New Delhi: Afghanistan has sought increased Indian involvement in the country, including a deepening of defence ties with the supply of weapons and defence hardware, ahead of the pullout of international troops from that country next year.
“We are required to sit down and discuss contours of our security and defence cooperation to ensure predictability, to ensure protection of common cause which is is self defence against any perceived threats to our two nations,” Afghan ambassador to India Shaida M. Abdali, told reporters on Thursday, ahead of a three-day visit to India by Afghan president Hamid Karzai next week. “Therefore, it is critically important that the two countries...deepen and talk about more substantive issues beyond than training and other soft issues.”
Referring to the deadline for the international troops to withdraw from Afghanistan after a 12-year stay and a resurgent Taliban, Abdali said “we are facing a shared challenge”.
“Your investment in security and defence sector in Afghanistan means the safety and security of India. We are seeking more of security and defence cooperation we would like to go beyond the current trend of cooperation,” he said, referring to the defence cooperation between India and Afghanistan in training of Afghan National Army and Afghan National Police personnel in India.
“We are very concerned about keeping the status quo,” in Afghanistan once the international troops exit from the country, the ambassador said.
India has been uneasy with committing military troops to Afghanistan, wary of exacerbating hostile relations with Pakistan, which considers Afghanistan as part of its sphere of influence and is uncomfortable of Indian influence in Afghanistan.
“India has been providing various kinds of assistance to Afghanistan” on a mutually agreed basis, a foreign ministry official said. “India continues to discuss issues of importance to Afghanistan and consider their requests,” the official said.
India and Afghanistan concluded a strategic partnership agreement in October 2011 that included cooperation in various areas, including the economy and defence. Both sides have been engaged in operationalizing the pact.
Abdali also urged India not to look at Afghanistan through the prism of Pakistan. India and Afghanistan are two independent nations and neither should look at their bilateral relationship through the prism of their ties to Pakistan, he said.
He welcomed the dialogue between India, Iran and Afghanistan on cooperation on building Iran’s Chabahar port.
India and Iran had agreed to look at developing the port in southeastern Iran in 2003, during a visit to India by the then Iranian President Mohammad Khatami, but the venture has not made much progress. Chabahar has been designated as a free trade and industrial zone by Tehran. Given India’s often hostile relations with Pakistan, India views the port as an alternative route not only to Afghanistan but also to the resource-rich landlocked countries of Central Asia. India recently committed $100 million dollars to the development of the project—a development that Abdali welcomed, underlining the need to quickly clinch the project.
The envoy also welcomed dialogue between India, Russia and China on Afghanistan, noting that the international community, though welcome, had finished its role in Afghanistan and now it was time for Afghanistan and countries neighbouring it to come together and ensure stability of the region.
Alongwith these countries, India has also been increasing its interaction with Central Asian Republics—most of which neighbour Afghanistan. India’s vice-president Hamid Ansari travelled to Tajikistan recently and is expected to travel to Uzbekistan next week. Besides Pashtuns, Tajiks, Hazaras and Uzbeks constitute key percentages of Afghanistan’s population. India, alongwith Iran and Russia, had supported the Northern Alliance—an anti-Taliban coalition made up of Tajiks, Uzbeks and other Afghan minorities—between 1996-2001 when the Sunni Pashtun Taliban were in power in Kabul.
According to Abdali, there was no let up in the terrorism emanating from the region, referring to the charges from India and Afghanistan that “sanctuaries for terrorism” existed in Pakistan, a veiled allusion to links between the Taliban and sections within the Pakistan government.
Meanwhile, the European Union special representative for Afghanistan Vygaudas Usackas on a visit to New Delhi warned against Afghans taking international support for granted. “Afghans can’t be complacent any more and have to keep us engaged,” he said referring to declining support at home for the long-drawn out war in Afghanistan. He said that political attention of European leaders was moving towards Syria and other such countries in the Middle East. “To sustain exceptional support, political attention and generous financial support, Afghans should act much more and provide tangible results,” he said referring to minimizing corruption and holding free and fair elections to elect a new president after Karzai steps down next year.