NEW DELHI (Reuters) - Afghanistan President Hamid Karzai reached out to “twin brother” Pakistan on Wednesday in an effort to reassure an increasingly isolated neighbor that a deal to boost economic and security cooperation with rival India will not harm ties.
Islamabad has alienated both the Washington and Kabul governments over its suspected links with militant groups in Afghanistan and an agreement signed between Afghanistan and India on Tuesday appears to have further isolated Pakistan.
India is already one of Afghanistan’s biggest bilateral donors, having pledged about $2 billion since the 2001 U.S. led-invasion for projects from the construction of highways to the building of the Afghan parliament.
“Pakistan is our twin brother, India is a great friend. The agreement we signed with our friend will not affect our brother,” Karzai said in a foreign policy speech in New Delhi.
“This strategic partnership ... is not directed against any country ... this strategic partnership is to support Afghanistan.”
Karzai’s two-day visit to India comes during rising Afghan anger with Pakistan and Afghan accusations of Pakistani involvement in militant attacks.
Karzai and Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh sealed an agreement on Tuesday that spanned closer political ties to fighting terrorism and allowed India to help train its police and army.
It signals a formal tightening of links that may spark Pakistani concern that India is increasingly competing for leverage in Afghanistan.
Government officials in Pakistan, which has long feared a hostile India over its eastern border and a pro-India Afghanistan on its western border, have refrained from commenting on the India-Afghanistan agreement.
India has already trained a small number of officers from the Afghan National Army and a Pakistani analyst said Islamabad would be wary of any sign of greater Indian-Afghan cooperation.
“Suspicion will increase, but that’s a negative approach,” said independent Pakistani political analyst Hasan Askari Rizvi.
“Unfortunately, there is so much Indian obsession in Pakistan that with every minor Indian move, there is panic.”
The agreement with India is one of several being negotiated by Kabul, including one with the United States, that are part of an Afghan bid for greater security as NATO troops head home.
Concern over the ability of Afghan forces to maintain security as Western forces pull out has increased with a series of bloody Taliban attacks and assassinations.
Senior Afghan officials accused Pakistan’s intelligence agency of masterminding the assassination last month of Kabul’s chief peace negotiator with the Taliban.
Karzai, who has spoken out strongly against Pakistan in recent weeks, said there was a Pakistani link to the killing and investigators he appointed believe the assassin was Pakistani and the suicide bombing was plotted in Pakistan.
Even though nuclear-armed India and Pakistan have been trying to improve relations, analysts say Pakistan is desperate to minimize any Indian role in Afghanistan.
To do that, analysts say, Pakistan is looking to the Haqqani Afghan insurgent network to counter Indian sway, a strategy that infuriates Washington.
The top U.S. military officer has accused Pakistani intelligence of supporting an attack carried out by the Haqqani group, which is close to al Qaeda, on the U.S. embassy in Kabul on Sept 13.
Pakistan, which denies ties with the group, says it is committed to helping all parties secure peace in Afghanistan.
Karzai reiterated that Afghanistan should be negotiating peace with Pakistan, not the Taliban.
“We have decided not to talk to the Taliban because we do not know their address ... therefore we have decided to talk to our brothers in Pakistan,” he said.
“The peace process will now be focused more on relations between countries ... than on individuals we cannot find.”
Writing by Paul de Bendern; Additional reporting by Qasim Nauman in ISLAMABAD; Editing by Robert Birsel