In a major development, India has agreed to mentor the Afghan security forces as they gear up to deal with the drawdown of foreign forces by 2014.
The proposal has been on the drawing board for six years since Afghanistan President Hamid Karzai first suggested it, but was not implemented as Pakistan was uncomfortable with the idea of India-trained forces on both its flanks.
The proposal to train the Afghan National Security Forces was included in the first-ever Strategic Partnership Agreement (SPA) signed on Tuesday by Mr. Karzai and Prime Minister Manmohan Singh during their third extensive meeting this year.
India has started stepping up its exposure to the security scenario in Afghanistan by operationalising an airbase in Tajikistan, which has since been used to strike at the top leadership of the Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan. It has also sought permission to reopen a hospital at Farkhor on the Afghan border.
The two sides would also cooperate more closely at the United Nations, one of the objectives being to help India gain a permanent seat on the Security Council.
In addition to dealing with political and security cooperation aspects, the SPA spells out trade and economic cooperation in much greater detail, covering aspects ranging from assisting Afghanistan in developing trading routes to exploring for hydrocarbons and mineral ores the country is abundantly endowed with.
This means both countries will try to operationalise their trilateral MoU signed with Iran to end Afghanistan's landlocked isolation and dependence on Pakistan to reach the sea. It brightens India's chances of bagging a lucrative mining contract for Hajigak, said to be the region's largest untapped reserve of iron ore, and provides an opportunity to hunt for oil in northern Afghanistan. Two MoUs — one in the field of mineral exploration and the other for the development of hydrocarbons — reflected the interest of both sides in these areas.
Releasing the SPA in four languages — Hindi, Pashto, Dari and English — the two sides also resolved to create a favourable trading and investment environment by simplifying customs and other procedures, starting air cargo operations and improving credit and insurance facilities.
As Dr. Singh and Mr. Karzai made it clear, the pact would not be directed against any state or a group of states.
“The agreement on a Strategic Partnership creates an institutional framework for our future cooperation in the fields of political and security , trade and economic cooperation, capacity building and education, and social, cultural, civil society and people-to-people relations,” Dr. Singh explained in his statement to the media at the signing ceremony at the Hyderabad House.
Mr. Karzai's visit comes in the wake of the high-profile assassinations of the former Afghan President, Burhanuddin Rabbani, and Kandahar Provincial Council chief Ahmad Wali Karzai when they were engaged in the peace process.