Sushma Swaraj arrives in Afghanistan to improve strategic ties

Sushma Swaraj arrives in Afghanistan to improve strategic ties

Seeking to enhance strategic cooperation and help Afghanistan deal with key challenges of security and stability, External Affairs Minister Sushma Swaraj arrived here today on a crucial visit as the trouble- torn country approaches the first democratic transition of power after fall of the Taliban in 2001.

Swaraj's visit also assumes significance as it comes amid rising fears of the reemergence of the Taliban and other al-Qaeda linked elements in the country following withdrwal of NATO forces by end of the year.

Afghanistan also awaits eagerly the result of the disputed second round of the presidential election held on June 14. An audit of votes of the election has already been completed and results may be announced in the next few days.

Former Foreign Minister Abdullah Abdullah and former Finance Minister Ashraf Ghani were in a tight race in the polls and the winner will succeed incumbent President Hamid Karzai who has been in power for nearly 13 years.

In her first visit to the country as External Affairs Minister, Swaraj will hold talks with Karzai on a number of crucial bilateral and regional issues including further enhancing defence and security assistance from India.

Afghanistan has been pressing India for supplying military hardware to strengthen its security set up in view of drawdown of NATO forces. Karzai has already given a "wish-list" to India.

After a visit to New Delhi in December last year, Karzai had expressed satisfaction over India's response to his demand for stepping up military aid and said the "facts" on such supplies were much better than "what is known".

Asked whether NDA government will review policy towards Afghanistan, Swaraj said there was no question of any change in it and asserted that India will continue to help the country in its reconstruction.

India has invested USD two billion in aid and reconstruction and trained scores of Afghan officers but has been careful in supply of arms and military hardware for fear of provoking Pakistan as well as armed groups in Afghanistan.

Swaraj is also likely to seek better security arrangement for Indian assets in Afghanistan.

The Indian Consulate in Herat province was attacked on this day in May. In August last year, a failed bombing against the Indian Consulate in Jalalabad city near the border with Pakistan killed nine people, including six children. No Indian officials were hurt.

The Indian Embassy in Kabul was attacked twice in 2008 and 2009 that left 75 people dead.

The issue of Afghanistan refusing to sign the Bilateral Security Agreement (BSA) with the US is also likely to figure in talks between Swaraj and Karzai.

Karzai has refused to ink the proposed Afghan-US security pact demanding that the US must put an immediate end to military raids on Afghan homes and demonstrate its commitment to peace talks before he would sign the agreement.

The BSA would provide for stay of nearly 15,000 US forces at nine locations across Afghanistan.

Afghan officials said over 350,000 Afghan forces have taken responsibility of security and they were capable of taking care of the country's security.

Among India's major infrastructure projects in the country include, the highway from Zaranj to Delaram in South-Western Afghanistan which is considered a symbol of India's commitment to reconstruction efforts in the country. India is also constructing the Afghan Parliament building.

India has also taken initiative to develop the Chabahar port in Iran which could act as a major transit point for India to Afghanistan. Chabahar port is strategically crucial as it gives access route to Afghanistan.

The port, which is surrounded by a free trade zone, is vital for transit facility from India to Afghanistan.

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