Afghan President's co-operation with India infuriates Pakistan


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After signing a strategic partnership with India that infuriated the Pakistani security establishment, Afghan President Hamid Karzai yesterday tried to soothe his country's relationship with its "twin brother", insisting that Islamabad had a vital role to play in bringing long-term peace to the region.

In a speech in which he outlined his dream of being able to eat breakfast in India, lunch in Pakistan and dinner back home in Afghanistan, Mr Karzai told the region's two nuclear powers that there was a common cause in defeating terrorism.

"Pakistan is our twin brother, India is a great friend," Mr Karzai said in Delhi. "The agreement we signed with our friend will not affect our brother. This strategic partnership ... is not directed against any country. This strategic partnership is to support Afghanistan."

The comments came during a visit in which Mr Karzai and the Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh signed a new strategic agreement that will see India play a leading role in helping train and equip Afghan security forces, including the police and army.

It also follows many days of Afghanistan delivering a series of increasingly volatile criticisms of Pakistan, most notably accusing it of being involved in the recent assassination of former President Burhanuddin Rabbani, who was due to head talks with the Taliban. Those talks have now been suspended. Mr Karzai had said he believed the assassin was Pakistani and the suicide bombing was plotted in the city of Quetta.

With an eye to 2014, when US forces are due to leave his country and Afghan forces will supposedly be entirely responsible for security, Mr Karzai is desperately trying to walk a fine line of not angering potential allies. The security agreement with India is one of several that might emerge, with similar deals with the US and the EU also being discussed. But Mr Karzai knows that the arrangement with Delhi will cause genuine angst for Pakistan. India has already invested more than £1.3bn in infrastructure projects in Afghanistan and is seeking to increase its own regional influence and reduce that of Pakistan. A small number of Indian troops are present, guarding infrastructure projects. And the training of Afghan officers has already gone ahead.

Pakistan is highly sensitive about India's activities in Afghanistan, frequently questioning Delhi's motives. The agreement of greater security cooperation, especially if it means increased numbers of Indian troops in Afghanistan even in a training role, will likely prove to be deeply provocative. One Pakistani official said yesterday he believed that on a scale of one to 10, with 10 being the angriest, Islamabad was at a six.

Mindful of this, Mr Karzai's vision for progress in the region involved a key role for Pakistan, even at a time when the country's military has been under fire for its alleged links to the Haqqani militant network. Unlike David Cameron and Barack Obama when their feet were on Indian soil – and their minds were on securing business deals and investment – he pointedly avoided accusing Pakistan of failing to do enough to tackle terrorism.

Rather, he said that having decided to postpone talks with the Taliban in the aftermath of Mr Rabbani's murder, Afghanistan had opted to increase its engagement with Pakistan. "We have now decided not to talk to the Taliban because we don't know their address. When we find them, we will talk to them," said Mr Karzai, a reference to how Mr Rabbani had been killed by someone purporting to represent the Taliban in peace talks. "The peace process will now be focused more on relations between countries ... than on individuals we cannot find."

Mr Karzai spoke of how the region had become poisoned by terror, suggesting there was nowhere else where children played at being suicide-bombers and where the names of Blackhawk and Chinook helicopters tripped from their tongues. Yet there was no other region that shared such close links in culture, art and music, he said. "My vision is [being able] to eat breakfast in Amritsar, lunch in Lahore and dinner in Kabul," he said.