Firming up ties

Afghanistan president Hamid Karzai’s four-day visit to India helped to reaffirm the present relationship between the two countries and to chart a stronger course for it in future. There are uncertainties looming large in the future and both Karzai, who has been a steadfast friend of India, and New Delhi, which has a major stake in the stability of Afghanistan, recognise this. Karzai has ruled the country ever since the Taliban regime was ousted in 2001. The partnership agreement signed last year between the two countries was proof of this. What the present regime in Kabul wants is a deepening of this relationship and India too would welcome it.

The agreements signed in New Delhi during Karzai’s visit are expected to strengthen the bond between the two countries. Karzai has invited generous Indian investments in Afghanistan, which has India continued to do in the last many years. It has helped Afghanistan to develop its infrastructure and mineral resources and helped to strengthen its security system. Indian investments have run into thousands of crores. But this has been mostly done by state-owned companies and Kabul wants major initiatives to come from the private sector, which has largely been timid about investments in that country because of the volatile situation there. India has said that the strategic economic partnership is to be built on an economic synergy for mutual benefit. But the pursuit of this strategy will pose major political and diplomatic challenges for India in the coming months.

There are many imponderables in the near future. The consequences of a drawdown of US forces in 2014 will have to be reckoned with. Karzai has announced that he would step down in the same year and elections may be held then. The ability of the Afghan army to ensure national security is doubtful. Pakistan has strong interests and deep involvement in the Afghan situation, and an administration in Kabul in which Pakistan has influence will not be very receptive to India. Pakistan would clearly not want India to have any role in Afghanistan. China is also expanding its engagement there through investments and other means.  As there are competing forces trying  to play their roles directly and indirectly in the landlocked country, India will have to play its cards carefully to protect its interests there.

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