India will provide more assistance to Afghan defense forces and implement new development projects in the war-torn country.
The announcement came at the first high-level meeting held between the two countries after U.S. President Donald Trump unveiled a new Afghan strategy in which he called on India to step up its role in Afghanistan.
A joint statement issued at the end of a day-long conference between the Afghan and Indian foreign ministers Monday in New Delhi said they have agreed to strengthen security cooperation, and India will extend assistance for the Afghan forces to fight terrorism, organized crime, trafficking of narcotics and money laundering.
Afghanistan has long pressed for greater Indian assistance in defense supplies and capacity building as it struggles to fight Taliban insurgents who have taken swathes of territory.
Although India provides economic aid to Kabul, it has been more measured in giving military assistance, wary that Pakistan has resisted a greater role for India in Afghanistan. India trains Afghan soldiers in its military academy and has supplied attack helicopters.
The two countries also said they would cooperate in overcoming challenges posed by Islamic terror groups. Both India and Afghanistan have long accused Pakistan of sheltering terror groups that mount attacks in their countries.
“We remain united in trying to overcome the challenges posed by cross-border terrorism and safe haven and sanctuaries to both our countries,” said Indian’s foreign minister, Sushma Swaraj.
At the same time, the Afghan minister tried to allay fears the growing partnership between the two countries was aimed at Pakistan.
Saying that current regional trends bring India and Afghanistan “more closer than ever,” Afghan Foreign Minister Salahuddin Rabbani said their friendship does not mean hostility with others in the neighborhood. “Such rationale has never had any room in our foreign policy. Unlike others, Afghanistan has hardly sought security in the insecurity of others.”
Foreign Minister Swaraj said that New Delhi would undertake 116 new “high impact” development projects focused on socio-economic and infrastructure development in 31 provinces of Afghanistan.
The new projects would include a dam and drinking water supply project for Kabul, a low-cost housing project for refugees, and a polyclinic in Mazar-e Sharif. New Delhi also said it will step up connectivity projects between the two countries — which remains a key challenge in the landlocked country — and start sending wheat shipments in the coming weeks.
India already has a $2 billion economic cooperation program in the country that includes building roads and hospitals.
New Delhi had welcomed Trump’s new strategy in Afghanistan, in which he said that “we want them to help us more with Afghanistan, especially in the area of economic assistance and development,” and called on Pakistan to eliminate militant sanctuaries.
On Monday, Swaraj called India’s relationship with Afghanistan “an article of faith.”