(Reuters) - Afghan President Hamid Karzai has signed a wide-ranging agreement with India to deepen ties between the two countries, including to assist in the training of Afghan security forces, a deal that may irk Pakistan as tension escalates in the region.
Nuclear-armed Indian and Pakistan have been bitter rivals since their independence from Britain in 1947 and they compete to exert influence over Afghanistan to further their security interests.
Following are some details of India’s involvement in Afghanistan.
India has had good relations with most of the governments that have ruled Afghanistan over the decades with the exception of the Pakistan-backed Taliban who captured Kabul in 1996 and ruled until they were forced from power in late 2001.
Since then, India has given Afghanistan about $2 billion for projects including roads, power lines and the construction of the Afghan parliament. India is Afghanistan’s sixth-largest aid donor, giving about six times more than an estimated $330 million given by Pakistan. It has offered to rebuild the Afghan national airline Ariana, donating Airbus aircraft despite a shortage in its own fleet. It also trained pilots.
India has also donated 600 buses, provided experts who have restored telecommunication networks in at least 11 provinces.
Its most significant development activity, however, has been the construction of a road that connects Delaram in western Afghanistan with Zaranj on Afghanistan’s border with Iran. This will lessen Afghanistan’s dependence on Pakistan by allowing the shipment of goods via the Iranian port of Chabahar.
India is also rebuilding a road linking Kandahar with Spin Boldak, on the Pakistani border.
India is viewed favorably by most Afghans, many of whom, on the other hand, regard Pakistan with suspicion. Many Afghans watch Bollywood movies on DVD and are addicted to Hindi-language soap operas.
Since the fall of the Taliban in 2001, India has deepened its diplomatic footprint in Afghanistan, opening consulates in Herat in the west and Mazar-i-Sharif in the north. It also reopened consulates in the southern city of Kandahar and Jalalabad in the east, which had been shut since 1979.
India believes the consulates are necessary because of various development projects it has underway in Afghanistan.
Pakistan, however, says the consulates are largely staffed by intelligence agents involved in stirring up unrest inside Pakistan, especially in its southwest province of Baluchistan where rebels seeking a greater share of the profits from province’s gas resources have waged a low-key insurgency for decades. India denies any involvement in the Baluch insurgency.
India does not have any troops on the ground in Afghanistan. But there are more than 500 men from the Indo-Tibetan Border Police and the Border Roads Organization providing security for Indians involved in the construction of roads, as well as for consulates.
India also trains a small number of officers from the Afghan National Army at defense institutions in India. On Tuesday, Karzai and Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh sealed a strategic partnership which will include help from New Delhi to train Afghan security forces as international troops prepare to head home in 2014.
Reporting by Annie Banerji in NEW DELHI; Editing by Krittivas Mukherjee and Robert Birsel