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Afghan, Indian Leaders Vow to Fight Terrorism

  • Anjana Pasricha

Afghanistan and India have called for strong regional efforts to fight terrorism. The call came as Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh visited the Afghan capital in a bid to strengthen ties with Afghanistan.

At a joint news conference with the Indian prime minister, Afghan President Hamid Karzai said there must be regional cooperation to stamp out terrorism.

"India, Pakistan, Afghanistan in the region need to join hands and work very strongly for the safety and security of people around us," he said.

Mr. Karzai also said peace between India and Pakistan is vital for the region, and expressed hope that Pakistan will open a trade route through its territory to allow goods from India to reach Afghanistan.

In his meeting with Mr. Karzai, the Indian prime minister underlined New Delhi's strong commitment to helping Afghanistan strengthen its democracy and economy. Mr. Singh said a joint statement signed Sunday emphasizes this point.

"The statement reiterates our shared belief that the emergence of a moderate, democratic and prosperous Afghanistan is essential for peace and stability in the region as a whole," he said.

Mr. Singh's visit to Afghanistan aims at consolidating ties with Kabul, where India lost influence to rival Pakistan after the 1980s. Afghanistan has strategic importance for New Delhi in two ways: It has a crucial role to play in the fight against Islamic militancy, of which India says it is a victim. It also serves as a gateway to Central Asia, from where India wants to secure gas and oil.

The Indian prime minister is carrying a fresh aid package of $50 million for Afghanistan, most of it for small development projects. This comes on top of $500 million that India has already pledged to the war-torn country. Much of it is going into building infrastructure, such as roads and hospitals.

Meanwhile, Mr. Karzai said Afghans are taking a strong interest in parliamentary elections to be held next month, and expressed confidence that they will be successful.

"We are very sure the elections will take place peacefully," he said. "There will be threats, there will be terrorist activity, but that will not deter the Afghan people from participating."

Mr. Singh ends his visit Monday, after taking part in a ceremony to lay the foundation stone for a new Afghan Parliament to be constructed with Indian assistance.