambassador to Pakistan Wendy Chamberlain recently told the US media, "One thing we never understood is that India has always been the major threat for Pakistan."

India will have to tread carefully in assuring that it should not look that its Afghan policy is serving America's interests, too. In Afghanistan, India has its own reputation and people's admiration no other nation can make claim to. India seems to have understood the importance of the reconstruction of Afghanistan.

"We are unlike European donors. We are picking up only those project Afghan people want us to do. We are not imposing our idea of development," said a source in the government, who is part of the policy-making.

Indian aid includes delivery of biscuits to schoolchildren through the World Food Programme, building the telecommunication network and  building of roads from Zaranj to Delaram. Eduacation, health and infrastructure are three areas India has exetnded help. Besides, India is building Salma dam, tube wells, schools, government offices and even  Parliament.

But, the task is fraught with danger because of the ongoing war.

At present, around 40,000-strong NATO troops are present in Afghanistan.

They are fighting not so successful battle in the south and east. Also, the Afghan army is fighting almost a jungle war with armed groups in north.

One view prevalent in the government is that it is necessary to have presence in Afghanistan because in India's battle against terrorism and India's efforts to keep peace in Jammu and Kashmir it's necessary that a re-emerging Taliban is defeated.

Also, Jaish-e-Mohammed (JeM), Lashkar-e-Toiba (LeT), Harkat-ul-Mujahideen and Harkat ul-Jihad-i-Islami are someway or other linked to border areas of Afghanistan and Pakistan.

To fight back Taliban-Al Qaeda nexus, India may train the Afghan Army. However, in view of Pakistan and even Americans position, experts like Chandra believes that without sending Indian troops to Kabul the task of training the Army should be handled. 

Image: Afghanistan President Hamid Karzai  shakes hands with President Pratibha Patil during a reception at the Rashtrapathi Bhavan  in New Delhi on Monday. Prime Minister Manmohan Singh looks on.

Photograph: Getty Images.


Sheela Bhatt in New Delhi