India and Pakistan, with their competitive strategic interest in Afghanistan, are keenly watching the war-battered nation’s election this week, the second since the Taliban were overthrown in 2001.
The front-runner of that vote is incumbent President Hamid Karzai who is facing a stiff challenge from his former Foreign Minister Abdullah Abdullah and former Finance Minister Ashraf Ghani. There are more than two dozen other candidates.
While a successful vote could mean a step toward achieving basic political and military stability in Afghanistan, its outcome holds crucial geopolitical significance for India and Pakistan.
Conventional wisdom is that a victory for Karzai will help India. Karzai has lived and studied in India, cultivated a strong relationship with New Delhi and spoken out angrily against Pakistan, especially during the years it was ruled by Pervez Musharraf.
Abdullah and Ghani too have India connections — while the former lived there, Ghani was once posted in New Delhi with the World Bank.