Dr Singh reaches his 'second home'
"Welcome to your second home". This is how President Hamid Karzai welcomed Prime Minister Manmohan Singh in Kabul on Thursday, with the latter responding by assuring the Afghan leader that India will stand with the country through "thick and thin".
Dr Singh, who arrived earlier on a two-day visit to the Afghan capital, was given a ceremonial reception by the Afghan police, the army and the air force in the grand presidential palace 'The Arg'.
"This is a tremendous honour for the Afghan people to welcome His Excellency Dr Manmohan Singh, prime minister of India, to second home Afghanistan," said Karzai while welcoming Dr Singh.
Image: Prime Minister Manmohan Singh arrives at Kabul airport in Afghanistan
'India and Afghanistan are partners in progress'
The prime minister, in turn, described India and Afghanistan as 'partners in progress'.
"It is always a great honour and privilege to visit you. That you have invited me to visit is an honour to entire people of India," he said.
"India and Afghanistan are partners in progress and we will stand by you through thick and thin, and we reaffirm our solidarity with the people and government of Afghanistan," he told the Afghan president at the reception at the palace.
The Afghan President also hosted a banquet in honour of the prime minister.
The presidential palace, known as the 'The Arg', houses the president's office, his residence, and the office of the Afghan national security adviser.
Image: Prime Minister Manmohan Singh being welcomed on his arrival at Kabul airport in Afghanistan
Dr Singh, Karzai to hold talks
The presidential complex also houses the home of Afghanistan's last king Zahir Shah, where Dr Singh is staying.
Dr Singh is the first foreign head of government for whom the late king Zahir Shah's home has been thrown open.
Dr Singh is being accompanied by National Security Adviser Shivshankar Menon, Foreign Secretary Nirupama Rao, Prime Minister's special envoy to Afghanistan Satinder Lamba and other senior officials. This is his first visit in six years.
Dr Singh will hold bilateral talks with Karzai during which he will discuss terrorism, regional development and ways to step up India's assistance to the war-torn country.
Image: Dr Singh being welcomed on his arrival at Kabul airport in Afghanistan
PM, Karzai to discuss Osama's killing
The Afghan President's office said the consequences of Al Qaeda Osama bin Laden's death would be a key topic discussed by Dr Singh and Karzai.
"Since it is a new issue, it is on the agenda," spokesman Siamak Herawi said.
While India is carrying out various developmental projects in Afghanistan, security still remains a big concern for Indian interests and other establishments.
Indian government sources pointed out that several Indian private companies have shown interest in iron ore mining. The Afghanistan government has also conveyed that it welcomes their participation and it will do its best to provide security.
Image: Prime Minister Manmohan Singh with Afghanistan President Hamid Karzai at a ceremonial reception
Security beefed up in Kabul
A thick security cover was thrown in and around the Afghan capital for Dr Singh's visit with hundreds of security officials keeping a hawk-eye vigil at the airport as well as the hill tops surrounding it.
Over 1,200 Afghan security personnel guarded the Kabul International airport when Dr Singh flew in here to begin his two-day visit to Afghanistan. Scores of gun toting personnel also kept a watch at the airport from their positions at the adjacent hill top areas.
Sources said the hill tops were manned by Afghan forces and the International Security Assistance Force while the air cover was provided by United States forces when the prime minister's special flight landed.
Image: Dr Singh inspecting the Guard of Honour with President of Afghanistan Hamid Karzai
Dr Singh reaches his 'second home'
Dr Singh was taken by a chopper to the Presidential Palace for the ceremonial reception ahead of bilateral talks with Afghan President Hamid Karzai.
Dr Singh's personal security is being taken care of by the Special Protection Group, which has sent a huge team to the Afghan capital.
Ahead of the visit, the government kept details of the prime minister's schedule restricted due to security concerns, heightened due to the killing of Al Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden during a covert US operation inside Pakistan on May 1.
Image: Dr Singh with Afghanistan President Hamid Karzai