New Delhi (AFP) – Afghanistan will not be bullied into signing a security pact allowing U.S. troops to stay on after next year, President Hamid Karzai said as he pressed India on Friday for more military hardware.
Karzai met Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh and Foreign Minister Salman Khurshid at the start of a three-day visit, with the United States hoping New Delhi can persuade him to ink the troubled pact.
India-educated Karzai has close ties with India, which is keen to ensure that the exit of some 75,000 US-led NATO troops at the end of 2014 does not trigger a return to power of the hardline Taliban militia.
But speaking to Indian television, Karzai said he would not be “intimidated” into signing the pact which would allow 12,000 U.S. troops to stay in Afghanistan after 2014 and sets out their terms of engagement.
“Aggressive rhetoric won’t work… We are not a nation that is known for giving into intimidation,” he told NDTV.
“If they have not recognised this they should, it will be good for them to recognise… We will sign it when we feel sure that our signature will bring peace and security.”
Karzai, who is due to stand down after elections next year, initially endorsed the so-called Bilateral Security Agreement.
But he later said the agreement could only be signed after the presidential election in April, warning against a NATO presence if it just meant “more bombs and killings”.
His stance has outraged U.S. officials and lawmakers, who have threatened a complete pullout if Karzai does not sign by the end of the year.
James Dobbins, the U.S. special representative on Afghanistan and Pakistan, this week told a Senate Committee he hoped India could help persuade Karzai to ink the agreement.
India has poured $2 billion in reconstruction aid into Afghanistan, and Karzai’s ambassador to Kabul said ahead of the visit that requests for more military assistance would be high on the agenda.
Foreign ministry spokesman Syed Akbaruddin confirmed the troop pact was discussed, saying both India and Afghanistan saw it as “important for stability and safety”, but he denied pressure was put on Karzai to sign.
“India’s relationship with Afghanistan is based on three key elements: We don’t intervene, we don’t prescribe them anything and we are not judgemental,” Akbaruddin told reporters.
“Ultimately Afghanistan’s president is a sagacious and wise leader who knows what is best for the people of Afghanistan.”
On his last visit to New Delhi in May, Karzai said he had put forward a “wishlist” of military assistance he hoped Delhi could deliver.
India’s foreign ministry declined to detail what the list contained, but local media reports said it included light and heavy artillery, aircraft, and small arms and ammunition.
“We leave it to India,” Karzai said when asked by NDTV about his wishlist.
India has consistently pledged to do all it can to promote stability in Afghanistan, mindful of how it was one of the main enemies of the Taliban regime before its ouster in the wake of the September 11 attacks in 2001.
While some observers have urged India not to become sucked into Afghan power battles, an Indian Express editorial said the government was right to bolster military support for Karzai to counter its historical rival Pakistan, which was once the Taliban’s chief patron.
“While it must carefully weigh the regional consequences of supplying weaponry to Kabul, Delhi can’t ignore the dangers that will flow from the Pakistan army’s likely advances in Afghanistan after 2014,” the newspaper said on Friday.
M.K. Bhadrakumar, a former Indian ambassador to Kabul, said Karzai could not expect all of his wishes to be answered.
“It is not as if Karzai comes with a wishlist and hands it over to Prime Minister Manmohan Singh and they take a red pen and green pen and keep ticking off items. It is not like this,” Bhadrakumar told AFP.
“Already there is a high degree of cooperation in the field of security and defence. Hundreds of Afghan officers are being trained in India and from (the) Afghan side, that is of much greater use than military hardware.”
Bhadrakumar said India was bound by end-use agreements with its mainly European arms suppliers, which often prevent it from arming other regimes.
AFP Photo/Aref Karimi