x Abu Dhabi, UAESaturday 20 January 2018

India boosts ties to Afghanistan with $500m more in aid

With anti-Pakistan sentiment among Afghans running high, Indian prime minister Manmohan Singh is visiting Afghanistan at a good moment for India to secure goodwill and influence in the country ahead of a Nato withdrawal, analysts say.

Afghanistan's President Hamid Karzai inspects the honour guards with India's Prime Minister Manmohan Singh at the presidential palace in Kabul yesterday.
Afghanistan's President Hamid Karzai inspects the honour guards with India's Prime Minister Manmohan Singh at the presidential palace in Kabul yesterday.

KABUL // India's prime minister visited Afghanistan for the first time in six years yesterday, announcing an increase in aid to the nation and expressing support for government plans to reconcile with Taliban insurgents after Osama bin Laden's death.

Speaking at a joint press conference with the Afghan president, Hamid Karzai, the Indian prime minister, Manmohan Singh, offered $500 million in new aid to Afghanistan.

India, already Afghanistan's largest regional donor, is currently spending $1.5 billion (Dh5.5bn) in aid and infrastructure projects in Afghanistan. Mr Singh said priorities for the fresh injection of aid would be social programmes, agriculture and infrastructure.

"India is your neighbour and partner in development," Mr Singh told a gathering of senior officials in Kabul. "You can count on us as you build your society, economy and polity."

He also applauded Afghan government efforts to make peace with the Taliban.

"We strongly support the Afghan people's quest for peace and reconciliation," Mr Singh said. "India supports the unity, integrity and prosperity and Afghanistan."

Mr Singh and Mr Karzai went on to hold talks on regional stability and counterterrorism, officials said.

India is worried bin Laden's death will prompt a swift withdrawal of foreign troops from Afghanistan, leaving a power vacuum that India's arch-rival Pakistan could possibly exploit.

Rashid Waziri, an analyst at the Afghanistan-Pakistan Regional Studies Centre, a think-tank based in Kabul, said: "Pakistan is in chaos, and they want to bring this chaos to Afghanistan. There is no doubt President Karzai and Prime Minister Singh will discuss how to face this threat in the long term."

The Nato-led coalition has about 150,000 troops in Afghanistan, but US politicians are already calling for a full US withdrawal after bin Laden's demise.

Nato forces are due to begin transferring security to Afghan security personnel in July, with a pull-out of all foreign combat troops by 2014.

Both India and Afghanistan have troubled relations with Pakistan, accusing its military intelligence of supporting and sheltering militant leaders who orchestrate attacks in the region.

When Afghanistan fell under Taliban rule from 1996-2001, Pakistan established militant training camps in the hinterlands along the Afghanistan-Pakistan border.

Many Taliban leaders live openly in Pakistan, using the country as a base for attacks against foreign soldiers in Afghanistan, US and Afghan officials claim.

Pakistan has been flung into crisis by the killing on May 2 of bin Laden by US special forces in Abbottabad, just two hours' drive from Islamabad, forcing it to deny allegations of incompetence and complicity.

As it stands, anti-Pakistan sentiment in Afghanistan is running high. Analysts say it is a good opportunity for India to secure goodwill and influence in Afghanistan ahead of a Nato withdrawal, and to help stave off Pakistan-supported militants once foreign troops are gone.

In addition to building roads, hospitals and power grids in Afghanistan, India has also helped support and rebuild the country's judiciary and police.

"Both countries, India and Afghanistan, are suffering from Pakistan's terrorism," said Helaluddin Helal, a former general in the Afghan army. "It is crucial that we work together to fight this and to bring peace to the region."

On Tuesday, Afghanistan's intelligence service said it arrested two militants who were planning to assassinate the head of India's consulate in Jalalabad, a city in Afghanistan's east.

Pakistan regularly accuses India of using its embassies and consulates in Afghanistan to spy on and foment rebellion in Pakistan, a claim India denies.

In 2008, the Indian Embassy in Kabul was targeted by a deadly car bomb that killed 75 people. While the Taliban in Afghanistan claimed responsibility, India accused Pakistan of plotting the attack.



With additional reporting by Agence-France Presse, Bloomberg and Associated Press