India & Pakistan Jostle for Influence

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Afghanistan Express Daily Newspaper

March 4, 2014

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New Delhi – India’s most important message for Afghanistan is that it is not leaving, and it is backing that message with the biggest aid package it has ever given another country. Indian diplomats insist the message is meant as reassurance for allies in Afghanistan nervous about waning international support as NATO withdraws its troops. Yet it could equally have been chosen to send a warning to India’s arch-rival, Pakistan.

The nuclear-armed neighbors both want to secure influence in Kabul after foreign combat forces leave this year, and both are using aid as part of their strategy. India’s $2 billion aid package includes several big projects, including a white marble parliament in Kabul that is rising up next to the blasted ruins of the old king’s palace.

Relations between Afghanistan and Pakistan are rockier. Afghan President Hamid Karzai regularly accuses Pakistan of supporting Taliban militants, and has curtly made clear he cares more about security than Pakistani aid. Some Afghans fear that the regional rivalry might drag their country into a proxy war.

“This is a very sensitive situation. Both are powerful, important allies,” said Senator Arifullah Pashtoon, chairman of Afghanistan’s foreign relations committee. “India is our friend. But Pakistan is our twin.” With the NATO withdrawal looming, Afghanistan has increasingly sought Indian military assistance, while Pakistani offers of military help have largely been snubbed.

India, wary of antagonizing Pakistan, has refused to supply lethal equipment but that may change after Indian elections due by May. For now, New Delhi relies on soft power. A handsome new cream-and-red sandstone building in New Delhi houses the Indian agency overseeing foreign projects. Created in 2011, the agency’s 25 officers oversee billions of dollars. An official, who declined to be identified, estimated India is expanding such projects by about 20 percent a year.

The agency is determined to do things differently from the donors who used to patronize India. Overheads are minimal: just one person in India’s Kabul embassy oversees the Afghan package and all money goes through the Afghan government budget… (Reuters)

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