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India, US announce trilateral dialogue with Afghanistan

India signed on to a trilateral dialogue with the US and Afghanistan on Wednesday to help Kabul assume greater responsibility for governance, development and security.

world Updated: Jun 17, 2012 19:53 IST
Yashwant Raj
Yashwant Raj
Hindustan Times

India signed on to a trilateral dialogue with the US and Afghanistan on Wednesday to help Kabul assume greater responsibility for governance, development and security.

Both India and the US separately have strategic agreements with Afghanistan. They now seek a three-way consultation process to coordinate and cooperate to help Afghanistan.

"They intend to explore opportunities to work together to promote Afghanistan's development, including in areas such as agriculture, mining, energy, capacity building and infrastructure," said a joint statement issued by India and the US at the conclusion of the third strategic dialogue on Wednesday.

When asked if security could form a part of the trilateral dialogue, external affairs minister S M Krishna said, "security would certainly form an important segment."

But he then corrected himself to say -- reading from a note slipped to him by an official on his delegation -- the trilateral dialogue was about "peace and stability" in Afghanistan.

That was a curious contortion as India has already committed itself to Afghanistan's security in the strategic agreement it signed with Kabul in October 2011.

India will assist "as mutually determined, in the training, equipping and capacity building programmes for the Afghan National Security Forces", the 2011 agreement said.

Indian officials said the exact framework and frequency of the dialogue has not yet been worked out. "Those things will follow -- today was just the announcement," one official said.

But it's quite clear that as the US prepares to leave Afghanistan starting 2013, it has been seen trying to encourage regional partners to share some of its erstwhile load and responsibility.

Turkey, for one, hosted a conference of Afghanistan's immediate neighbours in November 2011. India attended it in a minor victory after being forced out by Pakistan in 2010.

India is hosting a conference -- backed by the US, its officials have let it be known -- later this month to attract investments into Afghanistan.

New Delhi has a stake in Afghanistan and believes while the US is an "exiting power", India is not. It's seeking a larger role for itself there, irrespective of US plans for it.

The two countries also referred to Pakistan's role in Afghanistan but only to underscore its support for terrorists, a sore point with both New Delhi and Washington.

"They reiterated that success in Afghanistan and regional and global security require elimination of safe havens and infrastructure for terrorism and violent extremism in Afghanistan and Pakistan," said the joint statement.

Defense secretary Panetta has said the US was running out of patience over Pakistan's unwillingness to go after terrorists based on its soil, specially the Haqqani network.

The growing convergence on Afghanistan was cited by Indian officials as evidence of a maturing relationship that Secretary of state Hillary Clinton spoke about in her remarks.

"Today we are seeing something new," Clinton said ahead of the talks on Wednesday, adding, "The strategic fundamentals of our relationship are pushing our two countries' interests into closer convergence."

"By strategic fundamentals I mean not just our shared democratic values, but also our economic imperatives and our diplomatic and security priorities."

Afghanistan being one of them.

First Published: Jun 14, 2012 18:10 IST