Ashish Kumar Sen in Washington DC
US President Barack Obama’s administration -- frustrated by Afghan President Hamid Karzai’s reluctance to sign a security agreement that would keep US troops in Afghanistan beyond 2014 -- has asked India to lean on the Afghan President to initial the pact.
The Obama administration senses an opportunity for this matter to be raised when Prime Minister Manmohan Singh meets Karzai in New Delhi on Friday.
“The United States did tell us that: President Karzai is coming. Perhaps it is a good idea to convey that it would be good to finalise this (US-Afghan Bilateral Security Agreement),” an Indian official said on the condition of anonymity.
The request was conveyed to Indian Foreign Secretary Sujatha Singh who wrapped up three days of meetings in Washington on Wednesday. Sujatha met senior officials at the State Department, the Pentagon and top lawmakers on Capitol Hill. US Secretary of State John F Kerry dropped in on Sujatha’s meeting with his deputy, William Burns, at the State Department on Tuesday.
US officials have sought the help of Afghanistan’s neighbours to urge Karzai to sign the Bilateral Security Agreement (BSA) that sets the framework for a long-term US military presence in Afghanistan, but is also key to billions of dollars in critical military and civilian aid to Afghanistan.
“India has always welcomed a BSA between the United States and Afghanistan, without getting into the details as to what it is in its present form. That is something that is for Afghanistan to decide and for it to come to an understanding with the United States,” the Indian official said.
“In our interactions with our foreign partners … we say it would be a good idea. We say, ‘Yes, we think it would be good for Afghanistan to sign this agreement,’” the Indian official added.
A loya jirga in Kabul in November approved the BSA and asked Karzai to sign it by the end of the year. But Karzai has refused to do so, while setting new conditions for the US.
James Dobbins, the US special representative for Afghanistan and Pakistan, told members of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee on Tuesday that Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, as well as the leaders of Russia, China and Pakistan, have all personally urged Karzai to sign the BSA.
“And there is ... overwhelming support within the population (for the BSA). And I’m hopeful that over time that will begin to have an effect along with whatever advice he gets from friendly neighbours of whom, for instance, his upcoming visit to India could, I think, be quite influential because he highly respects and has good relations with the Indian Government,” Dobbins said.
The Obama administration has kept open the option of withdrawing all US troops from Afghanistan by the end of 2014. US officials mentioned this so-called zero option in their discussions with Sujatha Singh and her delegation in Washington.
On a visit to Kabul in November, US National Security Adviser Susan Rice told Karzai that the US would have no choice but to start planning for a post-2014 future in which there would be no US or NATO troops in Afghanistan. Karzai, however, appears willing to wager that the Obama administration would not make good on its threat.
In 2011, Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki’s refusal to sign a bilateral security agreement with the Obama administration led the US to pull out all its troops in December that year.
While in India, Karzai is expected to follow up on a wish list he presented to New Delhi in May for military hardware, including helicopters, tanks and artillery.
India has invested $2 billion in aid and reconstruction in Afghanistan. It has also trained Afghan military officers. However, New Delhi has stopped short of selling weapons to Afghanistan out of concern that such transfers would provoke Pakistan.
The Indian official who spoke on the condition of anonymity said a decision on Karzai’s wishlist would be made sometime this week.
Ignoring most voices
The Bilateral Security Agreement (BSA) sets the framework for a long-term US military presence in Afghanistan
PM Manmohan Singh will meet Karzai in New Delhi on Friday
Manmohan Singh and leaders of Russia, China and Pakistan have reportedly urged Karzai to sign the BSA
A loya jirga in Kabul in November approved the BSA and asked Karzai to sign it by the end of the year
But Karzai has refused to do so, while setting new conditions for the US
India seeks access to Headley
WASHINGTON: India has sought access to LeT operative David Headley, the Mumbai terror attack convict now lodged in a US prison, as it insisted on bringing to justice the perpetrators of the 26/11 assault. Foreign Secretary Sujatha Singh, who concluded her four- day US trip during which she met top American officials, strongly raised the issue of access to 52-year-old Headley by Indian intelligence agencies, sources said. Remaining non-committal, the US officials said that they were working on it. — PTI