India cautions Karzai against Taliban trap


New Delhi : Prime Minister Manmohan Singh Monday held talks with Afghan President Hamid Karzai and cautioned him against a plan to integrate the Taliban opposed to the emergence of “a strong, independent and pluralistic Afghanistan”.

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Manmohan Singh met Karzai at his 7, Race Course residence and discussed a host of issues impinging directly on peace and stability in Afghanistan.

Backing “an Afghan-led and Afghan-owned” rebuilding of Afghanistan, Manmohan Singh underlined India’s unwavering commitment to continuing reconstruction works in that country and said repeated attacks on Indians would not deter it from carrying on with this process.

“India remains committed to assisting the government and people of Afghanistan in their efforts towards the reconstruction and development of their country,” Manmohan Singh said at a joint press interaction with Karzai, who arrived in India in the morning en route to the South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation (SAARC) summit in Thimphu.

“I conveyed to the president that India is ready to augment its assistance for capacity building and for skills and human resources development to help strengthen public institutions in Afghanistan,” Manmohan Singh said.

India has pledged $1.3 billion for a slew of reconstruction and infrastructure projects in Afghanistan.

When Manmohan Singh raised the issue of the security of over 3,500 Indians engaged in carious projects in that country, Karzai was unequivocal in his support. “President Karzai assured me that (his) government will take all possible measures for the security of Indians in Afghanistan.”

The two leaders discussed the Feb 26, 2010 suicide attack in Kabul that killed seven Indians and agreed that these attacks “were the handiwork of those who do not wish to see the emergence of a strong, independent and pluralistic Afghanistan”.

Both India and Afghanistan suspect the hand of the Taliban and the Pakistan-based Lashkar-e-Taiba in the attack.

“We discussed the issue of terrorism, which threatens our region,” said Manmohan Singh, adding that he conveyed to Karzai that “the perpetrators of such attacks will not succeed in undermining India’s commitment to assist the Afghan people”.

The prime minister also conveyed India’s concerns over a plan, backed at the Jan 28 London conference, to reintegrate the so-called moderate Taliban in the Afghan political mainstream.

In his talks with US President Barack Obama in Washington a fortnight ago, Manmohan Singh had expressed India’s unease over any reconciliation or power-sharing deal with the Taliban in Afghanistan.

India fears such a move could lead to an increased influence of Pakistan in the affairs of Afghanistan.

Manmohan Singh was also unstinting in his praise of the India-friendly Karzai, expressing “deep admiration for his courageous leadership in difficult times”.

He conveyed India’s “support to the government and people of Afghanistan as they build a strong, peaceful, democratic and prosperous Afghanistan”.

“India believes that this process should be led and owned by the Afghan people,” he said.

Karzai arrived here on a two-day visit in the morning. He will leave for the Bhutanese capital Thimphu Tuesday to participate in the 16th summit meeting of the (SAARC).