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Deal for larger role in Kabul
Karzai with Singh in New Delhi on Tuesday. Picture by Rajesh Kumar

New Delhi, Oct. 4: India and Afghanistan today inked an agreement to enhance their strategic partnership that will include New Delhi training Afghan national security forces.

The declaration of intent to expand the military-to-military relationship is being seen as a response to Pakistan’s effort to use Afghanistan as its strategic backyard.

The formalisation through an agreement in the works for some time is also a signal that America may now be amenable to a larger role for New Delhi in Kabul after 2014 when the US-led forces are scheduled to leave Afghanistan.

The deal came against the backdrop of a burst of attacks in Kabul, including an audacious strike on the US embassy there, that strained ties between the Americans and the Pakistanis.

Prime Minister Manmohan Singh and Afghan President Hamid Karzai signed three agreements today an agreement on strategic partnership, another to increase co-operation on oil and natural gas and a third for greater ties in mining.

The three agreements will enlarge the Indian footprint in Afghanistan. They will also nettle Islamabad that resents any Delhi role in Afghanistan and has drawn charges of engineering attacks on Indian interests.

The agreement on strategic partnership envisages Indian assistance “in the training, equipping and capacity building programmes for Afghan National Security Forces”.

At present, the US is the lead country for modernising the Afghan National Army. However, if the US-led forces leave in 2014, the responsibility to train the Afghan forces may fall entirely on India.

New Delhi already trains Afghan officers in Indian military academies but this agreement looks at expanding that co-operation, sources said. It is unclear whether this will involve Indian boots on the ground in Afghanistan, something that New Delhi has been allergic to. “But it opens the doors for such co-operation,” a source said.

At the dinner he hosted in Karzai’s honour, Prime Minister Singh said: “India will stand by the people of Afghanistan as they prepare to assume the responsibility for their governance and security after the withdrawal of international forces in 2014.”

The agreement on strategic partnership sets out to “establish a mechanism for regular bilateral political and foreign office consultations”.

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