Karzai India Visit: The Agenda
India Afghan relations are progressing rapidly and are expected to gain momentum during the visit of President Hamid Karzai to Mumbai and Delhi from November 9-13, 2012. High level visits between India and Afghanistan are turning into a regular feature now, one every six months to a year. Mr Karzai is accompanied by a Ministerial and official delegation from Afghanistan. The programme in Delhi includes a state banquet in his honour by the President of India, delegation-level talks between the Prime Minister and President Karzai and Maulana Abul Kalam Azad Memorial Lecture organized by the Indian Council of Cultural Relations on November 12, 2012. Strengthening of political relations with Afghanistan will remain a key factor in the relationship but as President Karzai has a short tenure left of a year and a half there would have to be obvious follow up of the same on a broader plane.
During the media briefing on the visit, Additional Secretary (PAI), Y.K. Sinha highlighted that apart from the bilateral relations there would be discussions on regional and international issues and signing of few MoUs/agreements. Implementation of the Strategic Partnership Agreement (SPA) inked in May 2011 will also be reviewed. Though this has failed to take off in a major way. The Partnership Council which is co-chaired by the Foreign Ministers of both the countries has had the first session on 1 May 2012 which was preceded by Joint Working Group on political and security consultations. Three other Joint Working Groups - on trade and economic cooperation, on development assistance, and on education, capacity building and culture have not met so far.
Trade will be a key agenda. In Mumbai the President of Afghanistan will be interacting with business leaders in the financial capital with a view to encourage Indian business to look at Afghanistan as a destination for investments, for greater trade, for greater economic cooperation. This follows India’s initiative of hosting the Delhi Investment Summit on Afghanistan (DISA). This is part of the Istanbul Process of which India is a member and is the lead country for two of the seven regional confidence-building measures, namely the Regional Chambers of Commerce CBM and the Commercial Opportunities CBM.
A consortium of Indian companies led by SAIL has won the bid for the Hajigak iron ore mines, and discussions are under way to finalise the contract in this regard as per Mr Sinha. Mr Karzai may oversee signing of a formal commercial mining agreement with the Indian consortium which has won the bid for iron mining in Hajigak. India is hoping for expansion of trade by operationalising Afghanistan-Pakistan Trade and Transit Agreement (APTTA) to enhance trade with the country.
The subject of security cooperation is also likely to come up with Mr Sinha indicating that India is training Afghan National Security Forces specifically on requests received from the Government of Afghanistan though the, “numbers are modest”. As per a report by the strategic affairs editor of NDTV, Mr Nitin Gokhale, India will train up to 800 Afghan Army officers every year. This will include increasing the number of officers in the basic training academies to 200, training of officers at the middle and seniors levels and company contingents training in counter-insurgency and counter-terrorist operations. In addition Gokhale reports that New Delhi will, “supply vehicles, information technology and sports equipment.” This will be restricted to non-lethal supplies at present deployment of Indian troops in Afghanistan is also not envisaged. Both countries will have to work within the boundaries of Pakistan’s sensitivities on the issue.
While an India US, Afghanistan trilateral meet was held in New York on the sidelines of the UN General Assembly there is a necessity for an India Afghanistan Pakistan trilateral. This issue was touched upon during the press briefing but Mr Sinha evaded a response. There is an obvious interlock of India, Pakistan and Afghanistan on trade and commerce relations and unless Islamabad sees this in mutual benefit for all the three players there is unlikely to be any progress on that front.