India may boost defence ties with Afghanistan

India offers a fresh $1 billion in aid to Afghanistan for building capacity in education, health, agriculture, energy and infrastructure

Elizabeth Roche
Updated15 Sep 2016
Prime Minister Narendra Modi and Afghan President Ashraf Ghani in New Delhi on Wednesday. Photo: PTI<br />
Prime Minister Narendra Modi and Afghan President Ashraf Ghani in New Delhi on Wednesday. Photo: PTI

New Delhi: India is considering scaling up its security ties with Afghanistan—training Afghan defence forces as well as supplying military hardware—in a break from the past, following a spike in attacks by the rebel Taliban militia.

Alongside, Prime Minister Narendra Modi offered $1 billion package for “capability building in spheres such as education, health, agriculture, skill development, empowerment of women, energy, infrastructure and strengthening of democratic institutions,” a joint statement issued at the end of Afghan President Ashraf Ghani’s visit said on Wednesday. India is already one of the top donors in Afghanistan, having spent $2 billion in reconstruction efforts since 2001, and Wednesday’s fresh pledges are a sign that it is committed to staying the course in the insurgency-racked country.

Ghani arrived on Wednesday on a day’s working visit with engagements including a lunch hosted by Modi, a meeting with Indian industry and a speech to an Indian defence ministry- funded think tank in New Delhi.

Ghani’s second visit to India since taking office in September 2014 comes amid increasing Taliban attacks in Afghanistan that are seen as a challenge to the West-backed government. Attempts to get the Taliban to the talks table have not yielded any results.

Three agreements—an extradition treaty, an agreement on cooperation in civil and commercial matters and a preliminary pact on peaceful uses of outer space—were also signed on Wednesday.

Afghanistan has been demanding increased defence supplies, including lethal weapons from India, which for the first time gave the country four Mi-25 attack helicopters last year.

Ahead of the visit, two people in the know said India could respond positively to Afghanistan’s demand and announce new military assistance. India could also look at increasing the number of Afghan troops that it trains in Indian facilities, a person familiar with the development said on Wednesday.

In his talks with Ghani, Modi “reiterated India’s abiding support for a unified, sovereign, democratic, peaceful, stable and prosperous Afghanistan,” the joint statement said.

Indian foreign secretary S. Jaishankar told reporters a “large part of the discussions... was devoted to the challenge of terrorism. The two leaders discussed the regional situation and expressed grave concern at the continued use of terrorism and violence in the region for achieving political objectives.”

Ghani and Modi agreed that terrorism “presented the single biggest threat to peace, stability and progress in the region and beyond,” the joint statement said.

“Stressing that elimination of all forms of terrorism, without any discrimination, is essential, they called upon the concerned to put an end to all sponsorship, support, safe havens and sanctuaries to terrorists, including for those who target Afghanistan and India,” the statement said.

Asked if the two countries had discussed any transfer of military hardware from India to Afghanistan, Jaishankar referred to the joint statement which said: “Both leaders reaffirmed their resolve to counterterrorism and strengthen security and defence cooperation as envisaged in the India-Afghanistan Strategic Partnership Agreement.”

Another issue that came up during talks was connectivity. Ghani has on more than one expressed his desire to see Afghanistan develop as a energy and commercial hub linking South and Central Asia and the Gulf region. However, the desire remains unfulfilled given Pakistan’s reluctance to allow Indian goods to get transferred through its territory to Afghanistan.

India has been keen to send across 1.7 lakh tonnes of wheat to Afghanistan but Pakistan had not given its go-ahead to the move, Jaishankar said. India is also looking to send across medicines for the Afghan people. For the transportation of the latter, India was looking at the increasing the number of flights from the southern Afghan city of Kandahar—three a week at present.

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