Tuesday, April 24, 2007 (Kabul)
For the first time ever a team from the Indian Army will be training the Afghan National Army (ANA).
The team is heading to Kabul in the next few months. The decision, which has huge strategic implications, will certainly irritate Islamabad.
A greater Indian presence in its backyard will not be taken too kindly but for India it also means making it's presence felt in other countries in central Asia.
The army is shedding its traditional reluctance to get involved in India's extended neighbourhood.
By the end of May an Indian military team will be in Afghanistan to train members of the ANA and in the next six months a similar training group will be deployed in Uzbekistan, top military sources have told NDTV.
The team, comprising 10 to 12 officers from various arms of the army like the infantry and the education corps, will work directly under the command of India's defence attach in Kabul.
Since 2001, several Indian military delegations have visited Afghanistan but this is the first time a full-fledged military team will be stationed there.
The Indian team, which is likely to have at least three women officers, will be based in Kabul.
Besides teaching English to the troops, it will train them in weapon handling, map craft and fundamental battalion procedures.
The decision to send the team to Kabul was taken in February, and on last Friday the annual Army Commanders' conference also approved plans to send a similar team to Uzbekistan.
This decision is in consonance with India's recent forays into central Asian republics.
Although India is one of the largest contributors to UN peacekeeping forces around the world it is for the first time in the past decade that India is getting involved in a non-UN military mission.
But critics think India is taking a huge risk in sending an army team to Kabul.
''This decision will send a wrong signal in the neighbourhood. India can do whatever it wants in reconstruction of war-ravaged Afghanistan but to send even a small training team is fraught with dangers. Pakistan will instigate the Taliban against us and even Iran will not take it kindly,'' said Lt Gen RK Sawhney, Former DGMI.
Despite the obvious pitfalls the Indian army is willing to take a calculated risk.
The contingents going to Afghanistan and Uzbekistan may be small at the moment, but when they do go, it will represent a big change in India's strategic thinking about its neighbourhood.