An Afghan flag is raised during a handover ceremony from the US Army to the Afghan National Army, at Camp Anthonic, in Helmand province, southern Afghanistan in May. (AP)
An Afghan flag is raised during a handover ceremony from the US Army to the Afghan National Army, at Camp Anthonic, in Helmand province, southern Afghanistan in May. (AP)

Afghan army chief’s India visit an opportunity to assess security situation

The visit, though scheduled several months ago, comes at a time when Afghan forces are engaged in fierce fighting to take back districts and key centres captured by the Taliban in a campaign that has coincided with the speedy drawdown of US and NATO forces
UPDATED ON JUL 20, 2021 06:12 PM IST

Afghan army chief Gen Wali Mohammad Ahmadzai’s visit to India next week will provide an opportunity to the two sides to hold consultations on the security situation in Afghanistan against the backdrop of a campaign by the Taliban to capture territory.

The visit, though scheduled several months ago, comes at a time when Afghan forces are engaged in fierce fighting to take back districts and key centres captured by the Taliban in a campaign that has coincided with the speedy drawdown of US and NATO forces.

Ahmadzai’s visit during July 27-30 is expected to provide an opportunity to the two sides to assess the security situation in Afghanistan and to look at ways to enhance military cooperation in areas such as training, people familiar with developments said on condition of anonymity on Tuesday.

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The Afghan side is not expected to raise issues such as military support during the visit, the people said.

Besides holding talks with his Indian counterpart, Gen MM Naravane, Ahmadzai is also expected to meet National Security Adviser Ajit Doval and other top security officials, the people added.

India plays a key role in training Afghan military personnel – some 300 cadets are currently training in the country – and Ahmadzai is expected to travel to Pune to meet some of the cadets. Pune is home to the National Defence Academy and several other military training facilities.

India is also playing a role in the medical treatment of injured Afghan military personnel, with a number of them being treated in hospitals across the country.

Ahmadzai was appointed last month as part of a shake-up of the higher echelons of Afghanistan’s security set-up, during which President Ashraf Ghani also replaced his defence and interior ministers as part of efforts to sharpen the fight against the Taliban. Casualties among Afghan forces have mounted in recent weeks as spread to 28 of the 34 provinces in the country.

In an interview with Tolo News channel after his appointment, Ahmadzai acknowledged shortcomings in protecting remote districts and pledged his priority is to safeguard major cities, border towns and highways from the Taliban. He added the Taliban want to cut supply routes before launching offensives on districts and cities.

For India, a key security concern is the presence in Afghanistan of more than 7,000 Pakistani terrorists from groups such as Lashkar-e-Taiba and Jaish-e-Mohammed. These fighters are fighting alongside the Taliban in many areas.

After years of sticking to a policy of only providing non-lethal support to the Afghan military, India provided four Mi-35 attack helicopters to Afghanistan in 2015-16 and four more Mi-35s, which were refurbished by Belarus under a tripartite agreement, in 2019. India also provided three Cheetah light helicopters to Afghanistan in 2016 and had pledged almost $3 billion for reconstruction and development projects.

The Afghan army chief will also visit India at a time when Afghanistan’s relations with Pakistan have come under fresh strains, especially after the Afghan envoy’s daughter was briefly abducted and assaulted by unidentified men in Islamabad last week. Afghanistan recalled the ambassador and senior diplomats from Pakistan after the incident.

Ghani also criticised Pakistan recently for not preventing the “influx of over 10,000 jihadi fighters from Pakistan and other places in the last month” and pushing the Taliban to join peace talks.

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