ISLAMABAD, PAKISTAN - The leaders of Afghanistan and India have vowed to continue their joint efforts to “overcome terror and extremism” facing the two nations.
Afghan President Ashraf Ghani and Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi reiterated the resolve Monday during a video conference inaugurating the newly-restored Storay (Star) Palace, which is the office of the Afghan president in Kabul.
Lack of proper maintenance and decades of war damaged the nearly century old building, which is seen as a symbol of Afghanistan’s foreign diplomacy. India's government funded the nearly $6-million restoration project.
“Let me assure the people of Afghanistan that in your quest to build a prosperous Afghanistan and to bring peace, security and stability to your society, the 1.25 billion people of India will always be on your side,” Modi told the video audience.
India is funding several infrastructure-related projects in war-ravaged Afghanistan. It has poured around $2 billion into Afghan reconstruction efforts, making it one of the largest donors to the war-ravaged nation.
In June, Afghanistan and India inaugurated the nearly $300-million Salma Friendship Dam in western Herat province. New Delhi also funded the construction of a new Afghan parliament building at a cost of $90-million that Ghani and Modi jointly inaugurated last December.
“Friends, Afghanistan is a close friend. Our societies and people have had age old ties and links. It, therefore, saddens us to see that your proud nation continues to be challenged by externally sponsored instruments and entities of violence and terror,” Modi said in a veiled reference to rival Pakistan.
Afghan leaders allege Pakistani security institutions are covertly supporting the Taliban insurgency to try to retain their influence over affairs of the neighboring country and curtail India’s growing influence in Afghanistan. India also blames Pakistan for being behind terrorist activities on its soil.
Addressing Monday’s ceremony, President Ghani thanked New Delhi for helping in the Afghan reconstructions efforts, saying it has strengthened historical bonds between the two countries.
“We are decisive to show that we are ready to spare no effort in protecting peace, overcome terror and extremism and work for the prosperity and happiness of our nations,” vowed the Afghan president.
“This is not only a victory of two nations, Afghanistan and India, but also a victory of friendship over animosity, a victory of cooperation over sabotage, a victory of building over destruction and a victory of wisdom and foresight over superficiality and fanaticism,” Ghani added.
India’s growing ties with Afghanistan have raised concerns in Pakistan. Officials in Islamabad recently accused New Delhi of using Afghan soil for terrorist attacks, particularly in the southwestern Pakistani province of Baluchistan, which borders Afghanistan. India denies the charges.
India and Afghanistan's relationship expanded under former Afghan president Hamid Karzai, which strained Kabul’s ties with Islamabad.
After assuming office in September, 2014, Ghani took a political gamble by putting distance between Afghanistan and India as a confidence building measure with Pakistan.
But Ghani has publicly complained Pakistan has not reciprocated his overtures, blaming Islamabad for intensified insurgent attacks across Afghanistan.
Pakistan denies Ghani's assertions and says it is working for peace and stability in Afghanistan because it is linked to Pakistani security and stability.