Following the May 12 summit in Kabul between Prime Minister Manmohan Singh and Afghanistan’s President Hamid Karzai, the newly-visualised “strategic partnership” between the two countries signifies India’s entry into Afghanistan’s security sector in a meaningful way.
The object of Indian support in this key area — on which depends Afghanistan’s stability and future development and prosperity — is to thoroughly back the process of Kabul assuming charge of its own security needs when the bulk of the US and Nato fighting forces have left in about three years’ time.
The India-Afghan joint statement, issued in Kabul on May 12, gives a sufficient indication of the qualitative change in security ties that were earlier limited to training a few Afghan Army and police officers.
It says, “The two sides also agreed that an important part of their strategic partnership would be cooperation in the area of security, law enforcement and justice, including an enhanced focus on cooperation in the fight against international terrorism, organised crime, illegal trafficking in narcotics and money laundering.”
All of the sectors enumerated above have up till now been handled almost exclusively by the US, its European partners, and partially Japan, with the Afghans themselves playing a role more befitting a trainee. The Pakistan-backed extremist factions and terror groups — including the Taliban — have posed a challenge for the Afghan authorities as well as the US and the Nato in precisely these areas.
Informed sources here caution that security sector assistance by New Delhi to Kabul does not mean Indian boots on the ground. But it does suggest training and supplying expertise in dealing with terrorism, drug-trafficking and military and police work. The suggestion of providing non-offensive military equipment is not ruled out if the Afghans show an interest.
On the political side — in line with developing long-term strategic ties, cutting across sectors — India has fully endorsed Afghanistan’s reconciliation efforts if it is conducted by the Afghans themselves, without interference from outside or “coercion” a clear hint at the Pakistanis holding the top Taliban leadership captive, and not permitting them any autonomy in conversations with the Afghan leadership.
The stress on this can be seen in the joint statement and in the Prime Minister’s address to the two Houses of the Afghan Parliament. It is for the first time that India has spelled out the fundamentals of its support to the reconciliation exercise in official documents.
The invitation to Dr Manmohan Singh to address the Parliament underscores a leap in ties between the two countries. No foreign leader before has given an oration to the Afghan Parliament.
The Prime Minister also underscored India’s whole-hearted support to President Karzai, unlike the Americans and the Europeans. In his luncheon banquet speech in the Presidential Palace, he observed, “Afghanistan has made significant strides under President Karzai. He is a great patriot who has led his country without fear or favour. His friendship towards India has won the hearts and minds of Indians, and made a strong partnership between India and Afghanistan a living reality.” Asian Age