NEW DELHI: At a time when Islamabad-Kabul ties are turning increasingly bitter, India and Afghanistan signed a strategic pact that catapults their relationship to a higher level, powered by a strong convergence over regional security and the shared threat from terror sanctuaries in Pakistan. A sharp focus on terror was evident as Afghan President Hamid Karzai met Prime Minister Manmohan Singh with the two sides making no effort to mask their mutual interests in deference to US concern that a more upfront Indian involvement could send Pakistan’s military and political establishment into a tizzy. On a two-day visit to India, Karzai signed a key document with Singh after a meeting where the two leaders discussed the recent spurt in violence in Afghanistan and Pakistan’s role in fomenting terror in the region and sought to take into account a proposed exit by international forces in 2014.
“The greatest need today is for the Afghan people to have peace and stability. India will stand by the people of Afghanistan as they prepare to assume the responsibility for their governance and security after the withdrawal of international forces in 2014,” Singh said. This is the first time Afghanistan has signed such a document with any nation. While the agreement is expected to fuel Islamabad’s anxiety, India and Afghanistan are clearly looking at a hard-headed definition of their national interests with US keen on thinning down its presence. It is learnt that Karzai conveyed to Singh that the strategic engagement between the two countries, which includes a big Indian effort to build Afghanistan’s security capacities, will help prepare Kabul for withdrawal of international forces.
Although he did not name Pakistan, Karzai spoke of the dangers of using terror as an instrument of policy after his meeting with Singh. “Afghanistan recognises the dangers that this region faces through terrorism and radicalism that is being used as an instrument of policy against our citizens,” he said while addressing the media. The rise in attacks by groups supported by Pakistan and its determination to ensure a denouement in Afghanistan that meets its prerogatives seems to have dimmed Karzai’s expectations of any understanding with Islamabad. The pact entails security cooperation between the two countries “to help enhance their respective and mutual efforts in the fight against international terrorism, organized crime, illegal trafficking in narcotics and money laundering”. Singh said he discussed terrorism at length with Karzai and described it as a threat to which no country was immune. Referring to the assassination of former Afghan president and chairman of the ‘High Peace Council’ Burhanuddin Rabbani, Singh said the incident served as “an occasion for all of us to strengthen our resolve to jointly confront the menace of terrorism that threatens to undermine the security and stability of our region”.
Rabbani’s killing is seen as an indication that Pakistan-supported groups have no intention to allow any sort of reconciliation with elements of the Taliban. On Tuesday, Afghan authorities in Kabul alleged that Rabbani’s assassination was carried out at the behest of Pakistani agencies. The strategic agreement also comprises joint initiatives on key international issues and support for UN reforms, including permanent seat for India in the UN Security Council. It entails a strategic dialogue to provide a framework for cooperation in the area of national security. “The dialogue will be led by NSAs and involve regular consultations with the aim of intensifying mutual efforts towards strengthening regional peace and security,” the agreement said. As per the strategic pact, India also agreed to assist, as mutually determined, in the training, equipping and capacity building programmes for Afghan national security forces. Singh confirmed that India will participate in the forthcoming conferences in Istanbul and Bonn to contribute to international and regional initiatives to support “Afghanistan’s efforts at nation building”.
The strategic partnership will also deepen economic ties with Afghanistan, a country in which India has pledged investment of $2 billion in development projects. Apart for the strategic pact, the two countries also signed two MoUs for development of hydrocarbons and mineral resources. Describing India’s cooperation with Kabul as an open book, Singh complimented Karzai for his “sagacious” leadership. “I reiterated to the president that India stands by the people of Afghanistan in their journey towards capacity building, reconstruction, development and peace. We will do all that is within our means to help Afghanistan,” he said. During his visit to Afghanistan in May, Singh had declared support for the ongoing reconciliation process in the country. – timesofindia