New Delhi - Afghan President Hamid Karzai was to hold talks with Indian leaders on Friday, with Washington hoping that New Delhi can help persuade him to sign a deal allowing US troops to stay on post-2014.
Karzai was to meet Prime Minister Manmohan Singh and Foreign Minister Salman Khurshid at the start of a visit which will also see him hold talks with business leaders and students in Pune city, before flying out on Sunday.
A frequent visitor to India where he obtained his Masters degree in politics as a young man, Karzai enjoys close ties with New Delhi, which is keen to ensure that the exit of some 75 000 US-led Nato troops at the end of 2014 does not trigger a return to power of the Taliban in Kabul.
India has poured $2bn in reconstruction aid into Afghanistan, and Karzai is expected to plead for further support, including military assistance, in his meetings.
"President Karzai will apprise the Indian leadership of what is going on right now in Afghanistan", Afghanistan's ambassador to New Delhi, Shaida M Abdali, told Indian reporters earlier this week.
Outraged the US
"He will specially discuss the three important issues, Afghanistan's negotiation on the BSA [bilateral security agreement] with the US; the peace process and then the transition process and also to consult what would be the way ahead for us," Abdali was quoted as saying by the Press Trust of India.
Karzai, who is due to stand down after elections next year, initially endorsed the BSA, which would allow 12 000 US troops to stay after 2014 and lays out future rules for foreign troops.
But he later said the agreement could only be signed after the presidential election in April, warning against a Nato presence if it just meant "more bombs and killings".
His stance has outraged US officials and lawmakers, who have threatened a complete pullout if Karzai does not sign by the end of the year.
Testifying before a Senate committee this week, a senior US official said he hoped India could help persuade Karzai to ink the agreement.
"His upcoming visit to India could, I think, be quite influential, because he highly respects and has good relations with the Indian government," said James Dobbins, the US special representative on Afghanistan and Pakistan.
On his last visit to New Delhi in May, Karzai said he had put forward a "wish list" of military assistance he hoped Delhi could deliver.
India's foreign ministry refused to detail what the list contained, but local media reports said it included light and heavy artillery, aircraft, and small arms and ammunition.