What made US Secretary of State John Kerry say that India could play a "central role" in Afghanistan's elections next year, as he warned of potential challenges the war-torn nation would face once the Western forces had withdrawn, is not known. He went on to say that the world's largest democracy could help the Afghan government improve its electoral system and create a credible framework to settle disputes.
Mr Kerry’s statement has been received in Islamabad with surprise and dismay especially as he had earlier struck visit to Pakistan out of his current itinerary for reasons best known to him or the State Department. Of late, New Delhi and Washington have adopted different strategies on the key security issue of establishing peace in the violence-ravaged Afghanistan. While the US has initiated talks with the Taliban, India has objected to it, saying it could lead to conferring legitimacy to insurgent groups and send a wrong signal to various competing factions.
Afghanistan is scheduled to hold presidential elections on April 5, 2014, when the incumbent Hamid Karzai is due to stand down. The country’s last presidential elections held in 2009 were marred by massive vote-rigging which prompted Karzai’s rival Abdullah Abdullah to pull out of a second round. Indian officials are expected to raise concerns with Kerry, who is on a three-day visit in the country, about the upcoming US withdrawal from Afghanistan. India is also uneasy about the prospect of negotiations with the Taliban, who according to New Delhi, are its sworn enemies. In a video message ahead of his visit, Kerry said President Barack Obama’s administration firmly believed that a strong India was in America’s national interests, conveniently forgetting to mention Pakistan which has been a frontline ally in its war against international terrorism that has cost Islamabad dearly in economic terms as well as in terms of human loss.