India, China launch joint training for Afghanistan, plan more projects

NEW DELHI (Reuters) - India and China launched a program on Monday to train Afghan diplomats and China’s ambassador said it would likely be followed by joint programs in other fields to help war-torn Afghanistan.

Such cooperation is the first by the two Asian giants which have long been locked in a tussle for influence in a region stretching from Nepal to Sri Lanka and the island chain of the Maldives.

Within Afghanistan, India and the China have been on opposite sides with China relying on its old ally Pakistan as it seeks to stabilize Afghanistan by various means, including brokering talks to end the Taliban insurgency.

India, on the other hand, has invested billions of dollars in economic projects and training of military officers to strengthen the Afghan government in its fight against the Taliban.

For its part, Pakistan sees the expansive diplomacy in Afghanistan by its old rival, India, as a way to encircle it.

China’s ambassador to India said the joint training of 10 Afghan diplomats at the Indian Foreign Service Institute was the first step in China-India-Afghanistan cooperation that was agreed at a summit between President Xi Jinping and Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi this year.

“This is just the beginning. China and India have respective advantages. For example, India has remarkable edge in agriculture and medical services, and China in hybrid rice and poverty reduction,” the ambassador, Luo Zhaohui, said in a speech.

“I am sure that in the future days China-India cooperation in Afghanistan will span from training program to more concrete projects.”

Modi and Xi agreed to handle long-standing political differences peacefully at their summit in China, just months after a dispute over a stretch of their Himalayan border near the tiny state of Bhutan rekindled fears of war.

Luo said India-China cooperation in Afghanistan should be extended to countries such as Bhutan, Nepal, the Maldives, Myanmar and even Iran.

In many of these countries, China is helping to build infrastructure as part of its Belt and Road Initiative, which India sees as a bid by China to expand its influence.

China’s call for partnership comes just a week after its embassy in New Delhi said India and China must deepen their cooperation to fight trade protectionism, as it criticized the United States for what it termed provoking disputes.

Reporting by Sanjeev Miglani; Editing by Robert Birsel