ISLAMABAD: Afghan President Hamid Karzai, who is in India on a four-day visit, is expected to push for his long-standing demand for Indian weapons to equip Afghan security forces as Nato troops pack up.
In his trip to New Delhi in May, President Karzai had requested the Indian government to provide heavy weapons for Afghan security forces. “We have a wish list that we have put before the Indian government. It is now up to them how they want to respond to our request,” President Karzai had told the media at the end of his previous official tour.
However, India had reportedly brushed off his request. Minister for External Affairs Salman Khurshid was quoted by the Indian media as saying, “We are going to help with non-lethal equipment, but I do not think we are either in the position, or willing, to contribute lethal weapons right now.
“It is a fragile situation and there are many other stakeholders involved. We do not want to become part of the problem,” Khurshid added.
The situation will be clearer, however, when Karzai wraps up his current visit on Sunday. It should be evident whether the Indian leadership has changed its mind or is standing by the earlier decision. Karzai is scheduled to meet Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh today (Saturday), and will also travel to Pune on Sunday to speak with business leaders and students.
Karzai is on his third tour to India this year, but this will be his last official visit ahead of the presidential elections in Afghanistan in April. With the deadline for the withdrawal of Nato troops fast approaching, India is likely to address his repeated calls for heavy weapons.
Afghan Ambassador Shaida M Abdali told the media ahead of Karzai’s visit that the ‘wish list’ was being pored over. The list is believed to include battle tanks, field guns, mortars, military aircraft and trucks.
India and Afghanistan had struck a Strategic Partnership Agreement (SPA) in 2011, under which India has been providing military training to Afghan security forces, along with non-lethal aid. Nearly 350 Afghan army officers are currently undergoing training in India, while 1,400 have already been trained since 2003, shared Abdali. The officers are trained at National Defence Academy (NDA) Khadakwasla, Indian Military Academy (IMA) in Dehradun and Officers Training Academy (OTA) in Chennai, according to Indian media reports.
Other reports suggest India’s Cabinet Committee on Security (CCS) is likely to have the final say on the matter. This would also depend on India’s ‘surplus capacity’ of military hardware. Some Indian officials say their country already supplies important equipment for support and transportation, including helicopters, to Afghanistan.
Former Afghan defense minister Shahnawaz Tanai says the possibility of Indian delivery appear dim, as such a move would be unprecedented.
“India itself mainly depends on Russian heavy weapons and it is also aware of the sensitivity of Pakistani involvement if it takes any such step,” Tanai told The Express Tribune by telephone on Friday. “Kabul might enjoy a good relationship with Delhi, but Indian arms to Afghanistan will not be in the interest of Afghanistan, India or Pakistan,” he added.
Karzai, who has been keen on Pakistan’s role to encourage the Taliban to come to the negotiating table, has rejected repeated proposals from Pakistan to impart training to Afghan security forces. The Afghan president had once said he would not repeat the mistake of former Afghan leaders who had sent military officers for training to the Soviet Union. These officers had then been influenced and had later helped Russia in its 1979 invasion.
Kabul had even cancelled a planned visit to Pakistan by a group of Afghan military officers earlier this year, over the alleged cross-border rocket attacks in Afghanistan’s Kunar province. The officers were scheduled to travel to Quetta on the invitation of the Pakistan Army to take part in a simulation military exercise and headquarter drills at the Staff College.
Afghan analysts are of the view that Karzai’s visit to India and his earlier visit to Tehran have a different agenda as well. “By going to India and Iran, he wants to pressurise Pakistan to force the Taliban to sit with his High Peace Council. In addition, he wants to show the US he has alternatives,” former Afghan minister and writer Dr Farouq Azam told The Express Tribune.
Published in The Express Tribune, December 14th, 2013.