NEW DELHI: The decks have been cleared for India to deliver four MI 25 attack helicopters to Afghanistan this month, signaling a decisive shift in New Delhi’s approach on supplying lethal offensive systems to Kabul.
Until now, India had confined itself only to providing training and non-lethal supplies to Afghanistan, largely due to Pakistan’s sensitivities that were of concern to the Western coalition. Also, New Delhi could never conclusively decide on the risks of such a decision attracting terror attacks against India.
Senior government sources told ET that India has already obtained an inprinciple approval to transfer these helicopters from Russia, which is the original manufacturer of the MI-25s. Russian deputy Prime Minister Dmitry Rogozin who is here on an official visit is expected to convey the formal approval during his official deliberations on Tuesday.
Further, sources said, the government is also actively considering a high-level visit to Afghanistan this month, adding to the urgency of completing the delivery soon. Afghan president Ashraf Ghani has been quite keen on PM Narendra Modi visiting Afghanistan at the earliest.
The configuration of the choppers will be that of an attack helicopter, added sources, indicating that the delivery may happen within the next couple of weeks.
The decision to go ahead with the delivery comes when external affairs minister Sushma Swaraj is headed for Islamabad on Tuesday for the Heart of Asia conference cohosted by both Afghanistan and Pakistan. India’s military relationship with Afghanistan has been a sore point with Pakistan, which has always made it a point to red flag such issues to the US.
Washington has often sent out conflicting signals on this front. While it has wanted India to play an active role to help strengthen the Afghan National Army, it has on many occasions conveyed the need for India to be sensitive to Pakistan’s concerns.
But in 2011, India and Afghanistan entered into an umbrella strategic partnership agreement that gave room for weapons supplies in the future. Yet, India continued to restrict itself largely to cooperation on training military and police personnel. Indian assets in Afghanistan were being targeted quite often, which was always a worrying factor for New Delhi.
One such attack took place at the Indian consulate in Herat just ahead of Modi’s swearing-in ceremony.