Af-Pak on PM's Kabul agenda

Manmohan, Karzai to discuss fallout of US pullout from Afghanistan

Singh is set to visit Kabul at a time when al-Qaeda chief Osama Bin Laden’s killing by American Navy SEALs in Pakistan’s Abbottabad town on May 2 fuelled speculation about an early exit of the ISAF from Afghanistan.

Concerned over the possibility of a “precipitous withdrawal” of the ISAF from Afgh­anistan, leaving India in an unfriendly neighbourhood dominated by Pakistan, New Delhi has subtly cautioned Washington against such a move, noting that bin Laden’s death did not mean the end of ‘Ladenism’ – or the violent Islamist ideology he espoused – in the region. Besides, it warned the US that the Taliban only had a thin line separating them from the al-Qaeda. India has also been raising its pitch for a “regional approach” on Afg­hanistan.

A thin line

Besides, it is in the process of engaging with Iran, Russia and countries in Central Asia to develop a “regional approach” in Afghanistan. “The quest of the Afghan people for peace, stability and reconciliation needs the full support of all countries in the region and the international community,” Singh said ahead of his departure for the Afghan capital.

The evolving situation in Af-Pak in the aftermath of bin Laden’s death is likely to prominently figure on the agenda of Singh’s meeting with Afghan President Hamid Karzai.

“I look forward to wide ranging discussions with President Hamid Karzai and the Afghan leadership on ways to advance our partnership to a new level in the coming years. We will also exchange views on developments in the region and our common fight against the scourge of terrorism,” Singh said.

While Karzai has visited India at least ten times since 2001, this will be Singh’s second tour of Afghanistan since 2005.

Security requirements

The Prime Minister’s visit was being planned over the past several months, particularly after Karzai came to Delhi last February and renewed his invitation to Singh for a visit to Afghanistan.

However, due to extraordinary security requirements for a high-profile visit to Afghanistan, New Delhi did not formally announce the visit in advance. Though officials spoke to mediapersons on the Prime Minister’s tour to Kabul, they refrained from disclosing too many details related to his departure.

India has been the sixth-largest contributor in Afg­hanistan’s reconstruction, with bilateral assistance programmes worth over $1.5 billion.

New Delhi, however, has been reviewing its role in Afghanistan in the wake of the February 26, 2010, terrorist attack in which seven Indians were killed in Kabul.

The attack came amid an aggressive diplomatic campaign by Pakistan against any Indian role in Afghanistan. Earlier, 10 Indians lost lives in terrorist attacks in Afghanistan between 2008 and 2009.

“If our region has to prosper and move ahead, Afghanistan must succeed in rebuilding itself. Its people have suffered far too long. India’s commitment to assisting the people of Afghanistan is enduring and has weathered many storms,” the Prime Minister said.

Sources said that India would like to know the Karzai government’s views about the evolving situation in the region in the aftermath of the killing of bin Laden. They said India believed that bin Laden’s killing would not fundamentally change the way the al-Qaeda operated in Afghanistan or elsewhere in the world. Neither would it diminish the activities of the Taliban and its allied organisations which find safe haven and sanctuary in Pakistan.

“India and Afghanistan enjoy a deep and abiding relationship that goes back in time and history. We are people of the same region. We cannot remain unaffected by developments in Afghanistan. We take a long-term view of our partnership with Afghanistan,” the Prime Minister said.

In this context, sources said the visit would deliver “tangible” results as India was keen to advance its developmental partnership with Afghanistan to a new level in the coming years.

India’s major projects in Afghanistan include construction of a road from Zaranj to Delaram and the extension of power lines from the country’s northern to central region and to Kabul. Apart from construction of the new parliament building, New Delhi has another major infrastructure project to finish in Afghanistan – the Salma Dam Hydroelectric Plant in Herat.

New Delhi, however,  is now keen to focus on small development projects with quick gestation periods. It has already implemented or has been implementing over 100 such projects across Afghanistan and some more might be announced during Singh’s visit.
Singh might also announce India’s decision to step up its role in capacity building of Afghan government officials as well as the youth and professionals of that country. New Delhi, however, wants to keep its role in training Afghanistan’s police and armed forces a low-key affair.

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