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Afghanistan's Karzai gives India military equipment 'wish list'

Afghan President Hamid Karzai speaks during a news conference in Kabul May 4, 2013. REUTERS/Mohammad Ismail
Afghan President Hamid Karzai speaks during a news conference in Kabul May 4, 2013. REUTERS/Mohammad Ismail

By Ross Colvin

NEW DELHI (Reuters) - Afghan President Hamid Karzai said on Wednesday he had given a "wish list" of military equipment to India during a visit this week, presenting a conundrum for New Delhi as it weighs whether arming the Afghan army is in its interests.

India wants to stabilize Afghanistan and is concerned about the resurgence of militant groups after foreign combat troops leave in 2014.

But arming Afghanistan would alarm Pakistan. It takes issue with the influence of its old rival in Afghanistan. India does not want to get drawn into a proxy war with Pakistan, which has ties to the Taliban.

India and Afghanistan signed a strategic partnership agreement in 2011 under which New Delhi agreed to assist in the training and equipping of Afghan security forces.

India has trained Afghan security force personnel in its military academies, but it has provided little military equipment, according to Indian officials. India's Afghan strategy has centered on boosting its influence through economic reconstruction projects.

"We have a wish list that we have put before the government of India," Karzai told reporters, adding that it was up to India to decide how much help it was prepared to give Afghanistan.

Karzai would not say what was on the list, but India's firstpost.com website said it included 105 mm artillery, medium-lift aircraft, bridge-laying equipment and trucks.

The Indian government had no immediate comment on Karzai's statement. Karzai's spokesman said both countries had agreed not to discuss the contents of the shopping list.

An Indian government official said earlier that India had already provided some military equipment to Afghanistan but he declined to give details. He said he was surprised that Afghanistan was speaking openly about a weapons request.

India is not a major weapons exporter, and suffers chronic shortages of defense equipment itself, including artillery.

CONTESTED BORDER

Afghanistan's request for military equipment comes as its relations with Pakistan, which have been difficult for decades, are again at a low.

This month, Pakistan border guards and Afghan police clashed over a contested border area. The Afghan police complained they had been out-gunned and said they wanted heavy artillery and tanks.

Afghan security forces have also made no secret of their desire for an air force.

The clash over their border, which Afghanistan has never officially recognized, raised new tension between Afghanistan and Pakistan.

Afghanistan and its Western allies have or years complained that Pakistan has failed to act against militants taking refuge in Pakistan and launching attacks into Afghanistan from Pakistani refuges.

Pakistan denies helping the Taliban and complains of militants fighting the Pakistani state taking refuge in Afghanistan.

But Karzai did not directly criticize Pakistan on Wednesday.

He said no peace deal was possible in Afghanistan without Pakistan's involvement because of its influence over the Taliban, who are fighting to expel Western forces, topple Karzai's government and establish Islamist rule.

"Pakistan cooperation is key to a politically successful peace process and key to the end of violence in Afghanistan," he said.

He said that at a meeting with Pakistan Prime Minister-elect Nawaz Sharif last year the latter had acknowledged the danger that "terrorism and radicalism" posed to Pakistan.

"I hope the new prime minister will be able to deliver what he so much wishes to achieve," Karzai said.

Sharif has said he aims to boost ties with India.

(Additional reporting by Amie Ferris-Rotman in KABUL; Editing by Robert Birsel)

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