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Afghan Army chief coming to India with revised wish list

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India and Afghanistan will discuss stepping up defence cooperation when Afghanistan’s Army chief General Qadam Shah Shahim visits New Delhi in late August, officials said, adding Afghanistan was likely to add to its wish list a request for more Mi-25 as well as Mi-35 attack helicopters.

Confirming the visit of General Shahim, Afghanistan’s Ambassador to India Shaida Abdali told The Hindu: “Obviously, the Army Chief will be here to discuss defence cooperation. India has agreed that it will help with some of the other defence equipment that we have requested. It has also agreed to give us more helicopters, so we are looking into other avenues as well, to help Afghanistan in the defence sector.” During the visit, the Afghan Army chief is expected to submit a list of arms and equipment revised from the one that had been handed over by the former Afghan President, Hamid Karzai, in May 2013. However, at the time, India had apprehensions about transferring offensive weaponry and had held off those requests. That changed with the Narendra Modi government’s decision to supply four attack Mi25 helicopters in December last year ahead of Mr. Modi’s visit to Kabul.

“There is a perception [in Afghanistan] that India may not go that far when it comes to Afghanistan’s quest for certain things including defence,” Mr. Abdali said.

“To be frank, at times requests have been delayed for too long, and then ultimately some perception was created that India doesn’t do it [because of] neighbours like Pakistan, and I hope that this perception is addressed by the cooperation between our two governments in various fields, including defence cooperation,” he said.

The need for Afghanistan and India to cooperate despite Pakistan’s misgivings about the relationship is a key theme in a book authored by the Afghan Ambassador, Pakistan-Afghanistan-India: a paradigm shift, which was launched in Delhi recently.

Government sources said no announcement was likely during General Shahim’s visit on the nature of the cooperation, but discussions would be held on the basis of the requests from the Afghan defence forces, “in keeping with our decision to supply helicopters last year.” Diplomatic sources also confirmed that the “wish list” from Kabul would include attack helicopters, utility helicopters, tanks, artillery and ammunition, as well as training for more Afghan forces.

In particular, Kabul wants the Indian Army to send trainers to work with Afghan trainers and “build capacities” at military academies.

Sources said 600-700 of Afghan officers had been trained at Indian academies. “They are the best and doing very well. But we want to build capacities in our country,” the sources added.

Afghanistan is also keen on Indian help in restoring Soviet-era tank and ammunition factories as India operates similar equipment and has the expertise, the sources said. Finally, while arms and equipment are being supplied by various nations in small volumes, their maintenance is an issue. For instance, since 2002 India has supplied 1,000 buses and other vehicles, but most of them are out of use owing to lack of spares and support, an issue that will also be discussed during General Shahim’s visit. (thehindu)