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After bin Laden: India sees opportunity in Afghanistan

India's prime minister is in Kabul to argue for an Indian role in the Afghan peace process. Pakistan could be worried that the mood in Kabul may have tipped in India's favor after bin Laden's death

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Still, the Pakistanis can take some comfort that Mr. Singh has steadfastly refused to gloat over the revelation that bin Laden took shelter in a Pakistani military town. And he did not lend India’s weight to protests against the peace talks, sticking instead to India’s support for talks.

The protest was led by Amrullah Saleh, Afghanistan’s former intelligence chief and Indian ally who was sacked by Karzai in a bid to curry favor with Pakistan.

Speaking to the crowds about the Taliban, whom Karzai has called “brothers,” Mr. Saleh said: “They are not my brother, they are not your brother – those are our enemies.”

The rally appeared to be disproportionately northerners and ethnic minorities, according to the Guardian newspaper. These Afghans were once represented by the Northern Alliance, a military coalition that fought the Taliban until it ousted them from Kabul in 2001 with US help.

Power scrum in Afghanistan

At a simplistic level, national politics in Afghanistan is a scrum for power between former Northern Alliance factions, Karzai’s backers, and the ethnic Pashtun insurgency. Former Northern Alliance leaders fear that Karzai’s efforts to bring insurgents into the government will come at their expense. The rally made it clear that they cannot be ignored in the peace talks.

For years, India helped finance the Northern Alliance while Pakistan backed the Taliban and other Pashtun groups. While both India and Pakistan profess support for Karzai, they both wield some influence through these ties to his opponents.

Singh, however, appeared to throw weight behind Karzai today.

“Afghanistan has made significant strides under President Karzai. He is a great patriot,” Singh told a banquet held by Karzai. He also backed the peace process, saying: “We strongly support the Afghan people’s quest for peace and reconciliation. India supports the unity, integrity, and prosperity of Afghanistan.”

Pakistani officials use a similar formulation, calling for a “peaceful, prosperous, and united Afghanistan.” The similarity suggests progress setting the parameters for peace talks, which will involve not just Afghans but neighboring countries and other nations.

Singh’s words are directed at Saleh and his threat to Karzai over Taliban talks, says Mohan: “I think India is saying, ‘Stay together against the extremist forces.’”

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