India backs Karzai amid his standoff with US

India backs Karzai amid his standoff with US
Amid a standoff between the US and the embattled Afghan President, India today saluted Hamid Karzai's "extraordinary and brave" leadership in nurturing democracy and peace in the war-torn country.

External Affairs Minister Salman Khurshid, in his speech at the inauguration of Afghanistan's first national agriculture university here, backed Karzai and lauded his leadership in the last 12 years.

Khurshid, who arrived here earlier today on a day-long visit, said upcoming elections in the country were a testament to the fact that democracy had taken firm roots.

"These elections are a testament to the fact that democracy has taken firm roots in this country. It is also a testament to your extraordinary and brave leadership over the last 12 years, and the manner in which you have nurtured the plant of democracy in this country," he said.

"Like in India, today no one can predict the eventual election result in Afghanistan. Many of the presidential tickets that will fight elections represent political and democratic alliances between groups that one could never imagine will one day become allies in an electoral battle."

Khurshid, the first External Affairs Minister to visit Kandahar, made the remarks while jointly inaugurating the 'Afghan National Agricultural Sciences and Technology University (ANASTU)' with Karzai.

The varsity, a major capacity-building project backed by India, has been set up on the site of the erstwhile headquarters of the Taliban. India has pledged to invest up to USD 8 million in the project, portions of which are ready while others are being built.

India's development assistance programme for Afghanistan currently stands at USD 2 billion, making it the leading donor nation among all regional countries.

Khurshid's visit took place amid a rift between Karzai and the US, jeopardising their proposed Bilateral Security Agreement that is vital for the limited presence of American forces in Afghanistan after the drawdown this year.

During his visit to Kandahar, Afghanistan's second largest city, Khurshid also called on Karzai.

In his speech, Khurshid extended India's support to the Afghan government's efforts to establish a genuine "Afghan-owned, Afghan-led and Afghan-controlled reconciliation process".

Khurshid hailed the Afghan government's offer to allow members of armed opposition groups, willing to give up terror and abide by the Constitution, to participate as equal citizens in the country's national life.

"It is only the brave and the strong who can offer peace to adversaries. We support your brave efforts," he said.

Khurshid compared the societies of India and Afghanistan and said the strength of the two countries was their heterogeneous character.

"We have always differed from the many armchair 'international experts' on Afghanistan, who say that that the main challenge for Afghanistan's future is its heterogeneous character, its ancient tribal society, and it's many different ethnicities," he said.

"India is also ancient, and is also heterogeneous, and these have always been our strengths."

Khurshid stressed that the main threat to Afghanistan's security and internal stability is terrorism and extremism.

"We too have been facing this threat for many years, and understand the importance in times like these of friends and strategic partners forging the closest of cooperation to defeat this evil scourge," he said.

"I wish to salute the brave men and women of the Afghan National Security Forces who despite the lack of equipment and the shortage of resources continue to win the battle of terrorism," he told the function also attended by Afghan Foreign Minister Zarar Ahmad Osmani and Kandahar Governor Toryalai Wesa.

Khurshid said the university was a project that Prime Minister Manmohan Singh had promised in May 2011 that India would support.

He said for India, a strong, prosperous and economically independent Afghanistan was a strategic priority and a key element of the bilateral Strategic Partnership Agreement.

"We therefore see our participation in this Agriculture University project as an important activity of the India-Afghanistan strategic partnership. We will prioritise our assistance programmes to favour agriculture and agricultural development activities," he said.

Khurshid also referred to 614 agricultural scholarships for Afghan students who are being trained in Indian institutes.

"For developing countries like ours, where the vast majority still remain dependent on land for subsistence and their livelihoods, the agriculture sector has to play the role of a driver of economic growth and development," he said.

Referring to the use of technology in states like Punjab and Maharashtra, he said: "This magic of modern technology is almost always created in Universities like the one that Your Excellency has imagined in Kandahar, and which we are inaugurating today.

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