The strategic pact that New Delhi has just signed with Kabul has
formalised a bigger role for India in Afghanistan and put Pakistan
on notice about its policy of using militant proxies, setting the
stage for sharpened rivalry with Islamabad in the run up to the
draw-down of US troops by 2014.
The Strategic Partnership Agreement (SPA) signed Tuesday by Prime
Minister Manmohan Singh and Afghan President Hamid Karzai brings
together different strands of existing dialogue mechanisms in an
overarching framework to spur greater political and economic
interaction across a broader spectrum.
The pact envisages regular summits, an annual security dialogue at
the level of national security advisers and the creation of a
Partnership Council led by foreign ministers that will drive the
strategic partnership straddling diverse areas.
Most important, the pact contains a formal commitment by India,
which already has pledged $2 billion for various reconstruction
projects, to train Afghan National Security Forces -- indicating
that New Delhi is likely to scale up its current training of
Afghan security personnel.
"It marks a significant increment in our existing relationship
with Afghanistan which is mostly focused on reconstruction
projects. These projects have generated an enormous amount of
goodwill for India," Satish Chandra, former deputy national
security adviser, told IANS.
Savita Pandey, professor of South Asian studies at Jawaharlal
Nehru University (JNU), underlined that the pact, the first of its
kind Afghanistan has signed with any country, "gives legitimacy
and an institutional structure to the growing Indian role in
India's formal commitment to train Afghan National Security Forces
has, however, stirred suspicion in Islamabad about New Delhi
trying to undermine its influence in a country it sees as its
"We have been involved in training Afghan security forces for a
while. But there are indications in the pact that we will be
involved in training on a large scale. We may also be supplying
defence equipment," said G. Parthasarathy, India's former high
commissioner to Pakistan.
Above all, the pact puts Pakistan on notice about the dangers of
using terrorism and extremism as instruments of state policy, a
key source of tensions that has plunged Islamabad's relations with
Washington and Kabul to a new low.
Ashley Tellis, a South Asia expert at Carnegie Institute in the
US, said the agreement was intended, in part, as "a shot across
Pakistan's bow in order to show Islamabad that Kabul has other
options if the Pakistan Army continues to support Afghan
"There will be a sharp rivalry between India and Pakistan in
Afghanistan post withdrawal of US troops. There will also be a
rivalry with China," said Pandey.
Pakistan's Prime Minister Yousuf Raza Gilani has sought to play
down the agreement, saying "both (India and Afghanistan) are
sovereign countries, which have the right to do whatever they want
to". But leading Pakistani analysts like Ayesha Siddiqa has
predicted an intensified proxy war between India and Pakistan in
Many Pakistani dailies, too, have written about an encirclement
strategy by India. The News said the pact "is bound to raise
suspicion in Pakistan at a time of shifting alliances in an
unstable South Asia".
Given Islamabad's influence over the Afghan Taliban and proxy
outfits like the Haqqani network backed by ISI, the Karzai made it
a point to allay those worries when he said in a lecture Wednesday
that the pact was not directed against Pakistan.
In a delicate balancing exercise, he described India as "a great
friend" but Pakistan as "a twin brother".
In another pointed message to Islamabad, Karzai stressed on a
direct dialogue with Islamabad, rather than the Taliban. "We have
now decided not to talk to the Taliban because we don't know their
address. When we find them, we will talk to them. Therefore we
have decided to talk to our brothers, our neighbours, in
Pakistan," Karzai said in India as he ended his two-day visit to
the country Wednesday.
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