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Natwar meets Karzai in Kabul

By V Mohan Narayan in Kabul
February 15, 2005 13:44 IST
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In the first high-level visit from India to Afghanistan after the recent elections, External Affairs Minister K Natwar Singh today met top Afghan leaders in Kabul to reinforce India's commitment to assist in rebuilding of the war-ravaged country.

Singh, who arrived by a special Indian Air Force plane after initially cancelling his visit due to bad weather, drove straight to Arg Palace for a meeting with President Hamid Karzai before a working lunch with his Afghan counterpart Abdullah Abdullah.

Due to his truncated schedule, Singh has cancelled some of his engagements including his meeting with former Afghan King Zahir Shah. He will be handing over 49 vehicles to Afghan National Army, which are part of the consignment of 300 vehicles India has agreed to provide as part of a total commitment worth $ 400 million towards reconstruction efforts.

The minister will later meet Indian envoys in Kabul, Herat, Jalalabad and Mazhar-e-Sharif to assess the post election scenario.

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Singh decided to travel to Afghanistan after he got a message that weather had cleared at the Kabul airport. Earlier he was planning to cancel the trip and instead fly staight to Islamabad for the three-day Pakistan visit.

Later in the evening, Singh will fly to Islamabad for talks with his Pakistani counterpart Khurshid Mehmood Kasuri during which a "comprehensive" review will be undertaken on the progress made so far in the Composite Dialogue process.

Singh's visit to Afghanistan is aimed at getting an overview from Afghan leaders on what is happening in the region. India holds Afghan President Hamid Karzai as a "special friend" and has assured him all possible assistance in the ongoing rebuilding efforts.

Under the NDA regime, Jaswant Singh had visited Kabul as External Affairs Minister in December 2002 for the installation of the interim government headed by Karzai.

Yashwant Sinha too made a trip to that country after taking over from Jaswant Singh.

Official sources said Singh's trip is aimed at furthr strengthening India's relations with Afghanistan. "The intense engagement in our relations goes back centuries," they noted. New Delhi views the October 9 Presidential elections in Afghanistan as a "major event" and a "historic milestone" in that country's journey towards peace, stability and prosperity.

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V Mohan Narayan in Kabul
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