NEW DELHI — Afghan President Hamid Karzai has concluded a four-day visit to India, during which he encouraged New Delhi to boost investment and military support in his country. The trip comes as the Afghan leader continues to delay signing a security agreement with the United States.
Five visits in three years. India’s foreign ministry last week was quick to point to the frequency of Afghan President Hamid Karzai’s trips to India as signifying the “intensity of the relationship.”
And after talks with Indian leaders Friday, Karzai was also keen to note the strength of bilateral ties between the two longtime allies, using much of the standard language used in the past.
"We discussed with the government of India, with honorable Prime Minister of India, Dr. Manmohan Singh, wide ranging issues of concern to both countries," Karzai stated. "Also including those discussions were bilateral cooperation between the two countries, on security and defense issues and certainly India had a positive attitude.”
President Karzai arrived in New Delhi on his 13th visit to the country with requests for military equipment and India’s continued support as Afghanistan prepares for the withdrawal of all international combat troops by the end of 2014.
India has provided more than $2 billion in aid towards Afghanistan’s reconstruction and is providing military training to Afghan troops. But analyst Abhijit Iyer-Mitra with the New Delhi-based Observer Research Foundation said India can do much more - including providing Afghanistan with military subsidies if it can get over its fear of Pakistani backlash.
“It looks very ungracious. You have got a guest who keeps coming to you, keeps giving you a lot of importance, and you give him something like just three helicopters and provide him with “moral support” in his BSA [Bilateral Security Agreement] with America. It doesn’t look good. Optically it doesn’t look good.” said Iyer-Mitra.
The Bilateral Security Agreement with the United States, and President Karzai’s refusal to sign it, was also a topic during the Afghan leader’s visit. Karzai said U.S. troops must first stop what he called attacks on Afghan homes and publicly begin peace talks with the Taliban.
Indian Foreign Ministry spokesman Syed Akbaruddin told reporters Friday the BSA was discussed during Karzai’s talks with Prime Minister Singh because the two countries’ destinies are “intertwined.” “Both India and Afghanistan see the BSA as important for the stability of Afghanistan. As you are aware, our approach to Afghanistan has always been one of not being prescriptive, not being intrusive and not being judgmental,” he said.
During a speech in the western Indian city of Pune, Karzai reassured Indian business leaders that the United States “will fulfill our conditions” and that the BSA will be signed, while also ensuring profits for those who invest in Afghanistan.
Analyst Abhijit Iyer-Mitra said the Afghan leader will eventually sign the deal, but that either way India should take a more proactive stance in the region - and not outsource its interests to the United States.
“Basically what India is saying is ‘you Indian businessmen have to rely on America for your security. We are not going to provide you with security.’ And what we are telling the Afghans is ‘don’t try to play us off against the Americans in your BSA negotiations. We do not want to enter that game.’ Then the message that Afghanistan takes back is that India is throwing us to the wolves, India is throwing us to Pakistan,” said Iyer-Mitra.
As Afghanistan undergoes this transition, it is clear security is a concern for all three nations, Afghanistan, Pakistan and India. During talks with Karzai, Prime Minister Singh thanked Afghan forces for thwarting an August suicide attack against the Indian consulate in the eastern Afghan city of Jalalabad - noting how terrorism and extremism threaten the entire region.