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India Begins to Re-establish Diplomatic Presence in Afghanistan


India has taken the first steps to re-establish a diplomatic presence in Afghanistan. A diplomatic mission visited the war torn country's capital Kabul on Thursday.

A team of Indian foreign and defense ministry officials returned to New Delhi Thursday after meeting senior leaders of the Northern Alliance during a brief one day visit to Kabul.

Foreign ministry officials said the officials went to re-establish communication links with Afghanistan, which were cut off when New Delhi closed its embassy in 1996 after the Taleban took power. Foreign ministry spokeswoman Nirupama Rao called it "a mission to establish solidarity with the Afghan people."

India has close ties to the Northern Alliance, and recognizes the former president Burhanuddin Rabbani. The recent visit was an effort to renew those ties.

However, New Delhi has said it supports the formation of a broad-based government in Afghanistan that represents all major ethnic groups. The Indian officials say the situation in Kabul appeared calm, and life on the streets seemed normal.

India's special envoy for Afghanistan, Satinder Lambah, who led the delegation, described the visit as "useful". He said the team met Mr. Rabbani. He added Indian doctors are also now helping to treat injured civilians. "It enabled us to meet the Afghan leaders and get a first hand account of the situation in Kabul," he said. "There was a lot of goodwill for India. The liaison office of the government India has been established there. The Indira Gandhi children's hospital which was built with Indian assistance in the past has Indian doctors working and the medicines which had been taken with us are being used with effect from today."

Analysts say New Delhi wants to be in close touch with Afghan factions and leaders likely to play a role in Afghanistan's future administration. The visit is the first step towards opening the Indian embassy in Kabul.

Indian officials said the visit also focused on the reconstruction and rehabilitation needs of the Afghan people. New Delhi has already pledged $100 million in humanitarian assistance to help rebuild Afghanistan.

India's move to re-establish a diplomatic presence in Afghanistan follows similar steps taken by several other countries including Iran and Russia.

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