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Karzai Meets With Indian Leaders - 2003-03-06

Afghan President Hamid Karzai has met top Indian leaders, signed a bilateral trade agreement and won a promise of financial assistance from New Delhi to rebuild his war-torn country. The Afghan leader is in the Indian capital on an official visit.

In a meeting with President Karzai, India's prime minister, Atal Behari Vajpayee, pledged a $70 million grant to Afghanistan. Much of the money will be used to build a road that will give the landlocked country easier access to a port in Iran.

This will be in addition to a $100 million grant given by India earlier.

The two countries also signed a preferential trade agreement that will cut tariffs and open up the large Indian market to Afghan goods. Several Indian goods, such as tea and medicines, will also be allowed into Afghanistan without duties.

Indian officials say the Afghan leader's visit to New Delhi strengthens the already close political ties that the two countries established after the overthrow of the Taleban.

Earlier, Mr. Karzai said he is looking for help from India in a variety of areas, such as education, technology and infrastructure development.

New Delhi is already actively involved in Afghanistan's reconstruction, with Indian businesses helping to build roads, bridges and electric power stations across Afghanistan. Mr. Karzai wants more Indian investment in his country, and in a meeting with businessmen, he painted a picture of a country where life is limping back to normalcy.

"We have hotels coming up. The highways of the country are being reconstructed," he said. "There are traffic jams in Kabul now, it's good and its bad that we have traffic jams, but we have them now as a sign of prosperity."

Indian Foreign Ministry Spokesman Navtej Sarna says India will also continue to cooperate with Afghanistan in a variety of areas that range from training its police forces, to assistance in writing a new constitution for the country.

"The other areas, which come up for discussion were training of police forces, cooperation in building up the Afghan national army, building up civil services, and constitution-building as well as in the electoral processes," he said.

On Wednesday, India donated 57 buses to Afghanistan. It had given 130 buses earlier. The vehicles are being used to establish a public transport system. On Friday, India will hand over the second of three Airbus jets pledged to Afghanistan's state-owned Ariana airlines. Meanwhile, Mr. Karzai appealed to the international community to give assistance to Afghanistan directly through his administration. At the moment, most of the aid flows into the country through international agencies such as the United Nations.