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Afghan President Hamid Karzai is trying to reassure Pakistan that a security agreement signed Tuesday with India, Pakistan's historic foe, is not meant to lay the groundwork for a regional alliance against Pakistan.
"Pakistan is our twin brother, India is a great friend. The agreement we signed with our friend will not affect our brother," Mr. Karzai said in New Delhi, according to Reuters. "This strategic partnership ... is not directed against any country ... this strategic partnership is to support Afghanistan."
India, already one of Afghanistan's biggest donors, agreed Tuesday to work together more closely on counterterrorism efforts and to help Afghanistan train its police and military. The formal agreement may alarm Pakistan, which worries that India is trying to gain leverage in Afghanistan in order to form an Indian-Afghan alliance against Pakistan.
Mr. Karzai arrived in India earlier this week with Afghan-Pakistani relations at a nadir after he and other Afghan officials placed blame on Pakistan for recent terrorist attacks in Afghanistan. Reuters reports that Pakistan has used the Haqqani network, a militant group that launches attacks in Afghanistan from Pakistani bases, to negate Indian influence in Afghanistan. Assumed Pakistani support for the Haqqani network has been the focus of recent Afghan ire toward Pakistan.
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Pakistan's concerns could give Afghanistan greater leverage in its demands that Pakistan rein in militants, The Christian Science Monitor reports.
Pakistan has made it clear throughout the past decade that it fears “encirclement” by any strong alliance between India and Afghanistan. Today’s agreement allows Karzai to brandish the threat of greater military cooperation with India if cooperation with Pakistan toward peace remains in question.
However, whether Pakistani officials are truly concerned is unclear. They have been reticent to discuss what India and Afghanistan's agreement could mean for them. "Both are sovereign countries and they have the right to do whatever they want to," Prime Minister Yousuf Raza Gilani said, according to Agence France-Presse.
In an editorial, Pakistani newspaper Dawn urged Pakistani officials to heed the unspoken message of the agreement – that Karzai doubts Pakistan's trustworthiness – and reassure Afghanistan.
This latest agreement only adds to the impression that regional players are beginning to shape their respective alliances in a part of the world whose future seems increasingly unpredictable. Soon after American allegations regarding the Haqqani network, Pakistan was busy welcoming Chinese and Iranian representatives to the country. And given its history of turmoil, Kabul's search for allies it can trust is understandable. But this diplomatic manoeuvring should also be a sign for Pakistan that it needs to reassure Kabul it will not seek to use Afghanistan for strategic depth to the detriment of that country, and instead is simply concerned that Afghan territory not be used against it. Both for the sake of peace in the region and for its own interests, Pakistan needs to see this latest development as a reason to reduce the trust deficit in its own relationship with Afghanistan.
According to the Dawn, Foreign Minister Hina Rabbani Khar acknowledged a "confidence deficit" between Afghanistan and Pakistan and said the two countries were working to reduce it. She denied the agreement with India had any implications for Pakistan.
Until now, India has kept its support for Afghanistan largely limited to economic agreements and aid money. The security agreement illustrates its desire to expand its role, The Washington Post reports.
“This does not mean that India is going to rush its troops to Afghanistan or ship military equipment,” said Lalit Mansingh, a former Indian diplomat. “It just means that India has entered the sphere so far denied to it. For many years, Western nations wanted India to stay away from Afghanistan because they did not want to upset Pakistan. But that has changed in the last year, since President Barack Obama visited India. They are now openly suggesting that India should be more active. With today’s agreement, India is saying that it will be a guarantor of Afghanistan’s stability after 2014.”