Delhi had turned down earlier requests but provided training to Afghan troops in India

Speaking in an exclusive interview to The Hindu, Afghanistan’s Ambassador to India, Shaida Abdali, has admitted that “Afghanistan doesn’t have the defence it needs” to fight “proxy-terror groups” and said India and Afghanistan must strengthen their strategic cooperation.

In December 2013, Afghanistan had put in a “wish list” to India, including requests for tanks, helicopters and ground vehicles, which Delhi had politely turned down at the time, as it has in the past. Instead India supported infrastructure projects and provided military training to Afghan troops and police forces in India itself.

Sources said this was a result of India’s desire not to upset Pakistan with overt military help that may be construed as interference in Afghanistan. In April, the Cabinet Committee on Security had reportedly agreed to fund the supply of small arms to ANA (Afghan National Army) from Russia in order to avoid this very problem.

Reacting sharply to these concerns, Ambassador Abdali told The Hindu, “If a third country, like Pakistan, is unhappy to see Afghanistan getting military support from India, I have just one question… Are we arming the Afghan army (so as to) to fight one country? Why are we an exception in the region when everyone wants a strong army and police? Why shouldn’t Afghanistan? I think there is nothing wrong for India to do whatever it can to support Afghanistan. It is Afghanistan seeking that assistance – not India giving it to us.”

Herat attack

Ambassador Abdali said investigations were still going on into the attack at India’s Herat consulate in May, but it was clear that Pakistan-based Lashkar-e-Taiba was behind it. “There is no ambiguity about the headquarters of LeT. We know where it comes from. Instead of looking where the attackers are coming from, we must see how to tackle them through planning a result-oriented strategy,” he said.

The Afghan envoy confirmed that India and Afghanistan were working at a trilateral transitory agreement with Iran in order to trade goods via the Iranian port of Chabahar, which India is helping refurbish, as an alternative to the land route via Pakistan. He also spoke of the negotiations over the TAPI gas pipeline from Turkmenistan, but said security is a pre-requisite for any “economic integration”.

Afghanistan’s second round of elections has run into trouble with frontrunner Dr. Abdullah Abdullah alleging fraud. If the winner is declared on July 22 as scheduled, sources said the new president in Afghanistan is likely to invite Prime Minister Modi to his swearing-in in early August, where the Afghanistan government will pick up the thread of its “wish list” with India on security cooperation.

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