NEW DELHI: In a development that is sure to set off alarm bells in Pakistan, India and Afghanistan signed a strategic partnership agreement on Tuesday shortly after Afghanistan President Hamid Karzai landed in New Delhi, his second visit to India this year.
(Read: Karzai travels to India amid regional tension)
It is the first strategic pact Afghanistan has signed with any country, and comes at a time relations between Kabul and another key regional stakeholder, Islamabad, have deteriorated alarmingly.
The agreement, released in full late Tuesday, included commitments by India to assist with the training and equipping of Afghan security forces, offer more scholarships for Afghan students and facilitate bilateral trade. Both countries said they would work together more closely in international forums such as the United Nations, and work for “everlasting peace and friendship between the two governments.”
Apart from security cooperation, the two leaders agreed that Afghanistan’s economic integration with the Indian economy and South Asia as a whole was in the national interest of Afghanistan – and one of the ways to achieve this is to promote closer trade, investment and transit links. Aside from the strategic partnership agreement, memoranda of understandings were inked on hydrocarbons and exploration of minerals – one of Afghanistan’s most coveted and attractive assets.
Karzai, speaking at a press conference with Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, stressed that “terrorism and radicalism” were being used “as an instrument of policy against our citizens”, in what appeared to be a veiled reference to Pakistan – which has borne the brunt of a number of frustrated outbursts by the Afghan president in the last few days following an intensification of militant attacks in the country’s settled areas and the assassination of the country’s top peacemaker.
(Read: Fracturing friendship - Pakistan rejects Afghan allegations)
Singh said that India stands by Afghanistan in its journey of peace and that the Afghans deserve to live in peace without outside interference. “My discussions with President Karzai have once again underscored the importance of a strong and broad-based partnership between India and Afghanistan,” Singh said. He explained that the strategic partnership agreement would cover security cooperation, trade and economic ties, as well as social and cultural exchanges.
India is one of Afghanistan’s biggest bilateral donors, having pledged about $2 billion since the 2001 US led-invasion, for projects from the construction of highways to the building of the Afghan Parliament.
Although India will tread carefully not to irk Pakistan, Indian policymakers have their eyes fixed on broadening New Delhi’s role in the post-US withdrawal Afghanistan.
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.
(Read: ‘AfPak’ post-US withdrawal)
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.
Published in The Express Tribune, October 5th, 2011.
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