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After Pakistan Letdown, Washington Turns To India For Afghan Help

India - U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry (R) gestures as India's External Affairs Minister Sushma Swaraj looks on during their joint news conference in New Delhi, India, August 30, 2016
India - U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry (R) gestures as India's External Affairs Minister Sushma Swaraj looks on during their joint news conference in New Delhi, India, August 30, 2016

After pampering Pakistan with aid dollars, armaments, and front-line ally status for nearly 15 years, Washington is now turning toward Pakistan’s archrival, India, to help secure Afghanistan in the face of unprecedented Taliban violence.

Washington is now actively supporting diplomatic and security cooperation between Kabul and New Delhi. Both accuse Islamabad of backing insurgents and terrorist attacks in their territories.

At the start of his official trip to India on August 30, U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry said Washington would launch trilateral talks with New Delhi and Kabul next month.

He urged Islamabad to do more to rein in extremist groups operating out of its territory.

"We cannot and will not make distinctions between good and bad terrorists," he told journalists alongside India's foreign minister, Sushma Swaraj. "Terror is terror no matter where it comes from, (or) who carries it out."

His visit follows U.S. Defense Minister Ashton Carter’s meeting with his Indian counterpart, Manohar Parrikar, in Washington on August 29. In a joint press statement, “they noted recent high-level official exchanges including the visit to New Delhi of Gen. John Nicholson for consultation on Afghanistan.”

Nicholson, commander of the U.S. forces in Afghanistan, called for more Indian military support for Afghanistan earlier this month. New Delhi supplied Kabul with three Mi-25 attack helicopters during the past year.

“We are building the Afghan Air Force as a critical component of security. That is built on several airframes. Some are older Russian models, integrating newer ones. We need more aircraft, and we are looking at how we can meet that need,” he told journalists in New Delhi.

Suhasini Haidar, an editor of India’s The Hindu daily, said Washington’s attitude toward Indian military assistance has changed.

“In the past, America has always dissuaded India from providing military equipment to Afghanistan because they thought this would, perhaps, evoke a strong and negative reaction from Pakistan,” she said.

Haider said Washington’s outlook changed after New Delhi decided to supply four Mi-25 attack helicopters last year. India has already delivered three and will soon hand over the fourth.

Shaida Mohammad Abdali, Afghanistan’s ambassador to India, said Kabul expects more aircraft and other armaments from New Delhi.

He said the issue was discussed during Afghan Army chief Qadam Shah Shaheem’s meeting with his Indian counterpart, General Dalbir Singh, and other high-ranking military officials in New Delhi on August 30.

“During these meetings, Mi-25 attack helicopters were also mentioned. India will soon hand over the fourth helicopter to Afghanistan,” he said. “Afghanistan has Russian-made Mi-17 and Mi-35 helicopters, which are not usable at the moment. Afghanistan asked for the repair of these aircrafts and help in creating an aircraft-repair workshop in Afghanistan.”

Florida-based commentator Mohammad Taqi pointed to the increasing frustration among a growing number of U.S. officials with Pakistan’s support for the Afghan Taliban as a motive for encouraging security cooperation between India and Afghanistan.

“The low in U.S.-Pakistan relations that we see today wasn’t there two years ago,” he said. “The United States’ stance changed after the attack on the American University in Kabul this month.”

Islamabad has pledged to help Kabul investigate the August 24 attack that saw at least 13 people, including seven students and a teacher, killed during the 10-hour assault. Afghan officials have claimed the attack was planned inside Pakistan.

Islamabad has already warned Kabul to not allow its nuclear archrival, New Delhi, in using its territory against Pakistan.

“Such cooperation should not be to the detriment of Pakistan,” said Pakistani Foreign Office spokesman Nafees Zakaria.