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Afghanistan Negotiating Attack Helicopter Deal With India

An Afghan helicopter during an offensive against Taliban insurgents in Kunduz in September
An Afghan helicopter during an offensive against Taliban insurgents in Kunduz in September

Afghanistan is reportedly poised to acquire four Russian-made Mi-25 attack helicopters from India amid a widening Taliban insurgency across the country.

Sources in New Delhi and Kabul say Afghan National Security Adviser Mohammad Hanif Atmar was due in the Indian capital this weekend to finalize the transfer.

An Afghan diplomat in New Delhi, requesting anonymity because of the sensitivity of the issue, told Radio Free Afghanistan that the deal was being finalized.

The spokesman for the Afghan National Security Council said the two sides were exploring the initial details of the deal.

"Discussions about Indian military assistance with the Afghan Air Force are in the early stages," Tawab Ghorzang told Radio Free Afghanistan. "In this meeting, the two sides will discuss the details of the cooperation."

Praveen Swami, the international affairs editor for the Indian Express daily in New Delhi, says the reported deal is modest in terms of military assistance but significant because of its regional political implications.

"President Ghani may well be disappointed with what he received from the Pakistanis," Swami said. "He may be wishing to signal that if they are not willing to deliver on their promises, he is willing to look to Pakistan's adversary for help."

After assuming office last year, Ghani reached out to Islamabad in the hope of winning its influence to push Taliban leaders, now hiding in Pakistan, to negotiate peace with Kabul. But he apparently gave up on such hopes after the Taliban this year launched their biggest offensive in a decade.

In addition, the new Taliban leader, Akhtar Mohammad Mansur, publically condemned talks after formally assuming the leadership in July.

The deal is not going down well in Pakistan. While the government has refrained from comment, many former officials were furious.

Infographic Mi-25 Helicopter
Infographic Mi-25 Helicopter

A former senior Pakistani diplomat, Shamshad Ahmad, compared it to the Cuban Missile Crisis, when Havana's agreement with Soviet Union to host ballistic missiles on its soil resulted in a tense standoff with Washington.

The confrontation threatened to turn the Cold War into a nuclear confrontation between Moscow and Washington.

"Any kind of military incursion in Afghanistan, military penetration in Afghanistan, arrival of military equipment from India into Afghanistan, is a matter of no less gravity than it was to the United States in 1961 when the Soviets came [to Cuba]," he told Radio Mashaal. "The world must understand that this kind of scenario is fraught with perilous consequences."

Swami, however, said the helicopters pose little threat to Pakistan.

"Pakistan's [major] worry would be that this enhanced defense cooperation might one day give India some sort of influence in Afghanistan that could be used against it," he said.