Afghan president reaches India to strengthen ties

NEW DELHI (Reuters) – Afghan President Hamid Karzai arrived in India on Sunday to cement ties with New Delhi, just weeks after a suicide bombing at the Indian embassy in Kabul underscored the security tensions in the region.

Afghanistan, India and the U.S have accused Pakistan’s spy agency of being involved in the July bombing that killed at least 58 people, including two Indian diplomats. Islamabad denies any involvement.

The attack was a blow to a tentative peace process between India and Pakistan, and highlighted how Afghanistan could quickly become another source of diplomatic tension between the two nuclear-armed neighbors, already divided over the Kashmir region.

Analysts say that Pakistan is worried about India’s rising influence in Afghanistan, the recipient of hundreds of millions of dollars of Indian development aid in recent years.

“India is one of the biggest aid donors to Afghanistan,” said C. Raja Mohan, an Indian foreign affairs analyst based in Singapore. “From a geopolitical and aid stand, the issue for India will be about how to improve security as ties grow closer.”

Karzai will meet Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh on Monday.

Both Singh and Karzai share a common interest in stopping any Pakistan-sponsored violence and talks will probably centre on this issue, analysts said.

India said after the Kabul attack that its peace process with Pakistan was “under stress” because its traditional foe was “inciting terror” inside India and trying to hit its interests abroad.

India did not recognize the radical Taliban regime and lost its foothold in Afghanistan, while arch rival Pakistan held diplomatic sway for years before the September 2001 attacks on the United States sparked a U.S-led invasion.

New Delhi was a key backer of Afghan forces led by the Northern Alliance which, along with the U.S. military, overthrew the Taliban, previously aided by Pakistan.

India is now involved in training Afghanistan’s police and diplomats, building roads and hospitals, and supporting trade and services as Afghanistan tries to rebuild its war-ravaged economy, despite continuing Taliban attacks.

The Afghan intelligence agency has accused Pakistani agents of training thousands of militants to attack Indian road projects in Afghanistan. A number of Indian road workers have been killed in Afghanistan.

Singh and Karzai might use the meeting to show unity in their hardening of views towards Pakistan.

“I am not expecting any dramatic shift in relations. Relations are as close as they can be,” said Ajai Sahni, of the Institute for Conflict Management.

“But we may see a common hardening of their posture to Pakistan. And India may even announce more aid programs for Afghanistan,” Sahni said.

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