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Afghan President Hamid Karzai arrived in India today to discuss security and economic partnerships with Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh. India remains Pakistan's most bitter rival, and growing ties between Afghanistan and India are likely to raise Pakistan's hackles.
The visit has been planned for months, according to Reuters, but the timing is still touchy, coming amid deteriorating Afghan relations with Pakistan brought on by suspicion of Pakistani involvement in recent terrorist attacks in Afghanistan.
Mr. Karzai and several senior Afghan officials have publicly linked Pakistan to last month's assassination of Burhanuddin Rabbani, the government's chief negotiator with the Taliban. Karzai said he believes the assassin was Pakistani and the attack was planned in the country.
Both Afghanistan and the United States, which are intensively preparing for a US handover of security responsibilities, have recently increased their pressure on Pakistan to crack down on militant groups using Pakistan as a launch pad for attacks in Afghanistan.
After keeping India at a distance for years in order to avoid angering historic foe Pakistan – which fears "encirclement" in an Indian-Afghan alliance (see map) – Karzai's effort to reach out is seen as particularly significant, Bloomberg notes.
After years in which Karzai kept India at arm’s length on security issues in Afghanistan, his willingness to seek military training “is a joint message he and the Americans are sending to Pakistan that, if you don’t come on board and stop supporting these guerrillas, we have an option to strengthen ties with India,” said Amin Saikal, an Afghan political scientist at Australian National University.
While “Pakistan won’t object to any Indian role in helping the development” of Afghanistan, “any military or intelligence role for India will not be tolerable for Pakistan,” Pakistani foreign policy analyst and former ambassador Maleeha Lodi said in an interview in July. Pakistan’s security policies are set by its politically powerful army, which Lodi said retains “its desire to prevent any kind of strategic encirclement” through an Indian-Afghan security relationship.
In the past, India has focused on economic aid and trade with Afghanistan in order to avoid appearing to threaten Pakistan, but Mr. Singh and Karzai are expected to sign an agreement this time in which India would provide more security training to Afghan forces, according to Reuters.
According to India's Economic Times, India has pledged $2 billion for a series of development projects in Afghanistan reports, and the two men will discuss a revised strategy for dealing with the Taliban.
Neither country wants to appear to insult Pakistan. Despite his recent vitriol, Karzai knows that good relations with Pakistan will be critical for forging a peace deal with the Taliban and gaining the upper hand on militant groups operating in the border region between the two countries. India does not want to anger its rival, Reuters reports.
It suspects Pakistan involvement in several major attacks, including two bombings of its embassy in Kabul in 2008 and 2009, seen as warnings from Islamabad to stay away from its traditional “backyard”.
Without a land border with Afghanistan and dependent on Pakistan for any overland trade, India knows it influence is limited.
“India will want to play its part in keeping Afghanistan stable, but it is focusing mainly on economic ties,” said C. Raja Mohan, senior fellow at New Delhi’s Centre for Policy Research. “It does not does not see itself as a counterbalance to Pakistan. It knows that Pakistan is setting the terms there.