Pakistan is expected to object to "India’s growing role in Afghanistan" in its key strategic dialogue with the US this week as Islamabad seeks to torpedo New Delhi’s offer to train Afghan forces with a similar offer of their own.
"India’s growing role in Afghanistan was also high on Pakistan’s agenda," said Gen. Athar Abbas, the spokesman for the Pakistani military.
In ongoing talks with Washington, Pakistan’s top officials are raising red flags about India’s presence in Afghanistan, and are aiming to torpedo New Delhi’s offer to train Afghan forces with a similar offer of their own.
Pakistan would be "conveying very clearly" its displeasure with India’s offer to help train the Afghan Army at the behest of American and NATO forces," the New York Times reported.
Citing Pakistani analysts, the American daily noted that Islamabad has made a counteroffer to train the Afghans – "an offer that Pakistan knows is unlikely to be accepted but that it made to pressure Washington to stop the Indian proposal."
Describing the head of the military, Gen. Ashfaq Parvez Kayani as the main negotiator and Foreign Minister, Shah Mahmood Quershi as the nominal head of the delegation, the report highlights the growing power of the military over the civilian government in running the show when it came to battling the Taliban in Afghanistan and Pakistan.
"The talks are expected to help define the relationship between the United States and Pakistan as the war against the Taliban reaches its endgame phase in Afghanistan," the Times said.
"It is in that context that General Kayani’s role in organising the agenda has raised alarm here in Pakistan, a country with a long history of military juntas," it said.
On Monday, Kayani will attend meetings at the Pentagon with the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, Adm. Mike Mullen, and Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates, and will also join talks between Secretary of State Hilary Clinton and Qureshi at the State Department on Wednesday.
"General Kayani is in the driver’s seat," said Rifaat Hussain, a professor of international relations at Islamabad University. "It is unprecedented that an army chief of staff preside over a meeting of federal secretaries."
Hussain also noted that Pakistan will offer to be a moderator in efforts by the Afghanistan government in engaging with some members of the Taliban who have bases inside Pakistan.
"The complexity of the main topics at hand — the eventual American pullout from Afghanistan, and Pakistan’s concerns about India — is expected to make for a tough round of talks," the report said.
US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and her Pakistani counterpart Qureshi chairs the US Pakistani Strategic Dialogue in Washington on March 24.
Last week, during her six-day visit to the United States, India Foreign Secretary Nirupuma Rao noted that India was not backing out of Afghanistan and asked Washington to ensure that the aid that was given to Pakistan was not directed against India.
"The United States fully recognises that India has legitimate interests in Afghanistan. It appreciates the development work we do there," Rao told PTI in New York during her trip. "It appreciates that we are force of stability and moderation in our region.”
The top Indian diplomat also urged American policymakers not to pursue "the good Taliban and bad Taliban" route.