Tightrope walk

Afghan president Hamid Karzai’s four-day visit to India was at a crucial time of transition for that country. Karzai has invested much in the country’s relationship with India and the support India has provided to his government in difficult times.

A measure of the importance he attaches to India’s role is that this was his fifth visit to Delhi in the last three years. Both sides have expressed satisfaction with the talks Karzai held in Delhi and their outcome but he may not have returned to Kabul with all his expectations met. It was not easy for India also to commit itself fully to the demands made on it because of the uncertainties that attend the changing situation.

All those who have a stake in Afghanistan are preparing for the consequences and opportunities of the scheduled withdrawal of the US and other western forces next year. The post-withdrawal scenario is unclear and unpredictable. The differences between Karzai and the US administration have widened with his reluctance to sign a bilateral security pact that lays down the terms and conditions of the residual western presence in Afghanistan after the withdrawal of the forces. Karzai himself will not be president after the elections which are to be held next year. There will be greater threat to the stability of the dispensation in Kabul after the pullout of the western troops.

The Afghan Taliban and the Pakistani army are favourably placed to take advantage of the situation. Karzai even suspects  that the US, in spite of its differences with Pakistan, may become dependent on the Pakistani army to maintain its role in Afghanistan. If the relations between the US and Iran improve that might give another dimension to the situation.

These plans and agendas have contradictions in them and that makes the Indian response also difficult. Karzai wanted greater military assistance and co-operation under the bilateral strategic partnership agreement. India has been training the Afghan army but Karzai has sought heavy military equipment too. New Delhi has promised to supply some helicopters but was not keen to go much further. India has much strategic interest in Afghanistan and the $ 2 billion aid and the investments it has made are proof of that. But in the emerging scenario it will have to walk the tight rope among contending powers to protect its interests in that country.

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