Indian Decade

Karzai Calls on Delhi

Afghan President Hamid Karzai values relations with India. But the Taliban still looms over ties.

In late April, hard on the heels of the South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation (SAARC) meeting in Thimpu, Bhutan, President Hamid Karzai of Afghanistan came calling on New Delhi. The press reportage from the meeting with Prime Minister Manmohan Singh doesn’t reveal much of what may have transpired in his meetings with Indian officials. Karzai did reiterate his commitment to ensure the safety and security of Indian workers and aid personnel in Afghanistan. Such reassurance, if only for public relations purposes, was necessary given the wanton killings of seven Indian workers on February 26 in Kabul. The attacks had left the 3,500-odd Indian personnel in Afghanistan both wary and jittery as they had been quite specifically targeted by the Taliban.

The press reports have also indicated that Singh underscored his government’s staunch opposition to the reintegration of any remnants of the Taliban in a future Afghan government. The idea of reconciling with elements of the Taliban had first been aired and then agreed upon at the London Conference on Afghanistan in late January of this year. India, which had paid dearly in both blood and treasure, when the Taliban were in office, quite understandably remains unalterably opposed to any plan that would see their resurgence into the fold of a new regime. Among other matters, the Taliban allowed a host of anti-Indian jihadi groups who were intent on wreaking havoc in Indian-controlled Kashmir to operate with impunity from Afghan soil. They also gave aid and comfort to the hijackers of an Indian Airlines aircraft from Kathmandu to Kandahar on Christmas Eve of 1999. More to the point, they allowed the hijackers to flee scot-free.

Karzai, who is not in the good books of either the United States or major Western aid donors for his seeming inability to tackle rampant corruption, restore a semblance of order and effectively govern, obviously values his relationship with India. However, it’s still not entirely clear if he will fully heed India’s call not to reconcile with segments of the Taliban in an effort to remain in office. The next few months will certainly bear watching.