Last month, Afghan President Hamid Karzai made his third visit to India in 2013 and his 14th since first taking office in 2001. This time, the two governments announced they would deepen their defense and security ties, with several initiatives designed to increase the capabilities of the Afghan National Security Forces (ANSF) as most if not all NATO combat forces prepare to leave the country in 2014. Although Indian officials declined to fill Karzai’s entire shopping list, Afghan-Indian military cooperation will likely increase still further now that the United States, which has generally discouraged New Delhi from assuming a major security role in Afghanistan for fear of antagonizing India’s rival Pakistan, is losing influence in Kabul.
According to the recently announced arrangements, India will increase the number of ANSF members it trains each year from about 350 to some 1,000 soldiers. For the first time, this training will include a group of 60 Afghan special forces, who will receive instruction at India’s military facilities in the Rajasthan desert. U.S. defense analysts have praised Afghanistan’s special forces as being among the country’s most capable soldiers. An obvious goal of the augmented training is to help the ANSF battle the Taliban, which is widely seen in Afghanistan and India as a tool of Pakistan’s national security establishment.
Afghanistan and India also share an interest in Afghanistan’s postwar reconstruction. Since the Taliban lost power in 2001, India has provided more than $2 billion in reconstruction aid to Afghanistan. New Delhi has made major economic, political and strategic investments in Afghanistan, including a multibillion-dollar contract for the Hajigak iron ore project. Indian engagement aims to win Afghan hearts and minds through foreign aid, with special focus on building roads, medical facilities, education programs, power generation networks and other critical infrastructure sectors. India is also undertaking several programs to integrate Afghanistan into regional political and economic structures, including promoting Afghanistan’s membership in the South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation (SAARC).