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.
India is expected to announce a package of $100 million in small development projects that could be implemented in a short duration across Afghanistan’s provinces. For his part, Karzai is seeking a more active participation of the Indian corporate sector in the economic development of Afghanistan. Unlike the state-funded Chinese companies, the Indian private sector has been unwilling to take big risks in Afghanistan. India’s future economic engagement will depend on how Afghanistan’s internal security environment will evolve as the US downsizes its military presence and the Taliban steps up its offensive. This in turn begs the question: is Delhi ready to provide substantive military cooperation to help Kabul stand up to its adversaries? Short of sending combat troops into Afghanistan, India must offer all the military assistance it can to beef up Kabul’s capacity to defend itself. Further hesitation on Delhi’s part can only undermine India’s ability to secure its long-term interests in the northwestern marches of the subcontinent and its reputation as a credible regional power.