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Afghanistan: President Calls For Formal Cooperation With India, Pakistan

Pakistan's Musharraf (left) and Afghanistan's Karzai have not been so friendly of late (epa) Visiting Afghan President Hamid Karzai said today in India that he wants to involve both India and Pakistan in the three-way cooperation scheme that would enhance both security and economic development. Karzai is continuing an official visit to India that has focused on regional security and India's support for Afghan reconstruction.

PRAGUE, April 11, 2006 (RFE/RL) -- The Afghan president announced his idea of a "tri-polar structure of cooperation" with India and Pakistan. He said an important element in the trilateral system will be the fight against terrorism.

"We will cooperate with any nation that cooperates with us in curbing terrorism," Karzai said today. "Nobody is immune from it, as the prime minister [of India] mentioned. All of us in this region are affected, and I very much hope that all of us in this region will join hands to fight this menace."

Tough Task

Karzai's remarks are seen as an attempt to bring India and Pakistan closer together on counterterrorism operations.

But experts on South Asia say mutual suspicions make Pakistan and India unlikely to join together within such a formal structure in the near future. Among them is Raul Bedi -- a New Delhi-based correspondent for the international security journal "Jane's Defense Weekly."

"It's a very difficult relationship that Afghanistan has with Pakistan and that Pakistan has with India," Bedi said. "Pakistan seems very threatened about India developing a strategic relationship with Afghanistan. So Pakistan is not happy about India and Afghanistan coming close. And it is unlikely that President Karzai's visit will bring India and Pakistan very close -- even though Karzai has made a pitch for that because it would help the entire region reduce the levels of terrorisms as well as the level of tensions that exist in the region."

But Karzai insisted that stronger ties between Kabul and New Delhi are a positive development for all of South Asia.

"This trip will add to the friendship between us -- to the depth of relations between the two countries," Karzai said. "It will definitely bring us a better future for the people of the two countries and also, very much hopefully, for the region. [Afghanistan and India] are cooperating in almost all walks of life -- from education, to health, to rural development, to the reconstruction of infrastructure, to economic affairs and to cooperation in the region."

Caught In The Middle

Karzai was asked today about Kabul's own diplomatic dispute with Pakistan -- including Pakistani President Pervez Musharraf's anger over allegations that pro-Taliban militants continue to launch attacks from Pakistani territory.

The Afghan president responded by downplaying the dispute. Karzai said he and Musharraf are friends who, at times, exchange frank words.

Bedi of "Jane's Defense Weekly" said Islamabad's concerns about Indian troops in Afghanistan near the border with Pakistan are preventing India from doing more to help Afghanistan's security situation.

"The concrete measures that India can actually affect in Afghanistan are limited," Bedi said. "The only way that India can make a substantial difference is if the United States agrees that India can work more closely on a military level with Afghanistan. But that is something that Pakistan is terrified of and opposes. So it is very unlikely to happen."

Economic Aims

Karzai said another important element of the proposed tri-polar structure of cooperation is to foster economic growth in South Asia.

Meanwhile, Karzai has been pushing forward with efforts to improve economic ties between Afghanistan and India. He was scheduled to visit the south Indian city of Hyderabad today. The itinerary includes tours of information-technology centers as well as a visit to a successful Indian rural development project.

"I have a big delegation with me -- a business delegation that wants to seek opportunities in India but also wants to attract Indian businesses to Afghanistan to invest and participate in the reconstruction of Afghanistan," Karzai said

For its part, India has pledged an extra $50 million in aid to Afghanistan and has said it would consider a new credit facility to boost trade. The additional aid raises to $650 million the total commitments of India to Afghanistan since the demise of the Taliban regime. The Indian prime minister says India already has spent $200 million on projects within Afghanistan during the last four years.

RFE/RL Afghanistan Report

RFE/RL Afghanistan Report

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