Afghanistan presses India for artillery before Nato withdrawal

Afghan president to push for progress on 'wish list' of military equipment he gave to New Delhi in May.

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NEW DELHI // Afghanistan is pressing India to supply military helicopters, tanks and artillery as it tries to shore up security through regional alliances before the withdrawal of most Nato-led foreign troops by the end of 2014.

The Afghan president, Hamid Karzai, will use a visit to India, which started yesterday, to push for progress on a “wish list” of military equipment he handed New Delhi in May.

India has invested US$2 billion (Dh7.35bn) in aid and reconstruction and trained scores of Afghan officers, but has so far stopped short of arms transfers for fear of provoking Pakistan, as well as armed groups in Afghanistan.

Pakistan and India have been locked in a long struggle for influence in Afghanistan, both fearing an unstable state on their doorsteps.

Kabul wants India to deliver on a strategic partnership agreement signed in 2011 that allowed for the transfer of “war-like stores”, or lethal equipment. It argues that India’s security is tied to a stable Afghanistan.

“Indian investment in Afghanistan, be it in the security or development sectors, is an investment in the security and development of India,” said M Ashraf Haidari, deputy chief of mission at the Afghan embassy in New Delhi.

Mr Karzai, who will hold talks with the Indian prime minister, Manmohan Singh, today, has been seeking to bolster regional ties while he remains at loggerheads with his western backers in the run-up to the withdrawal of Nato forces.

On Sunday, he struck a cooperation agreement with the Iranian President, Hassan Rouhani, during a visit to Tehran. Mr Karzai is meanwhile resisting signing up to a long-term security arrangement with the United States.

The US security pact is a decade-long agreement that would provide a legal basis for about 8,000 US troops to stay on after the Nato-led combat mission ends next year.

Under that plan, the remaining US force would continue to train, advise and equip the roughly 350,000 Afghan soldiers, police and airmen who will take over the fight against the Taliban-led insurgency. The remaining force would also conduct limited counter-terrorism activities.

Afghanistan wants tanks and artillery to boost land-based firepower and air support, including helicopters, for medical evacuation, Mr Haidari said.

Mr Haidari was formerly a member of Afghanistan’s National Security Council.

Afghanistan’s security forces have also asked India for equipment to counter homemade bombs, the biggest killers of soldiers and civilians in Afghanistan.

Gurmeet Kanwal, a retired Indian army brigadier who tracks India’s ties with Afghanistan, said New Delhi is unwilling to provide heavy equipment to Afghan forces for fear of getting drawn deeper into the conflict.

India’s expansive diplomacy in Afghanistan since the 2001 ouster of the Taliban has already fanned Pakistani fears of encirclement, and its embassy in Kabul has been bombed twice.

Its consulate in the city of Jalalabad - near the border with Pakistan - was hit by suicide bombers earlier this year.

New Delhi may offer Afghanistan light helicopters for surveillance, field ambulances and lorries, Mr Kanwal said. It may also increase the number of Afghan officers under training in India from the current level of 400.

* Reuters