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India eyes increased role in Afghanistan

India is among regional powers eyeing a larger role in Afghanistan as the US prepares to pull back. Some Afghans worry about becoming a proxy battleground for India and Pakistan.

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In this file photo, Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, right, and Afghanistan President Hamid Karzai pose before a meeting in New Delhi, India.

Gurinder Osan/AP/File

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As the Shanghai Cooperation Organization’s annual summit in Beijing concluded today, what to do after international combat troops leave Afghanistan dominated the discussion. While the talk centered around China’s increased involvement in Afghanistan, India has been quietly expanding its footprint there.

Afghanistan and India have longstanding cultural and economic ties, and though they don’t share a direct, geographic border, the two consider themselves neighbors. Aside from assisting in Afghanistan’s reconstruction, India has worked to strengthen economic ties and will soon begin training members of the Afghan security forces. 

“One of the problems that we’ve had for a long time in Afghanistan is the lack of a regional policy, a regional strategy on the part of the international community to solve the Afghan issue,” says Barry Salaam, an independent analyst in Kabul. His sentiments echo that of many analysts and policymakers who increasingly recognize the importance of regional players like India.

However, given India’s adversarial relationship with Pakistan, some Afghans worry that India could use an increased role here as means to challenge its foe. 

India’s role

US Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta recently called on India to take on a bigger role in helping Afghanistan. Mr. Panetta’s encouragement seemed almost unnecessary, however, given many of the commitments India has already made.

India signed a strategic partnership with Afghanistan in October. The south Asian nation did not commit any troops to help fight in Afghanistan, but the agreement has committed India to help train Afghan security forces.

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