New Delhi, May 1 (IANS) A fortnight after multiple terror strikes, Afghanistan Tuesday sought India's assistance in equipping its security forces to counter the Taliban in the run-up to the 2014 withdrawal of international forces from the violence-torn country.
Underlining its "unwavering commitment" to the reconstruction of Afghanistan, India, on its part, conveyed that it was open to such ideas and would ensure that the country does not become "a target for extremist forces".
Against the backdrop of continuing volatility in Afghanistan and Pakistan's efforts to control the reconciliation process, External Affairs Minister S.M. Krishna and his Afghan counterpart Zalmai Rassoul held the maiden meeting of the India-Afghanistan Partnership Council here. The council was set up under the landmark strategic partnership agreement sealed in October last year during the visit of Afghan President Hamid Karzai.
Rassoul also called on Prime Minister Manmohan Singh and met Finance Minister Pranab Mukherjee and National Security Adviser Shivshankar Menon. In his interaction, Manmohan Singh "expressed the hope that the strategic partnership between India and Afghanistan would be further strengthened in the critical period ahead", said a joint statement after the talks.
The prime minister reiterated India's unwavering commitment to assisting the government and people of Afghanistan in their endeavour to build a peaceful, stable, democratic and prosperous country, said the statement. Rassoul expressed Afghanistan's "deep appreciation for India's friendship, generous assistance and the crucial role it is playing in the process of stabilisation, reconstruction and economic development of Afghanistan".
With the Taliban upping the ante, expanding security and counter-terror cooperation figured prominently in the talks. Issues relating to the safety of nearly 4,000 Indians living in that country and the security of Indian missions and facilities figured in the discussions.
India also announced that it would hold a meeting of regional investors ahead of the Tokyo conference in July.
"With India, we are not only willing to discuss the training of our officers, but also equipping of security forces," Rassoul said at a joint press conference with Krishna after the talks.
He was responding to a question on whether Afghanistan was seeking military equipment from India for its armed forces.
"Security organisations of the two countries are in discussion," he said.
Admitting that India has been involved in training of some sections of the Afghan National Army, Krishna said India will continue to do so. "We have always reacted positively to any suggestions from Afghanistan," he said when asked whether India would be supplying equipment to Afghan armed forces.
"We will continue to partner the Afghan government to ensure that Afghanistan is a source of regional stability and does not become a target for extremist forces," he stressed.
As the clock ticks away for the withdrawal of the international coalition force in Afghanistan by 2014, the international community is focusing on bolstering the capacity of the Afghan forces.
Rassoul asserted that the Afghan forces will take full responsibility for the security of Afghanistan.
India, which has pledged $2 billion for an array of reconstruction activities in Afghanistan, has stakes in the security of the neighbouring country which Pakistan tends to regard it as its strategic backyard.
Alluding to the April 15 multiple terror attacks in Kabul and other parts of Afghanistan, Krishna commended the Afghan National Security Force for handling the attacks with "confidence" and hoped that they would be able to take care of the country's security after international troops leave in 2014.
"Our security is entwined with the stability and security of Afghanistan," Krishna replied when asked about the fear of Taliban takeover after the exit of western troops in 2014.
He also pitched for "an Afghan-led inclusive and transparent reconciliation process" that sticks to red lines laid down at the earlier conferences in Bonn and Kabul that envisages negotiations with only elements who accept the Afghan constitution and abjure violence.
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