ISLAMABAD: The new Afghan government’s decision to suspend a long-standing request to purchase heavy arms from India has been seen as a move to maintain a balanced relationship with Pakistan.
During his visits to New Delhi, former president Hamid Karzai had repeatedly pushed his demand for Indian weapons which would help his country’s security forces fight the insurgents.
However, Tolo TV has reported that President Ashraf Ghani has put the request on hold. Afghan officials have neither confirmed nor denied the reports.
Mohammad Mohaqiq, a close aide of Chief Executive Officer Abdullah Abdullah, claims the president may have suspended the deal as another country may provide Afghanistan with weapons.
On the other hand, various sections of the Indian media have insisted frequent delays from India in responding to the request may have frustrated the Afghan government.
In October 2014, The Indian Express said Ghani was “frustrated with India’s failure to deliver long-promised military aid”.
Defence experts believe Karzai had called for heavy weapons from India in view of Afghanistan’s tense relations with Pakistan, even though he knew it would be difficult for India to fulfil this request.
“India cannot give heavy weapons to Afghanistan as it itself depends on other countries including Russia to get its arms,” former Afghan defence minister Shahnawaz Tanai told The Express Tribune on Friday. “I think such policies will not help Afghanistan.”
According to Tanai, if India supplies heavy weapons to Afghanistan, it could weaken relations between Afghanistan and Pakistan.
“It (India) should steer clear of supplying arms to the country. After all, even the US and its Nato allies did not provide us with heavy weapons between 2001 and 2013 as it was contrary to their own laws. At this stage, Afghanistan should fight its armed opponents with the weapons it already has,” he said.
Political analysts have urged Ghani to pursue a neutral policy to avoid any rift with other countries.
Speaking on Tolo TV, political analyst Jawed Kohestani said it is imperative for Afghanistan to maintain a political balance in its relations with the international community to avoid a political deadlock.
Some analysts also believe the request was suspended to put to rest Pakistan’s concerns regarding India’s growing influence in the Afghan government. At this stage, Pakistan’s security officials are upbeat about stronger military-to-military relations.
With time, relations between the two countries have improved significantly. Pakistan’s military spokesman Maj Gen Asim Bajwa appreciated Kabul’s cooperation with Islamabad following the Army Public School massacre in December 2014. He also confirmed Afghan authorities had arrested six suspects on the basis of intelligence provided by Pakistan.
Moreover, the request for arms was suspended a few days after President Ghani sent a group of six army cadets to a military academy in Abbotabad. Pakistan Army Chief General Raheel Sharif had also offered equipment to Afghanistan when he met Ghani in November 2014. Kabul has yet to decide whether it wants to seek heavy weapons from Pakistan.
Since Afghanistan has gone the extra mile to strengthen security cooperation with Pakistan, it is bound to expect a similar degree of cooperation from the latter. At this stage, Kabul wants Islamabad to take practical steps to negotiate with the Taliban.
There are also looming fears in Afghanistan that the Taliban will launch a spring offensive in April. Afghan forces could face severe challenges this year as they do not have as many foreign troops to tackle the crisis. At this juncture, Pakistan could step in to lend a helping hand to its neighbour.
Published in The Express Tribune, February 14th, 2015.