Afghan President Hamid Karzai began a two-day visit to India on Tuesday that could boost the two countries' economic ties and lead to an agreement for India to train police, in a trip likely to irk Pakistan as tension grows in the region.
India is one of Afghanistan's biggest bilateral donors, having pledged about $2 billion since the 2001 U.S. led-invasion, for projects from the construction of highways to the building of the Afghan parliament.
Indian Foreign Minister S.M Krishna said on Tuesday a strategic partnership agreement would be signed, a formal tightening of links that could spark concerns in Pakistan that India is increasingly competing for influence in Afghanistan.
The agreement would be one of several being negotiated by Kabul, including one with the United States, that are part of an Afghan bid for greater security as NATO troops head home.
India wants to ensure that a withdrawal of U.S. troops by 2014 does not lead to a civil war that spreads Islamic militancy across borders. At the same time, it knows its traditional foe Pakistan has far greater influence in Afghanistan.
Without a land border with Afghanistan and dependent on Pakistan for any overland trade, India knows it influence is limited.
"India will want to play its part in keeping Afghanistan stable, but it is focusing mainly on economic ties," said C. Raja Mohan, senior fellow at New Delhi's Center for Policy Research. "It does not does not see itself as a counterbalance to Pakistan. It knows that Pakistan is setting the terms there."
Karzai may also be wary of upsetting Pakistan, a country crucial for forging any peace deal with the Taliban.
"Karzai wants to sign a strategic deal with India during his trip but it may hurt his recent call on peace talks with Pakistan," said Ahmad Saidi, a Kabul-based political analyst. "If Afghanistan want to move forward with a peace process, it should attract Pakistan's attention."