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From instability to opportunity

Afghanistan’s large transitions promise to rearrange equations in the region

Hamid Karzai’s visit to India comes at a time when tough choices willo have to be made regarding engagement with Afghanistan. India has played a positive role in promoting economic interaction with Afghanistan, both bilaterally and under the auspices of the Heart of Asia grouping of regional countries. It has provided substantial development assistance, investing in a large number of small projects and a few large-scale infrastructure projects. And it has provided some training to the Afghan army.

At the same time, policymakers in India, as elsewhere, are concerned about Afghanistan’s trajectory from 2014, when Western forces are reduced and elections are held. While both India and China have won substantial tenders for mining operations in Afghanistan, they have been slower to develop them. Yet, Afghanistan’s future risks becoming a self-fulfilling prophecy; if it is to be a success, those Indian and Chinese firms need to be developing their mines to ensure economic stability. (Despite concerns over a recent Chinese incursion into Ladakh, the recent visit of Chinese premier Li Keqiang had a positive outcome, with both countries promising to work together on Afghanistan). Preventing the worst case scenario — the fragmentation of Afghanistan and its military — requires ongoing and deepening engagement from its neighbours.

While the timing of Karzai’s reported request for arms may appear suboptimal (given the recent election of Nawaz Sharif in Pakistan with a pledge to boost ties with India), it also reflects a recognition on the Afghan side that India needs to continue its investment in Afghanistan. Time is running out for Karzai, who has reiterated that he has no intention of remaining in power beyond 2014. If he is to leave a positive legacy, he will have to cajole India into playing a positive role, rather than waiting to see what transpires.

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