NEW DEHLI: Afghan President Hamid Karzai was to hold talks with Indian leaders Friday, with Washington hoping that New Delhi can help persuade him to sign a deal allowing US troops to stay on post-2014.
Karzai was to meet Prime Minister Manmohan Singh and Foreign Minister Salman Khurshid at the start of a visit which will also see him hold talks with business leaders and students in Pune city, before flying out Sunday.
A frequent visitor to India where he obtained his Masters degree in politics as a young man, Karzai enjoys close ties with New Delhi, which is keen to ensure that the exit of some 75,000 US-led Nato troops at the end of 2014 does not trigger a return to power of the Taliban in Kabul.
India has poured $2 billion in reconstruction aid into Afghanistan, and Karzai is expected to plead for further support, including military assistance, in his meetings.
"President Karzai will apprise the Indian leadership of what is going on right now in Afghanistan," Afghanistan's ambassador to New Delhi, Shaida M Abdali, told Indian reporters earlier this week.
"He will specially discuss the three important issues -- Afghanistan's negotiation on the BSA (bilateral security agreement) with the US; the peace process and then the transition process and also to consult what would be the way ahead for us," Abdali was quoted as saying by the Press Trust of India.
Karzai, who is due to stand down after elections next year, initially endorsed the BSA, which would allow 12,000 US troops to stay after 2014 and lays out future rules for foreign troops.
But he later said the agreement could only be signed after the presidential election in April, warning against a Nato presence if it just meant "more bombs and killings".
His stance has outraged US officials and lawmakers, who have threatened a complete pullout if Karzai does not sign by the end of the year.
Testifying before a Senate committee this week, a senior US official said he hoped India could help persuade Karzai to ink the agreement.
"His upcoming visit to India could, I think, be quite influential, because he highly respects and has good relations with the Indian government," said James Dobbins, the US special representative on Afghanistan and Pakistan.
On his last visit to New Delhi in May, Karzai said he had put forward a "wishlist" of military assistance he hoped Delhi could deliver.
India's foreign ministry refused to detail what the list contained, but local media reports said it included light and heavy artillery, aircraft, and small arms and ammunition.
India has consistently pledged to do all it can to help promote stability in Afghanistan, mindful of how it was one of the main enemies of the Taliban regime before its ouster in the wake of the September 11 attacks in 2001.
While some observers have urged India not to become sucked into Afghan power battles, an editorial in Friday's Indian Express said the government was right to beef up military support for Karzai to counter its arch rival Pakistan, which was once the Taliban's chief sponsor.
"While it must carefully weigh the regional consequences of supplying weaponry to Kabul, Delhi can't ignore the dangers that will flow from the Pakistan army's likely advances in Afghanistan after 2014," said an editorial in The Indian Express on Friday.
MK Bhadrakumar, a former Indian ambassador to Kabul, said Karzai could expect a warm reception in Delhi, but warned that he could not expect all of his wishes to be answered.
"As far as the requirements of Afghanistan are concerned, both in terms of economic reconstruction and in terms of capacity building for Afghan armed forces, my understanding is that there are ongoing discussions," Bhadrakumar told AFP.
"It is not as if Karzai comes with a wishlist and hands it over to Prime Minister Manmohan Singh and they take a red pen and green pen and keep ticking off items. It is not like this.
"Already there is a high degree of cooperation in the field of security and defence. Hundreds of Afghan officers are being trained in India and from (the) Afghan side, that is of much greater use than military hardware."
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