Ahead of its President Hamid Karzai's visit to New Delhi from May 20, Afghanistan today said it was looking for enhanced defence cooperation with India, from where it was expecting supply of lethal and non-lethal military equipment.
Afghan President Hamid Karzai will visit India on May 20-22 during which he will apprise the Indian leadership of the recent developments in the war-torn country, Afghanistan Ambassador to India Shaida M Abdali told reporters in New Delhi.
The two sides will discuss a range of issues of mutual concern and interest and will discuss cooperation at a "critical time" for Afghanistan, from where NATO combat troops are withdrawing, the envoy said.
The attempt will also be to think ahead with a shared vision, to meet the common challenges and achieve the common goals, Abdali said, adding "It is a critical time for all of us and we need to do more than what we are doing right now."
Asserting that "India is dispositioned to play a leading role in the entire region for peace and economic development," the envoy made a strong pitch for enhanced defence cooperation between the two countries.
"Training is most welcome. Other assistance in small stages is most welcome.....but we would like to go beyond the current trend of co-operation between the two countries in the defence sector," he said.
Asked as to what kind of defence assistance Afghanistan was looking at from India, the Ambassador said, "The partnership agreement does not distinguish between lethal and non-lethal. We have talked about security and defence cooperation, this does not exclude lethal and non-lethal assistance to Afghanistan.
"So, we would like to have both lethal and non-lethal assistance to our defence forces in Afghanistan."
The Afghan envoy also welcomed the recent commitment of upgrading strategically important Chabahar port in Iran which would help India get access to the land-locked and resource- rich countries. An estimated USD 100 million is required for the modernisation of the port.
"We would like to see the conclusion of the agreement on the Chabahar port. We are very happy that this is gathering momentum. We hope that we sign the trilateral trade agreement among India, Afghanistan and Iran as quickly as possible. We are optimistic after Indian minister Salman Khurshid's visit to Iran," the Afghanistan envoy said.
Abdali also noted that 90 per cent of the transition process in Afghanistan was complete and in a few months' time, the entire process will be over.
"But that does not mean that Afghanistan will be totally on its own. Afghanistan will carry on within its institutional capacity but the supporting role will be there from our international allies, more important from the region and from India," he said.
Asserting that India was "critically important" to Afghanistan, he said it needs to be apprised of the situation in Afghanistan.
"Investment in the security of Afghanistan is in India's interest to prevent spillover effects of terrorism on Afghanistan," he said.
"We are happy that India is playing a fundamental role in connecting the region and we would like India to adapt a more result-oriented role," Abdali said.
During the visit, President Karzai will be conferred with an honorary doctorate degree from the Lovely Professional University in Jalandhar and will address the graduating students of the University, the statement said.
"The visit of a head of a state (twice) within six months signifies the importance of the relationship between the two countries...he was here last year in November and again next week that means that the relationship is very strong and very, very deep," Abdali said.
Afghanistan and India signed a comprehensive Strategic Partnership Agreement (SPA) in October 2011. The SPA serves as the foundation of the two nations expanding bilateral relationship in multiple sectors, including security and defence cooperation, as well as cultural and people-to people cooperation.
Abdali said the agreement with India was also the basis of agreements with other countries.
Karzai's visit was an integral part of regular bilateral consultations, reviewing the achievements of the two countries so far and prioritising issues of top interest and concern to the two sides, in light of the impending withdrawal of NATO forces from Afghanistan, he said, asserting that Afghanistan's relationship with India should not be looked from Pakistan angle.
"We are two independent nations and are independent in the pursuit of our common goals," he said.
No use of terrorism as a means, adhering to Afghanistan's constitution and renouncing violence are a prerequisite for the Taliban to join the political process, Abdali said, replying to a question on the possibility of the Taliban joining the mainstream.
Talking about America's role after 2014, the envoy said, "Afghanistan will require assistance for years. We are not concerned about the number of US troops that will stay back post-2014, but with the substance of America's assistance."
"The framework of partnership agreement (with the US) is there. We need their sustainable assistance to the national security forces," he said.
About the role of Russia and China in Afghanistan, the envoy said, the region as a whole is very important.
"Both China and Russia are big powers and we are happy that India is taking the lead in engaging with them," Abdali said.
To a question on regional players, who may bring their rivalries to Afghanistan, the envoy said, "We are looking at the positive side of the engagements."
Coming together can create a win-win situation for the regional countries from a zero-sum game they have been engaged in over the years, he said.
"It is high time for the region to wake up and take up the fate in its own hands," Abdali said.
"We are concerned with the border situation and maintaining of status quo is essential," the envoy said when asked if Afghanistan was concerned over Nawaz Sharif's win and the rise of Imran Khan's party in Kyber Pakhtunkhwa in Pakistan polls, as both were considered close to extremist parties.
"The visit has no relation to any other country," Abdali added.
"We are concerned about the continuance of terrorism as a means. Afghanistan has come out of 12 years of reconstruction.
It will have a different relationship with all nations," Abdali said.
"Biggest challenge for us is security. In the context of partnership agreement with India, we have done a lot. The training of army and police is a necessity. But given the time we are in right now, we are required to go beyond, we are required to sit down and look at the common cause which is self-defence," he said.
"It is critically important that the two countries cooperate on deeper and more substantial issues beyond training," he added.
"We are very happy with the assistance from India in the last few years, but still there is scope to do more for a common cause of a peaceful and secure Afghanistan and a peaceful and secure India beyond 2014," he said.
Asked about Sharif's statement that he will allow transit trade route from Afghanistan to India, the envoy said, "This is exactly what we have desired all these years. We are happy that positive statements have been made in this regard."
"We need to have a conducive environment for trading. We hope this will be realised in future," he said.