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India, Afghanistan Strengthen Defense Ties

Afghan Foreign Minister Salahuddin Rabbani (L) with his Indian counterpart Sushma Swaraj in New Delhi.
Afghan Foreign Minister Salahuddin Rabbani (L) with his Indian counterpart Sushma Swaraj in New Delhi.

Kabul and New Delhi have agreed to further strengthen their strategic alliance by deepening security ties and defense assistance.

Speaking in New Delhi on September 12, Afghan Foreign Minister Salahuddin Rabbani expressed satisfaction with his consultations with Indian leaders and the bilateral agreements between their countries.

He emphasized that the two countries now view security as a major priority for their bilateral cooperation, which previously has largely been limited to India providing development and reconstruction assistance to Afghanistan.

“Our goal is to promote our shared interests, including addressing our common concerns about regional and global security threats that undermine our collective peace and prosperity,” Rabbani told an audience at the Vivekananda International Foundation think tank in New Delhi.

Kabul and its Western allies have been cautious about India’s defense assistance because of Pakistan’s concerns about an alliance among its neighbors. Islamabad views archrival New Delhi’s influence and footprint in Afghanistan as a threat from across it western borders while sharing a long eastern border with India.

But faced with a violent and expanding Taliban insurgency and numerous terrorist groups, Kabul has gradually moved toward welcoming Indian defense cooperation.

In a joint statement on September 11, the two countries agreed that “terrorism presented the greatest threat to peace, stability, and progress of the region and beyond” and without naming Pakistan “called for an end to all forms of support, state sponsorship, safe havens, and sanctuaries to terrorists against Afghanistan.”

In this context, they agreed to expand their security cooperation.

“India agreed to extend further assistance for the Afghan National Defense and Security Forces in fighting the scourge of terrorism, organized crime, trafficking of narcotics, and money laundering,” the joint statement noted.

New Delhi has so far provided Kabul with a few Russian-made attack helicopters and has offered training to a limited number of Afghan soldiers at its military academies.

Washington now stands behind the budding cooperation. In a major speech to outline his strategy for Afghanistan and South Asia on August 21, U.S. President Donald Trump called for India’s help and greater role in helping Kabul.

“We want them [India] to help us more with Afghanistan, especially in the area of economic assistance and development,” he said. “We are committed to pursuing our shared objectives for peace and security in South Asia and the broader Indo-Pacific region.”

For its part, New Delhi is keen on partnering with Kabul against the threats they claim to be facing from militant groups based in Pakistan.

“We remain united in trying to overcome the challenges posed by cross-border terrorism and safe havens and sanctuaries to both our countries,” said Indian Foreign Minister Sushma Swaraj.

Rabbani, however, maintained that their growing relations pose no threat to Islamabad.

"Such rationale has never had any room in our foreign policy. Unlike others, Afghanistan has hardly sought security in the insecurity of others," he said.

By giving more than $2 billion in economic assistance, India is already helping rebuild Afghan infrastructure, key services, energy, and commerce. Sawraj says her country will now undertake 116 new “high-impact community development projects” in 31 provinces of Afghanistan.

The two sides also agreed to expedite the development of the Chabahar port in southeastern Iran, which will end landlocked Afghanistan’s dependence on Pakistani ports.

– with reporting by Voice Of America

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