1 Jun 2011 DefenseNews AFP
NEW DELHI - India pledged to help strengthen the capabilities of Afghanistan's security forces after a meeting between the defense ministers of both countries in New Delhi on June 1.
Indian Defence Minister A.K. Antony "conveyed the government of India's willingness to work with the Afghan government in building the capabilities of Afghan security forces," a statement said.
His Afghan counterpart Abdul Rahim Wardak is on a three-day visit to India accompanied by a seven-member team.
Afghan-Indian ties have raised hackles in Islamabad, where the Pakistani government and military establishment has long considered Afghanistan its own strategic asset to offset the perceived threat from India in the east.
India last month pledged $500 million in fresh aid to Afghanistan, raising New Delhi's contribution to $2 billion, to be spent mainly on development projects.
India's military assistance has so far been limited to training Afghanistan's security personnel and investing in small infrastructure projects.
Any greater involvement of Indian forces in Afghanistan would likely face objections from Pakistan, India's regional adversary.
President Hamid Karzai's government has stepped up training of Afghan troops ahead of the scheduled withdrawal of NATO troops by 2014 from the country, where the Islamist Taliban has waged an insurgency since 2001.
U.S.-led international troops are due to start handing over control of security in limited areas to Afghan forces in July.
Wardak said ahead of his talks with Antony that Kabul welcomed Indian security assistance.
"We will welcome any cooperation in the field of training and helping of Afghan national security forces so that they are able to secure and defend the country," he told reporters, according to PTI news agency.
"There is a very genuine interest in strengthening our relations in all sectors including defense," said Wardak, the first top Afghan official to visit India since Osama bin Laden was killed in Pakistan by U.S. troops on May 2.
After more than two decades without influence in Kabul, New Delhi swiftly established ties with Karzai's regime after the 2001 U.S.-led invasion deposed the Taliban, which was allied to Pakistani elements.