Afghans look to India for arms as Taliban, IS militants tighten grip

24 August 2016

India looks set to increasingly involve in the Afghan conflict with increasing pressure on the Modi government to deliver more arms to Afghanistan to help it fight Islamist militants.

Afghanistan, like India, has its Air Force equipped with Soviet era Russian aircraft and it needs Indian help in sourcing parts and equipment from Russia because of the US embargo on dealings with Russia

India has already provided over $2bn in economic assistance to Afghan in the last 15 years and New Delhi, last year, also provided the country with four attack helicopters in the first transfer of lethal equipment.

India has so far been less willing to provide weapons to Afghanistan, in order to avoid a backlash from Pakistan, despite the fact that both the Taliban and other Islamic militants use Pakistan as a base for attacks in Afghanistan.

Kabul is aware of Pakistan's concerns over its closer ties with New Delhi, but with a depleting arms stock to fight the Taliban militants who have already seized five per cent of the land area, the country is desperately looking for fresh supplies,

Afghan envoy to India has amply made it clear that it wants New Delhi to deliver more arms to help it fight Islamist militants, even if Pakistan is wary of closer military cooperation between the two countries, says a Reuters report.

Shaida Mohammad Abdali, the Afghan ambassador to India, is reported to have said that regional security was deteriorating and Afghan national forces were in dire need of military supplies to tackle the Taliban, Islamic State and other militant groups.

"We are grateful for the four helicopters. But we need more, we need much more. Today we are heading into a situation that is worrisome for everyone in the region including India," Reuters quoted him as saying in an interview.

New Delhi under the new disposition also seems inclined to support the Afghan cause and Prime Minister Narendra Modi has made it amply clear that unlike the earlier governments that followed a policy of appeasement, it would rather follow an open policy is line with the country's economic and political interests.

"Afghanistan is a close friend. Our societies and people have had age old ties and links. It, therefore, saddens us to see that your proud nation continues to be challenged by externally sponsored instruments and entities of violence and terror," said the PM, without naming Pakistan. While speaking from his North Block office in New Delhi, Modi stressed, ''Whatever may be the odds, India will work with you for a bright future for all Afghans.''

But the widening political divide within Afghanistan is problems for both India and the government in Kabul to the benefit of the Taliban and other Islamist militants fighting in the countryside.

Abdullah Abdullah, Afghanistan's chief executive, recently criticised President Ghani for failing to work collaboratively and deemed him undeserving to serve the government. The televised remarks last week raised fresh questions about the stability of the coalition formed in 2014 after both Ghani and Abdullah claimed victory in a presidential election and there were fears of armed clashes between their supporters.

"The government is paralysed and ministers do not have the chance to speak. [Ghani] provides a one-hour lecture but he should listen to the ministers for 15 minutes. If someone does not have tolerance, they do not deserve the presidency," he said.

Abdullah, who was made chief executive to end a deadlock under a US-brokered deal following a split election, now says he has been left out of key decisions by the government led by Abdul Ghani. He also alleged that Ghani is arrogant and out of touch with the deteriorating situation in the country.

But President Ghani told Modi that the 'logic' of peace and benevolence will defeat the logic of terror and violence. Modi also thanked the Afghan government for 'protecting the Indian Embassy and consulates and ensuring the safety and security of Indian experts working in Afghanistan'.

During his speech, the PM talked about the successful 'joint initiatives' that both the countries have accomplished in the past like inauguration of the new Parliament complex in that country and the Salma dam in June this year, also called as the Afghanistan-India Friendship dam.

Afghan army General Qadam Shah Shahim is expected in New Delhi on 29 August as the head of a deligation to submit a list of military equipment drawn up in consultation with the US military, Indian defence officials said.

It is not yet clear how much would be paid for and how much would be handed over for free.

The equipment includes more Mi-25s, smaller helicopters used for transporting troops and medical emergencies, and spares for existing Russian-origin aircraft in the Afghan air force fleet.

"The agenda for the army chief's visit is clear. We will be finalizing the enhancement of defence ties," Abdali said. India, he added, had told the Afghans that it would do whatever it could to meet the security forces' requirements.

But most of the equipment has to come from Russia and a US-Afghan coalition cannot hope to secure arms fronmRussia under the present sanctions regime.

India is seen as the better alternative as it is closer to Russia and not affected by western sanctions on Russia.

Also, Russia and the United States share a common goal in stabilizing Afghanistan, and India can act as a go-between and help re-equip Afghan forces at a lesser cost than the US re-equipping Afghan forces afresh.

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