India Befriends Afghanistan, Irking Pakistan With $1.2 Billion in Pledged Aid, New Delhi Hopes to Help Build a Country That Is 'Stable, Democratic, Multiethnic' By PETER WONACOTT KABUL -- After shunning Afghanistan during the Taliban regime, India has become a major donor and new friend to the country's democratic government -- even if its growing presence here riles archrival Pakistan. From wells and toilets to power plants and satellite transmitters, India is seeding Afghanistan with a vast array of projects. The $1.2 billion in pledged assistance includes projects both vital to Afghanistan's economy, such as a completed road link to Iran's border, and symbolic of its democratic aspirations, such as the construction of a new parliament building in Kabul. The Indian government is also paying to bring scores of bureaucrats to India, as it cultivates a new generation of Afghan officialdom. India's aid has elevated it to Afghanistan's top tier of donors. In terms of pledged donations through 2013, India now ranks fifth behind the U.S., U.K., Japan and Canada, according to the Afghanistan government. Pakistan doesn't rank in the top 10. Afghanistan is now the second-largest recipient of Indian aid after Bhutan. "We are here for the same reason the U.S. and others are here -- to see a stable, democratic, multiethnic Afghanistan," Indian Ambassador to Afghanistan Jayant Prasad said in an interview. Such a future for Afghanistan is hardly assured, as the run-up to Thursday's presidential election shows. On Tuesday, a pair of mortar shells hit near the presidential palace in Kabul while Taliban insurgents attacked polling stations across the country, as part of wave of violence aimed at preventing people from casting ballots in the election. Despite backing the Taliban in the past, Pakistan doesn't want to see an anarchic Afghanistan, say Pakistani security analysts. "Pakistan is doing nothing to thwart the elections in Afghanistan and everything to help Afghanistan stabilize and have a truly representative government," says Gen. Jehangir Karamat, Pakistan's former ambassador to the U.S. and a retired army chief. Yet India's largess has stirred concern in Pakistan, a country situated between Afghanistan and India that has seen its influence in Afghanistan wane following the collapse of the Taliban regime. At the heart of the tensions is the shared fear that Afghanistan could be used by one to destabilize the other. "We recognize that Afghanistan needs development assistance from every possible source to address the daunting challenges it is facing. We have no issue with that," says Pakistani foreign-ministry spokesman Abdul Basit. "What Pakistan is looking for is strict adherence to the principle of noninterference." India is seeding Afghanistan with a vast array of projects such as a completed road link to Iran's border and the construction of a new parliament building in Kabul. A view of the city, above. The two countries have sparred repeatedly about each other's activities in Afghanistan. Indian officials say their Pakistani counterparts have claimed that there are more than the official four Indian consulates in Afghanistan, and that they support an extensive Indian spy network. For years, Pakistan refused to allow overland shipment of fortified wheat biscuits from India to feed two million Afghan schoolchildren. India instead had to ship the biscuits through Iran, driving up costs for the program. The World Food Program, which administers the shipments, said the Pakistan government gave its approval for overland shipment in 2008 -- six years after the first delivery from India. "Why did it take six years ... is something that WFP cannot answer," a spokesman for the aid organization said. "However, we are indeed thankful to the government of Pakistan for allowing transit for the fortified biscuits." Mr. Basit, the foreign-ministry spokesman, didn't respond to a question about the Indian food assistance. India's aid has extended well beyond physical infrastructure to the training of accountants and economists. For a nation devastated by decades of war, these soft skills fill a hole, says Noorullah Delawari, Afghanistan's former central-bank governor and now head of Afghanistan Investment Support Agency, an organization that promotes private enterprise. "The country shut down for 20 years," he said. "We stopped producing educated people to run our businesses and government offices." Some believe there is room for cooperation between India and Pakistan in Afghanistan since both countries share an abiding interest in its stability. "The opportunity is there," says Gen. Karamat, "if we can get out of the straitjacket of the past." —Matthew Rosenberg contributed to this article.