NEW DEHLI: Afghanistan and India were to strengthen security ties on Tuesday during a "significant" visit to New Delhi by Hamid Karzai, with both countries deeply suspicious of Pakistan.
The Afghan president's trip, his second to India this year, comes after he accused Pakistan – India's arch enemy – of funding militant groups. Islamabad's relationship with key backer the United States has also soured.
Karzai was to sign a security agreement handing a greater role to India in training Afghan security forces and also seal two other deals covering energy and mining.
"This is a significant visit by the president and India is fully committed to nurturing our friendship and strategic partnership with Afghanistan," Indian Foreign Minister SM Krishna told reporters after talks with Karzai.
Analysts in India had predicted that Karzai would elevate New Delhi's role in stabilising his violence-torn country as he eyes a drawdown of US-led troops by 2014.
They argue that Karzai is losing patience with Pakistan, a key player in the region, and is instead looking for more support from New Delhi – something which is likely to rile Pakistan.
Krishna said that there would be one strategic agreement between the countries that "takes care of security" and two others to help the development of Afghanistan in mining and energy.
"Karzai's visit comes at a crucial juncture to endorse India's involvement in Afghanistan," Saeed Naqvi from the Observer Research Foundation think-tank told AFP.
"Karzai is coming to India to confer on India the tag 'reliable ally'... India will get the right to play a more pronounced role (in Afghanistan) after Karzai's visit."
The Indian Express newspaper reported on Sunday that the Afghan leader would sign a "strategic partnership" agreement with Singh, his first such pact.
Indian involvement in Afghanistan is extremely sensitive because of the delicate and often deadly power games in South Asia.
New Delhi, fearful of the return of an Islamist regime in Kabul, has ploughed billions of dollars of aid into the country to gain influence – raising suspicion in Pakistan, which views Afghanistan as its backyard.
But anger in Kabul about the recent death of former president and peace envoy Burhanuddin Rabbani – killed by a Pakistani citizen, according to Karzai's office – is seen as pushing Afghanistan further into India's orbit.
"After all the destruction and misery, the double game towards Afghanistan and the use of terrorism as an excuse still continues," Karzai said of Pakistan on Monday evening.
Krishna said the assassination of Rabbani and of Karzai's brother, Ahmed Wali Karzai, in July were "a grim reminder" to Afghanistan, India and the entire region of the need to fight militant groups.
Karzai will later Tuesday hold a press conference with Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh. On Wednesday, he is set to deliver a speech on "The Future of Afghanistan and South Asia."
Indian political analyst Subhash Agrawal, head of India Focus, a private think-tank, said the visit was "very significant in light of Afghanistan accusing Pakistan of being involved in the killing of Rabbani".
"This visit creates more of a natural window for India to have a sustainable role in Afghanistan post-2014," Agrawal told AFP.
Some analysts fear, however, that a greater role for India would lead to a more intense and dangerous "proxy war" between it and nuclear-armed Pakistan on Afghan territory, with unpredictable consequences.
New Delhi has repeatedly accused Pakistan of links to groups such as Lashkar-e-Taiba and the Haqqani network, which is accused of carrying out attacks in Afghanistan on Indian targets, including New Delhi's embassy in Kabul.
Any change in the Afghan-Indian dynamic also comes amid a sharp deterioration in ties between Pakistan and the US.
Washington has accused Islamabad of covertly funding militant groups in Afghanistan, while the killing of Osama bin Laden by US troops on Pakistani territory in May also hit relations.
C. Raja Mohan, senior analyst at the Centre For Policy Research in New Delhi, warned that neither India nor Afghanistan could afford to isolate Pakistan.
"Delhi and Kabul are realistic enough to know that there can be no lasting peace in Afghanistan without a measure of Pakistan's support," he wrote in The Indian Express.