Karzai's wishlist

As Afghanistan readies for large transitions, India must be generous and agile in its response

Afghanistan President Hamid Karzai's visit to India, his second in six months, came at a critical time for the region. With the clock ticking in Kabul, Afghanistan is bracing for a series of transitions, beginning in 2014 — the withdrawal of US troops and transfer of the security burden to Afghan forces of doubtful capability, the likely end of Karzai's presidency once his second term is over, and the uncertain prospects of a political reconciliation between the Afghan state and the Taliban. Undoubtedly, Karzai came with hopes of eliciting greater support and a deeper commitment from Delhi.

Primarily, Karzai's expectations were for an increase in defence assistance from India, including "lethal and non-lethal" weapons. On Wednesday, he disclosed that he had indeed presented Kabul's "wishlist" to Delhi, while emphasising Afghanistan's need for as much defence equipment and training as it can get. There is no plan for stationing Indian troops on the ground. But Afghanistan will welcome Indian instructors once the "Sandhurst-type" military academy is established. India already provides limited military assistance to Afghanistan, mainly in the form of training Afghan security personnel, under the bilateral strategic partnership agreement of 2011. This is besides India's investment of $2 billion in Afghan reconstruction — building infrastructure, such as roads, highways, hospitals and electricity projects — as well as assistance in rebuilding the country's police, judiciary and diplomatic services.

While Delhi has offered to enhance its contribution to Afghan reconstruction, it must move forward more carefully on arms supply. India needs to balance its stakes in Afghanistan against the potential reaction from Pakistan and the NATO. The Pakistan army is indispensable for peace in Afghanistan — it is also the problem. Moreover, Karzai's visit to India coincided with increased skirmishes along the Durand Line, in which an Afghan policeman was killed earlier this month, while a daring raid last month, allegedly by a Pakistan-aided Taliban band, wiped out a unit of Afghan soldiers. India must work hard and keep pace as the situation changes, while nudging Karzai on the development of the Chabahar port in Iran, crucial for routing Indian shipments to Afghanistan. Recognising the implications for its own security if Afghanistan were to collapse into chaos again, India must keep engaging the country's neighbours to facilitate peace after the transition. The India-China dialogue on the matter — welcomed by Karzai — is a vital part of that larger process.

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