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Dilemma on Kabul arms plea

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By SUJAN DUTTA
  • Published 23.05.13
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New Delhi, May 22: Afghan President Hamid Karzai has asked India for weapons and equipment for his country’s military, immediately putting New Delhi in a quandary.

The Afghan request comes as the country prepares for a drawdown of US troops in 2014, Pakistan has just elected a new Prime Minister in Nawaz Sharif who has shown positive vibes to India and Karzai himself has become tired of the presidency.

“We have a wish list that we have put before the government of India,” Karzai said this morning. It is the Indian government that has to decide what help it can give, he said.

Karzai had a nearly four-hour-long meeting with Prime Minister Manmohan Singh today. He had another meeting with President Pranab Mukherjee yesterday. Before he left Kabul earlier in the week, his spokesperson had said that Karzai was going to India with a list of military equipment that he wanted.

“I cannot give you a fly-on-the-wall account of what transpired between President Karzai and the PM,” foreign office spokesperson Syed Akbaruddin said.

“But we stand ready and will do everything within our means to promote security and peace in Afghanistan.… Our interests in Afghanistan are neither transitory nor transitional. It is an engagement that will continue,” he said.

Light artillery guns, helicopters and heavy vehicles are understood to be in the list that Kabul has presented to New Delhi. India has supplied vehicles to the Afghan National Army (ANA) and trains a limited number of Afghan officers in army academies in India. But India does not have boots on the ground to train the ANA because the US counselled against it lest Pakistan raise a shindig.

The presence and interference of the Indian military in Afghanistan is staunchly opposed by Pakistan.

India exports a small number of weapons and is far from breaking into the global arms market as a seller. Its overseas sales have so far been limited to supplying Nepal with small arms, Myanmar with two aged British-origin Islander aircraft (that the UK objected to) and Sri Lanka with radars and small arms.

Five years back when India refused to supply Lanka with lethal systems, Lanka turned to Pakistan and China and India ceded strategic space.

India and Afghanistan signed a strategic partnership agreement in 2011. This is Karzai’s third visit to India in as many years. This time the Afghan President is clearly warning that after 2014, there could be a resurgence of the Taliban that would be difficult for the ANA to put down unless it is trained and armed adequately.