Signaling a shift in policy, Afghanistan and India have signed a strategic partnership agreement. Afghan President Hamid Karzai and Indian Prime Minister Dr. Manmohan Singh signed the document, which includes provisions for both security and economic cooperation, earlier this month in New Delhi. This is the first time Afghanistan has made such an agreement with any country, at least since 1979.
The document has three notable provisions.
First, India will help train Afghan National Security Forces. India will train and mentor Afghan army and police personnel in Afghanistan, and Afghans will attend training academies in India. India will also assist in equipping the Afghan forces. The agreement does not include any deployment of Indian combat troops to Afghanistan. Both countries already share intelligence information.
Second, India will furnish Afghanistan with economic aid and assistance. The agreement provides an additional $500 million on top of the $1 billion India has already spent since 2002. In addition, India and Afghanistan will cooperate in the development of mining and energy production.
Third, Afghanistan and India will establish a strategic dialogue between their respective national security advisers “to provide a framework for cooperation in the area of national security.”
The agreement leaves open the possibility of even closer ties in the future. The Indian prime minister has said that India will support Afghanistan as it assumes the responsibility of governance and security after the withdrawal of international forces.
This agreement signals a shift in policy for Afghanistan and India. Up until now, India has played a very limited role in Afghanistan in spite of India’s national interest in the country. This has been largely due to Pakistani sensitivity to the issue of Indian presence in Afghanistan. Significant Indian involvement in Afghanistan has been seen by Pakistan as a threat, an attempt by India to encircle Pakistan. Accordingly, the US and Afghanistan have sought to maintain relations with Pakistan, even if it meant keeping Indian relations at arm’s length.
The new pact indicates that Afghanistan’s strategic calculation has changed. Maintaining a relationship with Pakistan is no longer the top priority, and Indian support for Afghan development is now a higher priority. This does not mean, however, that India and Afghanistan have decided to disregard their relationships with Pakistan entirely. Both Afghanistan and India have attempted to reassure Pakistan in the wake of the agreement. Speaking in New Delhi, President Karzai said:
Pakistan is our twin brother, India is a great friend. The agreement we signed with our friend will not affect our brother ….This strategic partnership … is not directed against any country … this strategic partnership is to support Afghanistan.
Similarly, the Indian prime minister said after announcing the agreement: “Our cooperation with Afghanistan is an open book.”