Karzai seeks Indian military aid to fill gap left by Nato

The Afghan president Hamid Karzai's visit to New Delhi to seek military support will force India into a regional 'balancing act', analysts say. Suryatapa Bhattacharya reports

Afghanistan's president Hamid Karzai (second from left) receives an honourary degree from his Indian counterpart Pranab Mukherjee at the Lovely Professional University on the outskirts of the northern Indian city of Jalandhar.
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NEW DELHI // The Afghan president Hamid Karzai’s visit to New Delhi to seek military support will force India into a regional “balancing act”, say analysts.

Mr Karzai’s trip is seen as an effort to strengthen ties with India, a country that could help Afghanistan fill the power vacuum that will be created when Nato troops withdraw in 2014. He met the president, Pranab Mukherjee, yesterday and planned talks later with Manmohan Singh, the prime minister.

Afghanistan’s engagement with New Delhi will be watched closely by the government of Pakistan, now headed by prime minister Nawaz Sharif, who has promised improved economic and diplomatic links with India.

Pakistan shares a border with Afghanistan and is eager to retain its influence in the region, which might be threatened by any Indian agreements with Kabul.

“It’s a balancing act. It’s one that New Delhi is capable of managing,” said Nitin Pai, co-founder of the Chennai-based Takshashila Institution, a defence policy think tank.

Mr Karzai arrived for his two-day visit on Monday to bolster their ties as 100,000 Nato troops prepare to withdraw from Afghanistan by the end of next year. Concern is mounting that the Taliban will exploit the power vacuum after the withdrawal.

The talks expanded on a 2011 “strategic partnership” between India and Afghanistan that aimed at deepening security and economic ties, including training an estimated 2,000 Afghan military officers a year.

India has provided little else in terms of military support.

“India is prepared to increase bilateral contribution to institution-building, training and equipment to the extent India can,” a statement from Mr Mukherjee’s office said yesterday. It did not say whether it would include military aid.

Before the meetings, Mr Karzai’s office said that Afghanistan had requested “all kinds of assistance from India to strengthen our military and security institutions”.

Pakistan had proposed a partnership with Afghanistan in 2012 and offered military training to its army, but the Afghan government has not been receptive to the idea.

Border skirmishes between Pakistan and Afghanistan have added to the tension. This month, border guards clashed at the disputed pre-colonial border, the Durand Line.

Afghanistan accused Pakistan of using heavy artillery and tanks during fighting along Afghanistan’s eastern Nangarhar province. Pakistan claimed the clashes were a result of unprovoked Afghan action.

Afghan security forces have since asked for better equipment on the border. An official said the Afghan delegation would explore the possibility of equipping the army with Indian artillery.

The meetings between Mr Karzai and Indian leaders served a dual purpose for India, said Mr Pai.

“Karzai’s trip to India is to get India to use its political and diplomatic capital to shape a modern, liberal, democratic dispensation in Afghanistan and possibly to employ military power as well,” he said.

But retired Brig Rumel Dahiya, deputy director general, Institute for Defence Studies and Analyses in New Delhi, played down speculation that India would be a major military equipment supplier to Afghanistan.

“India imports most of its military equipment and there are obvious restrictions to third party sales,” Mr Dahiya said.

“What little India produces, that may have been asked to fill the gap that is needed for Afghanistan’s capacity-building and military shortages but it will not be to empower a fight with Pakistan.”

On Monday, Mr Karzai received an honorary doctorate from the Lovely Professional University in Chandigarh, a private university in Punjab.

Mr Karzai thanked India for its support in his acceptance speech.

* With additional reporting from Agence France-Presse from Reuters

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