Afghan President Hamid Karzai signed a strategic partnership with India in a move bound to raise suspicion in Pakistan at a time of shifting alliances in unstable South Asia.
Relations between Afghanistan and Pakistan, which have long been fragile, have soured over accusations that Islamabad has been covertly funding militant groups carrying out attacks in the neighbouring country.
Karzai, speaking at a news conference with Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh in New Delhi, stressed again that “terrorism” was being used “as an instrument of policy against our citizens” in a veiled reference to Pakistan.
The “strategic partnership” sealed with India – the first such pact between Afghanistan and another country – deepens already friendly ties and aims to boost trade, security and cultural links between the countries.
Singh said the deal “creates an institutional framework for our future cooperation,” while adding that separate agreements on energy and mining “add a new dimension to our economic relations.”
He added: “India will stand by the people of Afghanistan as they prepare to assume the responsibility for their governance and security after the withdrawal of international forces in 2014.”
But Indian involvement in Afghanistan is extremely sensitive because of the delicate and often deadly power games in South Asia, with Pakistan vehemently opposed to its arch-foe meddling in what it considers its backyard.
New Delhi, fearful of the return of an Islamist regime in Kabul, has ploughed about $2.0 billion of aid into the country to gain influence, helping fund highways and the new national parliament.