Afghanistan has asked India to step up supplies of lethal equipment for its military, battered by a resurgent Taliban that has claimed the lives of more than 4,000 soldiers, and led to loss of government control in large swathes of territory. The request, diplomatic sources told The Indian Express, was delivered by Afghanistan’s national security advisor, Hanif Atmar, who visited New Delhi this week.
Atmar, the sources said, has asked for India to consider contributing to a long list of deficits in logistics and strike capacity, including training equipment, air and ground mobility assets, engineering infrastructure and light infantry.
Last week, Russia’s ambassador to Kabul, Alexander Mantytskiy revealed his government had also received a request for “certain types of assistance free of charge”. The request, he said, was “under consideration at almost the final stage”.
Kabul, an Indian government official familiar with the talks said, had also requested China for military assistance. However, he said, Beijing had not committed to help Afghanistan, perhaps because of resistance from Pakistan.
Afghanistan’s search for assistance from old regional allies comes amid declining levels of Western aid to its beleaguered military-a 352,000-strong force, including 157,000 armed police, which the country says is unable to meet demands on it because of chronic problems with mobility and equipment.
The Afghan National Security Force budget, estimated at $5.4 billion, is expected to fall to about $5bn next year because of lower aid. The United States is contributing $4.1bn to the ANSF this year, but has requested only $3.8bn for 2016. United States military assistance to Afghanistan has declined year on year since 2011, when it touched a high of over $10bn.
Afghanistan’s NSA, Indian diplomats said, underlined the Taliban’s threat to the regime, describing its recent occupation of the city of Kunduz as “a disaster”. Forced to commit large numbers of troops to defending cities from attack, he argued, lack of offensive hardware and mobility had limited the army’s ability to stage offensive operations.
India deploys some 325,000 troops-not counting paramilitary forces and central police-in counter-insurgency duties in the 1,01,000 square kilometre Jammu and Kashmir state. Afghanistan has similar numbers for its 662,225 sq km-terrain far harsher, and worse connected by road, than Kashmir.
The United Nations Assistance Mission to Afghanistan assessed that about half of Afghanistan’s districts have a threat level considered high or extreme. In addition, it flagged Taliban threats to key communication axis, like the Kandahar-Kabul highway.
India had promised, in a strategic partnership agreement signed in 2011 to assist in “the training, equipping and capacity-building programmes for [the] Afghan National Security Forces”. Prime Minister Manmohan Singh’s government, however, stalled Afghan requests for military hardware, fearing they could derail its peace negotiations with Pakistan. However, Afghan President Ashraf Ghani’s government had placed the requests on hold after it took office, when it began a policy aimed at persuading Pakistan to bring the Taliban to the negotiating table. Atmar’s request to India comes amid the collapse of the peace bid.