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In what could be his last state visit to India as president, Hamid Karzai would want to know the depth of Delhi's declared commitment to the stability of Afghanistan in the increasingly uncertain environment that confronts the region. The only certainties at this stage are US President Barack Obama's determination to end the US combat role in Afghanistan by 2014 and Karzai's promise to step down from power the same year, when elections are due. There is a dark cloud over all other elements of Obama's strategy for Afghanistan. These include the plan to leave a small residual American military force in Afghanistan, the expectation that the US Congress and Western allies will fund the Afghan National Army for at least a decade after 2014, the search for a political reconciliation with the Taliban, and the hopes of persuading the Pakistan army to support the Afghan peace process.
Since the ouster of the Taliban from Kabul at the end of 2001, Karzai has steered Afghanistan's destiny. Throughout this period, the Afghan president could count on Delhi's friendship. India became one of the biggest donors of economic assistance to Afghanistan and the strongest supporter of the nation's sovereignty and territorial integrity. The tightening bonds between Delhi and Kabul culminated in the signing of a strategic partnership agreement last October during Karzai's visit to Delhi. The meaning and credibility of that agreement will come under close scrutiny this week, when Karzai sits down with the Indian leaders.
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