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Afghan President Hamid Karzai to seek military aid as he arrives in India


Afghan president Hamid Karzai to seek military aid as he arrives in India

Karzai is expected to ask India for help with ‘military needs and shortages’ during three-day visit to subcontinent

Hamid Karzai

Hamid Karzai speaks after receiving an honorary degree in Delhi India. Photograph: Ashwini Bhatia/AP

Hamid Karzai, the Afghan president, has arrived in Delhi on a three-day visit during which he is expected to ask India to boost its assistance to Afghan armed forces.

The request would heighten tensions in the region, and raise concerns among western observers of a fierce battle for influence in Afghanistan after the bulk of US forces are withdrawn next year.

Key Karzai aides said last weekend the Afghan leader would be asking India to help “with military needs and shortages”.

India and Afghanistan signed a strategic agreement two years ago and a number of Afghan army officers are being trained at Indian institutions. Officials in Kabul have repeatedly stressed that they are short of planes, heavy weapons, armoured vehicles and a range of other military supplies.

However, any transfers of Indian arms to Kabul would be seen as deeply provocative by neighbouring Pakistan, where senior military decision-makers have long been concerned about Indian influence in Afghanistan.

Indian officials told the Guardian they saw the statements from Kabul as “messaging”, rather than a serious proposal.

“There are mechanisms to discuss those kind of issues. We are already providing equipment and assistance within our modest capabilities,” one senior official said.

He also stressed that Delhi was also aware of “regional sensitivities”.

Over the coming months, Indian policymakers will have to balance a desire to bolster influence in Kabul with hopes to improve relations with Islamabad. The election of Nawaz Sharif for a third time as Pakistan’s prime minister 10 days ago has been broadly welcomed in Delhi.

Sharif, a rightwing businessman, has said he wants to see better ties with his country’s giant eastern neighbour.

Afghan officials have explicitly linked the appeal for military assistance to a series of recent clashes between Pakistani and Afghan border guards and even suggested that they might ask India for artillery. Both Kabul and Islamabad accuse each other of harbouring militants who launch cross-border raids.

The Afghan ambassador in Delhi last week said that Karzai would seek further co-operation to tackle “terrorist groups”.

“The Afghans are sending a very clear signal to India saying they are looking for more commitment. They are looking at the situation post-2014 and telling the Indians: show us that you are serious,” said Raja C Mohan, a respected Delhi-based analyst.

Karzai’s visit to Delhi, ostensibly to collect an honorary degree, follows that of Li Keqiang, the Chinese prime minister, in a hectic few days for diplomacy in the Indian capital.

Though Li made India the first destination of his maiden overseas trip, talks with Indian officials were overshadowed by a recent standoff between Indian and Chinese troops at a remote disputed point on their long and often ill-defined border. The confrontation in Ladakh, in the western Himalayas, was resolved only two weeks ago. Though both Li and his Indian counterpart, Manmohan Singh, emphasised their desire to focus on trade between the two emerging economic powers, tensions were evident.

Indian officials told the Guardian that the border dispute had prompted a review of the relationship with Beijing.

“It was best to indicate that upfront as an area of concern,” one said.

Li will travel on Tuesday to Islamabad, underlining another dynamic in the region with the potential to cause instability. Though the depth of the relationship is sometimes exaggerated, Pakistan and China have built closer links in recent years. India is also concerned about Beijing’s relationship with Sri Lanka and its presence in Bangladesh.


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