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Prime Minister Manmohan Singh to visit Afghanistan on Sunday

August 27, 2005 19:03 IST

Prime Minister Manmohan Singh will undertake a two-day visit to Kabul from Sunday. He will discuss cooperation in various areas, including security, and announce developmental projects worth $50 million for the war-ravaged country.

Dr Singh will be the first Indian prime minister to visit Afghanistan in 29 years. He will hold talks with President Hamid Karzai on bilateral, regional and international issues of mutual concern. He will also meet Afghanistan's former king Zahir Shah.

Shah will lay the foundation stone for Afghan Parliament building in presence of Dr Singh. The parliament house complex is being constructed by India as a symbol of its contribution to strengthening of democracy in the country, which has seen conflicts for decades.

The country is having parliamentary elections on September 18. Congress member of Parliament Rahul Gandhi will accompany Dr Singh.

Dr Singh will also hand over a school fully renovated by India to the Afghan authorities.

New Delhi attaches immense significance to the visit. "This is a very important visit. Afghanistan is an extremely important country for India and the two share close cultural and historical links," Foreign Secretary Shyam Saran said ahead of the visit.

Saran noted that Afghanistan was strategically very important for India and it was ready to give full support, including expanding security cooperation, to help Kabul deal with the "newly-emerging threat" from the remnant Taliban forces based in Pakistan.

"We want Afghanistan to emerge as a democratic, independent, sovereign country, in full mastery of its own destiny… It is in our interest to ensure that Afghanistan does not once again become a kind of centre of extremism or terrorism. Anything that threatens Afghanistan's stability is a matter of concern for us," the foreign secretary said.

Stability of Afghanistan continues to be threatened by activities of "remnant Taliban" operating from Pakistan, he said, adding that India was ready to expand security cooperation if Kabul requested. India has already trained 800 Afghans in policing and supplied 300 trucks for its military use.

Since the Karzai government took over nearly two years back, India has been providing a broad-based support to Afghanistan aimed at its political and economic stabilisation. India is providing assistance worth 500 million dollars to Afghanistan, most of which is focussed on building its infrastructure and social sector, including health and education.

New Delhi is also helping the war-torn country in its efforts to emerge democratically. India has expressed readiness to train the poll staff, if requested, for the upcoming parliamentary elections.

The prime minister will announce fresh assistance in terms of launch of developmental works worth 50 million dollars. These will cover small projects and scholarships. The new projects will focus on local community development.

The foreign secretary said India was keen to help Afghanistan in the reconstruction of its economy, infrastructure and human resources, but denial of transit facilities was a "big constraint".

"Part of the difficulty to reach Afghanistan is that we have to use the circuitous route through Iran as there is no transit facility through Pakistan," he said.

About Pakistan's role in being a bridge between India and Central Asia, he said, "If it wishes to play that role, it is not logical to deny transit". He said Pakistan has this "economic leverage" which it is using.

 India's aid efforts being hampered by Pak

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