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Karzai's military help from India may create tension
INTRODUCTION:

Afghanistan President Hamid Karzai’s wish-list for India to have deeper involvement in Afghanistan’s military and security sector has indeed put India in a dilemma. If India gets involved militarily in Afghanistan, it may face the risk of increased regional tension and provide Pakistan the legitimacy to continue to support the Taliban. Conversely, if India denies military hardware help then the ANA will not emerge as a potent force to fight the Taliban. Either way, time is running out for India to make a quick decision for peace and security in the region. But Afghanistan should be clear in its thinking what exactly it needs to defend itself and ensure peace in the war ravaged country.

REACTION:

President Hamid Karzai’s visit to India was indeed about desperate lobbying for deeper military help from India. Concluding a four day visit to India, President Karzai asked New Delhi to boost investment and military support for his country.

He met with Indian Prime Minister Dr Manmohan Singh, Foreign Affair’s Minister Salman Khurshid and India Inc for the same purpose.

The visit came at a time when President Karzai wrapped up a partnership agreement with Iran and a meeting with Pakistan Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif while maintaining a hostile attitude to the Bilateral Security Agreement (BSA) with the United States.

Pushing for heavy weaponry supply from India, he asked for 150 battle tanks, field guns, howitzers and a squadron of attack helicopters. This support is in addition to India’s USD 2 billion assistance program for Afghanistan’s reconstruction. India and Afghanistan are also expected to deepen their cooperation on training and counter-terrorism operations.

India has been providing transport, logistical and engineering equipment to Afghanistan as well as training to Afghan security personnel in India. There are currently about 300 Afghans in Indian military academies and over a 1000 have been trained in the last decade.

New Delhi has been reluctant to become directly involved in supporting Afghanistan’s insipient security sector, but now with a renewal of demands from President Karzai and the time for US to withdraw its troops coming closer, it indeed faces a tough dilemma.

The uncertainties that surround next year’s security transition raise further questions about India’s role and strategy in Afghanistan post 2014 NATO withdrawal.

If India assists Afghanistan militarily, it will give Pakistan a legitimate reason to continue supporting Taliban. It will also risk getting into a proxy war with Pakistan in Afghanistan.

This will add to Pakistan’s and more specifically the ISI’s deep rooted paranoia about India. Pakistan could derail the nascent peace talks with the Taliban and also step-up support to insurgent groups it supports and hosts against Afghanistan and India.

Also, with the fear of weapons falling into the wrong hands, India’s decision to provide heavy equipment to Afghanistan could backlash.

However, the dilemma arises when it not only risks isolating an immensely strategic asset like Afghanistan by turning down its continued requests, it also risks escalating security tensions with and around the region, because countries like Turkey, Saudi Arabia, China and Russia could become suspicious of India’s intentions in Afghanistan.

If India does not aid Afghanistan with weapons, it will risk isolating a regional partner of immense strategic and geopolitical interest to it. It will also deprive the Afghanistan National Army of becoming a potent force to fight the Taliban.

However, despite a concerted effort by India to deepen its strategic relation with Afghanistan, it remains wary of dirtying its hands in the ongoing struggle in Afghanistan.

Even at the current amount of involvement in Afghanistan, India has been at the receiving end of terror. Pakistan’s concerns of Indian encirclement have made India face attacks from Taliban in its embassies and consulates in Kabul.

Though India keeps Afghanistan’s best interests in mind, which is why it acknowledges that closer India-Afghanistan relations will only strengthen the Afghan government for peaceful functioning after 2014, India would ideally like to achieve this objective by providing minimum military and security assistance.

India also acknowledges that its own internal security could be at risk if the international drawdown from Afghanistan leaves behind a security vacuum that will very well be filled by militant groups.

But India must make a quick decision otherwise the Afghanistan National Army will not be able to tackle the Taliban professionally.

The post-2014 situation in the country will also involve a struggle between India and Pakistan for influence in Afghanistan, for which India must act accordingly because Karzai’s overtures today will have deep implications for India’s security build up post 2014.

Therefore, though India indeed has a vested interest in Afghanistan successfully moderating a threat from Taliban so that it can work towards peace and reconciliation where India can help Afghanistan is through trade and economy. India is already a major partner of Afghanistan in this regard and such involvement is unlikely to make other countries wary of India’s entrenchment in Afghanistan.