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New Delhi: Afghanistan President Ashraf Ghani will visit India on Wednesday against the backdrop of rising violence by rebel Taliban militants, tension within the National Unity Government in his country and China building a new rail link from its east coast to Afghanistan.

Ghani will be arriving in India on Wednesday to hold “close consultations" with Prime Minister Narendra Modi during which the Afghan President could ask India to speed up increased military assistance.

The Afghan President’s programme includes a lunch by Modi, an address to Indian businessmen and a speech at the Institute for Defence Studies and Analyses, a government-run think tank in New Delhi.

India has always considered Afghanistan as part of its extended neighbourhood and has sought friendly ties with Kabul, annoying regional rival Pakistan.

New Delhi has been one of the biggest donors to Afghanistan, pledging $2 billion in support for reconstruction programmes in the war-torn country.

The Indian foreign ministry, in a statement over the weekend, said discussions between Ghani and Modi will “provide an opportunity to continue the close and frequent consultations between the two friendly neighbours, including at the highest level."

“Such interaction is the hallmark of their strategic partnership and has guided the strengthening of all-round cooperation between the two countries," the statement added.

Afghanistan has been demanding increased defence supplies, including lethal weapons from India, which for the first time gave four Mi-25 attack helicopters to the war-torn country last year. At least two people familiar with the developments said India could respond positively to Afghanistan’s demand and announce new military assistance. This is a break from the past when India shied away from supplying lethal weapons to Afghanistan mainly due to pressure from the US, which was wary of upsetting Pakistan.

“Today, the US government is very comfortable with the idea of India increasing its support for Afghan security," said Ashley Tellis, senior associate with the Washington-based Carnegie Endowment for International Peace think tank.

“In fact, we are encouraging India to do more both on the economic and on the defence side. The problem is that India has material limitations in respect to how far it can increase its support. But even within its limits, India can do more—and should," he said.

High up on Ghani’s wish list are utility and attack helicopters, artillery, ammunition and spares in addition to help in reviving some of the Soviet era factories in Afghanistan, according to a third person familiar with the development, who did not want to be named.

Both India and Pakistan want a friendly regime in Kabul. India wants to ensure forces inimical to its interests do not get a foothold there, while Pakistan wants a friendly government in Kabul on which it can fall back in case of hostilities with India.

Ghani’s visit comes as Sunni hardline rebel group Taliban has increased attacks in the country.

Violence in Uruzgan, Helmand and Kunduz provinces across the country and a string of attacks in Kabul in the last few months testify to the fact that militants are posing a major challenge to the West-backed Ghani government. Efforts by the Afghan government to get Taliban to negotiations have not yielded any results.

Ghani’s visit also comes amid reports of fissures in the almost-two-year-old National Unity Government of Afghanistan. News reports from Kabul in recent months have spoken of deepening differences between Ghani and his chief executive officer Abdullah Abdullah.

The latter recently accused the president of being unwilling to listen to his ministers and unfit to hold office, Reuters reported recently. Another news report talked of tensions between Ghani and his first vice-president, former warlord Abdul Rashid Dostum, with the latter reportedly accusing the president of being autocratic.

The three represent key ethnic groups in Afghanistan—Ghani is Pashtun, Abdullah is Tajik-Pashtun and Dostum is Uzbek.

Ethnic differences resulting from mutual enmity was one of the reasons that helped Taliban capture large swathes of Afghanistan and eventually Kabul in 1996. An international coalition of troops led by the US ousted them from Kabul in 2001, after the 9/11 attacks in the US.

Ghani’s visit to New Delhi also comes as China last week started the first train from its east coast to northern Afghanistan, according to a Bloomberg report. The arrival of the train speeds up commerce between the two countries cutting down the time taken to transfer goods from China to Afghanistan from three to six months to two weeks, the report said. Ghani has often spoken of turning his landlocked country into a transit hub of Asia—linking east and west Asia, and south and central Asia. Last week, he warned Afghanistan will close transit routes for Pakistan to Central Asia since the Wagah port has been closed for Afghan traders for trade with India.

India and China are seen as the two biggest markets in the region for Afghan commodities as well as farm produce.

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