India cautious about giving weapons to Kabul | Asia| An in-depth look at news from across the continent | DW | 24.05.2013
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India cautious about giving weapons to Kabul

Afghan President Karzai has formally requested New Delhi to provide military equipment to his war-torn country as NATO troops prepare to leave and Kabul's ties with Islamabad deteriorate.

Afghanistan and India are trying to further strengthen their relations before international troops withdraw. The two regional allies hope that the radical Taliban won't come back to power in Afghanistan once the NATO soldiers leave the country in 2014.

"We have a wish list that we have put before the Indian government. It is now up to India how they want to respond to our request," President Karzai told the media in New Delhi at the end of his three-day official tour. "There was no discussion on the deployment of Indian troops in Afghanistan, and there is no need of doing that," he added.

So far, there has been no official comment on Karzai's request from the Indian government.

Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, right, and Afghanistan President Hamid Karzai pose before a meeting in New Delhi, India, Tuesday, Oct. 4, 2011 (Photo: AP Photo/Gurinder Osan)

Afghan-Indian ties have strengthened over the years

Afghanistan's request for lethal military equipment comes at a time when Kabul's relations with Islamabad are at their worst. Pakistani border guards and Afghan security forces have had several clashes along the Pakistani-Afghan border in recent months.

Karzai has repeatedly accused Islamabad of backing Taliban militants to create unrest in Afghanistan and of using the Islamists as a bargaining chip to demand more influence in the his country. Pakistan refutes these allegations.

Development aid

So far, Indian involvement in Afghanistan has been mostly limited to the training of Afghan security forces. India has provided little military equipment to Afghanistan in the past. India has invested more than two billion US dollars in Afghanistan - the largest amount of external aid given by India to any country. Most of this investment has been done in Afghanistan's infrastructure, including construction of highways and hospitals, and electricity projects for rural areas.

Enhanced military cooperation between India and Afghanistan, as demanded by Karzai, would entail the supply of sophisticated weapons, fighter planes, armored vehicles, heavy artillery, and a range of other equipment.

ISAF soldier in Afghanistan (Photo: Maurizio Gambarini/dpa)

Afghanistan's future after the withdrawal of NATO troops looks uncertain

"We will have to assess the situation carefully before committing to any combative military aid. There is a whole range of issues which must be looked at. At the moment, we can send transport helicopters and trucks to Afghanistan," a senior Indian security official told DW on condition of anonymity.

Regional dynamics

Defense and security analysts say that India's military involvement in Afghanistan would be viewed with distrust by India's regional rival and Afghanistan's neighbor Pakistan, even though Afghan officials have long been insisting that they are short of military equipment.

Indian Air Vice Marshal Kapil Kak, however, says the possibility of exporting "military equipment" to Afghanistan in the future cannot be completely ruled out.

"For sure, it is not going to happen for now. Also, there are important stakeholders in Afghanistan and this will not go down well with them. It could exacerbate the situation. First, we have to see how the incoming government in Pakistan is going to tackle the Afghanistan issue," Kak told DW.

People gather to watch Pakistani Taliban punishing a man (not in picture) accused of selling drugs, in Pakistan's volatile Swat valley where Pakistani forces are engaged in an operation against Talibans, on 15 December 2008 (Photo: EPA/RASHID IQBAL +++(c) dpa - Report+++ // eingestellt von se )

The Pakistani military says it is committed to fighting extremists

But international diplomacy expert Amitabh Mattoo sees no problem in giving military equipment to the Afghan National Security Forces. "Karzai has, after all, been a dependable Indian ally for over a decade now," Mattoo told DW.

Security expert Hartosh Singh Bal is of the opinion that India will have to wait and see how the situation in Afghanistan unfolds after the withdrawal of NATO troops.

"India and Afghanistan signed a strategic partnership agreement in 2011 that allows India to provide only non-lethal military aid to Afghanistan," Bal said in an interview with DW.

New Delhi, however, is clear about what it wants in Afghanistan. Experts say that India is keen to see peace and political stability in Afghanistan, which it hopes will increase its influence in the country and will also defeat Islamist militancy in the region.

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