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Karzai off to India amid Tensions with Pakistan

Hamid Karzai, Manmohan Singh

KABUL – President Hamid Karzai, heading a high level delegation, on Monday flew to New Delhi for a two-day official visit, his office said, amid escalating tensions between Kabul and Islamabad over this month’s border skirmishes and stalled peace process. Karzai is scheduled to meet his Indian counterpart Pranab Mukherjee, Prime Minister Manmohan Singh and other high Indian officials during the trip, the Presidential Palace in Kabul said in a statement.

Enhancing bilateral relations in various fields, strengthening Afghan civil and military institutions, regional issues and other matters of mutual interests are to be discussed during Karzai’s meetings with Indian officials, the statement said. On his arrival at Chandigarh today, President Karzai will proceed to Jallandhar where he will be accorded with an honorary doctorate at Lovely Professional University during a ceremony to be attended by Mukherjee.

On this visit, Karzai is accompanied by Foreign Minister Dr. Zalmay Rassoul, National Security Advisor Dr. Rangin Dadfar Spanta, Cultural Advisor Zalmay Hewadmal and his chief spokesman Aimal Faizi. On Tuesday, he will meet the Indian President Pranab Mukherjee and discuss with the Indian Prime Minister Dr Manmohan Singh. Dr Singh will host a dinner in his honour.

Karzai is visiting India at a time when the Indian Vice President M Hamid Ansari will be leaving for Uzbekistan to discuss with Uzbek leaders on regional cooperation for maintaining stability and progress in Afghanistan. Afghan officials say Karzai will seek increased military aid from India during his visit and will discuss recent cross-border clashes with Pakistan.

The Times of India in a report said Afghanistan’s ambassador to India had said the country needs India’s help with “equipment and weapons to fight.” The Press Trust of India later quoted a spokesman for New Delhi’s Foreign Ministry as saying the country is ready to meet any such request.

“Yes, we will ask for assistance for the strengthening of our security forces,” Karzai spokesman Aimal Faizi said in a briefing ahead of the trip. He did not comment on the Indian reports. Afghanistan and India signed a strategic partnership agreement in 2011 that has included Indian military training of Afghan security forces.

The relationship between Afghanistan and Pakistan, though always rocky, once again deteriorated over the border skirmishes that sparked angry protests across the country and differing approaches to the peace talks with the Taliban. Anti-Pakistan protests continued as of Sunday since May first when the first border skirmish between security forces of the two countries took place near the Durand Line.

Kabul and Islamabad had said they would support each other with regard to negotiations with the Taliban. However, this has changed and the Afghan foreign ministry recently announced it wanted to conduct the negotiations alone. Foreign Ministry spokesman Janan Musazai accused Islamabad of sabotaging the peace talks and only being interested in furthering its influence in Afghanistan. (PAN)

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