India has signed a strategic partnership pact with Afghanistan to boost security and economic ties. It is being seen as a signal of a stepped-up role for India in the troubled country. Afghanistan is looking for greater Indian involvement at a time when its relations with Pakistan are under strain.
After holding talks with Afghan President Hamid Karzai, Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh said that the strategic pact signed between the two countries will cover security cooperation, trade and economic ties, as well as social and cultural exchanges.
It is the first such pact Afghanistan has signed as the war torn country looks for alliances that will help it after international troops leave by the end of 2014.
The deal comes at a time when Afghanistan’s ties with Pakistan have frayed in the wake of the assassination of former Afghan President Burhanuddin Rabbani. President Karzai has accused Pakistan of playing a double game in his country and involvement in Rabbani's assassination.
Indian Prime Minister Singh said Rabbani’s killing underscored the need to fight terrorism, which is threatening the stability of South Asia.
“The people of Afghanistan have suffered enough," said Singh. "They deserve to live in peace and decide their future themselves without outside interference, coercion and intimidation.”
Observers say the Afghan leader wants India to play a greater role in stabilizing Afghanistan.
After talks with Indian leaders, President Karzai called New Delhi a steadfast friend and supporter of Afghanistan.
He did not refer to Pakistan directly, but appealed for the cooperation and understanding of all South Asian countries, including “our other neighbors.”
“Afghanistan recognizes the dangers that this region is facing through terrorism and the radicalism that is being used as an instrument of policy against innocent citizens of our countries. Afghanistan as India seek[s] a life that is free of violence, free of extremism,” said Karzai.
India and Afghanistan also signed pacts for the exploration of minerals and hydrocarbons.
Observers say there are compelling reasons for greater Indian involvement in Afghanistan. New Delhi wants to ensure that the security situation in the country does not deteriorate after Western troops withdraw.
But security analyst Bharat Karnad at New Delhi’s Center for Policy Research says India is likely to tread carefully.
“The government of India is still trying to see what the implications are and how far India can go considering that Pakistan objects to any kind of an Indian presence there. Obviously Karzai is trying to develop India as a counter to Pakistan’s slips, as he sees it.”
India is one of the Afghanistan’s biggest donors, and is playing a key role in its reconstruction. It is helping in building of roads, highways, in education and training.