| Hamid Karzai
New Delhi, Feb. 19: Afghanistan President Hamid Karzai, whose country could be the first victim of a war on Iraq, is arriving here at month-end for talks with the Indian leadership on developments in Kabul and the possible impact of a US attack on Saddam Hussein.
Kabul fears that if there is a war in Iraq, the Americans would once again leave Afghanistan in the lurch, possibly halting the reconstruction work started nearly a year ago.
India is one of the countries at the forefront of the reconstruction work.
It is expected that Karzai would not only express his gratitude for India’s help, but also seek its continued support in rebuilding the war-ravaged country.
Karzai arrives here on February 28, but his discussions with Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee and other senior Indian leaders are slated for the next day. During the visit, the two sides are likely to sign a Preferential Trade Agreement to enhance economic cooperation. The visiting President might also identify newer areas where he wants India’s help.
His visit is significant because it indicates the growing closeness between the two countries. Karzai had visited India nearly a year ago. His second state visit signals the importance Kabul accords to India.
Karzai’s visit is important for another reason — it is also an indication of India’s desire to broadbase its contacts in Afghanistan. The visiting President is a Pashtoon, a dominant ethnic group in the country, and closer ties with him signify India’s desire to strengthen relations with Pashtoons.
Karzai will arrive here after his visit to Washington. During his discussions with his American counterpart, George W. Bush, and other senior leaders of the US administration, he would have got an assurance of continuing support from Washington.
But he would also like an assurance from other countries, like India, that the cooperation they have extended for the past year will not come to an abrupt halt with the developments in Iraq.
Last month, India reached a new transit agreement with Iran and Afghanistan that not only gives it freer access to the war-ravaged country, but will also help Delhi to establish its geo-strategic advantage in Central Asia.
Delhi will build a crucial 230-km highway from Zaranj in Iran to Delaram on the arterial Herat-Kabul-Kandahar garland highway which will connect the Iranian port to Afghanistan.
India has given three A-300 airbuses to Kabul to supplement the Afghan national carrier Ariana. It has also announced $100 million in financial assistance, out of which it has already paid $21.5 million to the Karzai government.
Delhi has also given 50 buses to help the transport system in Afghanistan.
A number of teams of Indian doctors, school teachers and information technology specialists have been working in different parts of the country for the past eight months to help Afghans join the international mainstream.
Schemes to train Afghan diplomats, administrative staff and policemen have also been undertaken by India. These are all part of India’s attempt to strengthen relations with Afghanistan.