NEW DELHI- India has signed an agreement under which it will pay Russia to supply arms and equipment to the Afghan military as foreign combat troops prepare to leave the country, in a move that risks infuriating Pakistan.
Under the deal, smaller arms such as light artillery and mortars will be sourced from Russia and moved to Afghanistan. But it could eventually involve the transfer of heavy artillery, tanks and even combat helicopters that the Afghans have been asking India for since last year.
India has already been training military officers from Afghanistan, hosted a 60-member Special Forces group last year in the deserts of Rajasthan and supplied equipment such as combat vehicles and field medical support facilities.
China, another big player in the region which borders Afghanistan via a small, remote strip of land, is preparing for a more robust role in Afghanistan, also concerned that the withdrawal of NATO troops will leave a hotbed of militancy on its doorstep.
Like China, India is unlikely to put boots on the ground to reinforce its strategy in Afghanistan.
"We can't commit troops on the ground, we can't give them the military equipment that they have been asking us for, for all sorts of reasons including the lack of surplus stocks," said an Indian foreign ministry official, declining to be named because of the sensitivity of the issue.
"Involving a third party is the next best option," the official said, referring to plans to source military supplies from Russia for Afghan forces.
India's neighbour and rival Pakistan is likely to be angered by any move to help arm Afghan forces, even if indirectly. Pakistan shares a long border with Afghanistan and has traditionally exerted considerable influence on Kabul.
But under Karzai, and since the ouster of the Islamist Taliban movement in 2001, relations have deteriorated amid accusations that Pakistan has failed to stop militants crossing into Afghanistan and launching frequent, deadly attacks.
Asked about India's plans to supply Russian arms to Afghanistan, Pakistani foreign ministry spokeswoman Tasnim Aslam said: "I don't have any confirmation, so it would be premature to comment on it."