NEW DELHI India will step up training of the Afghan police and military after a request on Monday by President Hamid Karzai, who also urged Indian businesses to invest in his battle-weary nation as it gears up for the departure of NATO troops.
The extra help is likely to be welcomed by the United States, which sees India as a stabilizing power in South Asia. But it may unnerve Pakistan, which frets about losing influence in neighboring Afghanistan.
"We do want to expand that as required and wished by Afghanistan. We will respond," said India's Foreign Minister Salman Khurshid when asked about the security program following a lecture given by the Afghan president in New Delhi.
In June, U.S. Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta called on India to do more to support both the Afghan economy and security forces as Western nations prepare to end their combat missions there in 2014.
India and Afghanistan reached an agreement last year for some senior Afghan officers to receive training in India. A few hundred police and army officers have so far benefited from the program, an Indian official said. Khurshid said India had also provided some "vehicle and mobility equipment".
India is worried that a Taliban resurgence after 2014 would weaken its own security and wants to step carefully to support the Afghan government and economy without triggering countermeasures from Pakistan, which is fearful of being hemmed in by its larger neighbor.
Khurshid said India would only gradually develop its program to train military officials and police in step with Afghan requirements.
"I don't think we should do anything in haste that could alarm people," he said.
Perhaps conscious of the sensitivity of a larger Indian role in Afghanistan's defense, Karzai and India's Prime Minister Manmohan Singh made only passing mention of security issues in statements on Monday, instead emphasizing the importance of economic cooperation to stabilize the fractious region.
"President Karzai and I agreed to intensify our cooperation with a special focus on deepening our economic engagement in areas ranging from agriculture and small businesses to mining and infrastructure," Singh said.
India has pledged $2 billion in development aid to Afghanistan and is building roads and railways that could help extract Afghan minerals through Iran. Last year a group of Indian companies won a bid to mine iron ore in Afghanistan.
(Editing by Tom Pfeiffer)