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President Karzai’s visit to India: Leveraging Strategic Partnership

Dr. Arvind Gupta was Director General at the Institute for Defence Studies and Analyses, New Delhi. Click here for detailed profile
Ashok K. Behuria is Senior Fellow at Manohar Parrikar Institute for Defence Studies and Analyses, New Delhi. Click here for detailed profile.
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  • May 23, 2013

    The Afghan President Hamid Karzai visited India from 20th to 22nd May 2013. While the visit was ostensibly for conferment of an honorary doctorate on him by the Jalandhar based Lovely University, he held four hour long discussions with the Indian counterparts on the next step in India-Afghanistan relations. President Karzai met with President Pranab Mukherjee, BJP Leader Lal Krishna Advani and a group of Indian CEOs, senior journalists and heads of major think tanks. During the visit, President Karzai gave a “wish list” of equipment that Afghanistan has requested India to supply within the framework of India-Afghanistan strategic partnership of 2011. The ball is now in India’s court for a decision on what all can India give to Afghanistan to strengthen its security in post-2014 situation.

    Addressing think tanks and media at a briefing session prior to his departure for Kabul, President Karzai spoke extensively on Afghanistan’s evolving relations with India, Pakistan, China, Iran and the West. He also fielded questions on the ongoing “peace process” with Taliban, the presidential elections and his relations with the West.

    The President said that he did not discuss the likelihood of Indian troops in Afghanistan after 2014. He was categorical that Indian troops are “not needed”. What Afghanistan requires is Indian assistance in training and equipment of the Afghan security forces. He was highly appreciative of India’s $2 billion worth of assistance in the last few years, pointing out that Indian assistance had been totally focused on implementing projects which had been assigned by Afghanistan. He also hoped that at some stage, Indian trainers would join US and British trainers in Kabul to train Afghan forces at a Sandhurst type of military academy being set up in Kabul.

    The President put Afghanistan’s relations with India and those with Pakistan in a prospective. He said that Afghanistan, as a sovereign country, had the “right to choose its friends”. He described Pakistan as a “close neighbour” and India, as a “traditional friend and ally”. Afghanistan’s relations with India were not at the expense of its relations with Pakistan. The reverse is equally true.

    President Karzai admitted that the “peace process” with Taliban would not succeed without Pakistan’s cooperation. He said he was totally committed to the “peace process” and had kept the Indian side informed. He admitted that India was concerned that the “peace process” might lead to “flourishing of terrorism and radicalism”. He had sought to allay Indian fears that the “peace process” would be within the framework of the Afghan Constitution.

    President Karzai was highly critical on the role of the US and NATO forces. He said that for the past several years, he had had differences with the US on the conduct of war and terrorism for the last seven years. These differences had become public now. He had conveyed to the US and NATO that they were fighting their war on terrorism at a “wrong place”. The war was not to be fought in Afghan homes but in sanctuaries and training locations. Many innocent Afghan civilians lost their lives in the war on terrorism. He also felt that the withdrawal of foreign troops would bring stability in Afghanistan and Afghans would be able to do their fighting on their own more effectively.

    Dwelling upon the role of Iran, President Karzai said that Afghanistan, following a “transparent” and sincere policy, had been able to keep US as well as Iran engaged. He said that he “fully endorsed” the development of the Chabahar port in Iran. The President was highly appreciative of China’s role in the stabilization of Afghanistan. He said that China had invested in the mining sector of Afghanistan providing financial assistance. He hoped that China and India, two hugely important countries, would take more responsibility for stabilizing and rebuilding Afghanistan. He positioned Afghanistan as a destination for foreign investments in the country’s significant oil & gas, rare earth and mineral resources.

    Answering a question on corruption in Afghanistan, the President blamed it on “faulty mechanisms” of awarding contracts promoted by the US firms. He was highly critical of the US private security firms for breeding “massive corruption and instability” in Afghanistan. Admitting that state institutions in Afghanistan are still weak, he pointed out that corruption in delivery of services has been much less compared to that in the award of contracts by the Western contractors.

    President Karzai categorically ruled out his continuation as the President of Afghanistan after he finishes his term. He said that he would like to see the democratic provisions of the constitution strengthened. He said that he was “exhausted” and would like to hand over his responsibilities to another person.


    Afghanistan is preparing itself for the post-2014 situation. The security situation in the country is declining fast. Taliban have intensified their offensives in North, South and Central Afghanistan. The Afghan national security forces (ANSF) are capable of fighting the Taliban but they are badly in need of training, equipment and continued support from the outside until Afghanistan becomes economically secure to fend for itself. If the ANSF fails to stop the Taliban from taking over Kabul, the danger of fragmentation of the ANSF would loom large in the horizon. There is also a perceptible change in the approach of non-Pashtun warlords in the North who are readying their militia for fighting a resurgent Taliban and preparing themselves for the post-withdrawal situation. While President Karzai has ruled out any sectarian conflict in Afghanistan, as is happening in Iraq for instance, he has acknowledged the possibility of “continuation of terrorism” and resurgence of “radicalism”. If one adds the possibility of a protracted civil war between Taliban and forces resisting them in Afghanistan to Karzai’s apprehensions, Afghanistan appears to be heading for gloomier days.

    This is not to deny that the ANSF have shown some mettle in providing resistance to the Taliban in certain pockets. In Sangin District of Helmand on May 21, 2013, for example, the ANSF could drive off a group of about 1000 Taliban fighters without any assistance from the International Security Assistance Forces. Moreover, a whole generation of Afghan youth is dedicated to their dreams of a ‘New Afghanistan’ laying emphasis on values like individual liberty, democracy and human rights. They hope for things to improve in spite of deteriorating security situation in the country.

    Afghanistan thus seems to be torn between hope and despair. Hopelessly starved of resources, the fate of ‘New Afghanistan’ will largely depend on the commitment of the international community to support the ongoing process of transition and stabilization. Afghanistan’s importance for international security cannot be understated. All possible efforts need to be made at the international level to stop Afghanistan from turning into a crucible of terrorism again.

    Afghanistan is important for India’s security. Resurgence of Taliban will not be in India’s interest. India cannot be a mute spectator but it cannot be a reckless participant either. In India, there is a justified skepticism about the “peace process” aimed at accommodating Taliban in the Afghan power-structure. Any attempt to amend the constitution to Taliban’s liking in order to ensure their participation in the government may prove to be the undoing of the experiment for ‘New Afghanistan’.

    India has a strategic partnership with Afghanistan under which India is committed to help Afghanistan in a broad range of areas; most importantly, in providing training and equipment to the Afghan national security forces. The visit of the Afghan President was to press India to be more forthcoming in this area. Clearly being a sensitive issue, India would like to mull over before considering Afghanistan’s requests which would mean taking into account the evolving political, security and economic situations in Afghanistan, as well as the approach Pakistan will take under the leadership of Nawaz Sharif to the Afghan issue. While it may not be easy for Sharif to build bridges with India against the wishes of the army, any progressive thinking on cementing ties with India will be welcomed across the political spectrum. This may also have a balming effect on the Afghan situation.

    While India’s specific responses to Afghan requests would be dependent upon many factors, India, having signed the strategic partnership, must stay committed to its promise that it would stand by the Afghan government through sunshine and shade in future.

    Views expressed are of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of the IDSA or of the Government of India.