India PM In Kabul For Talks After Bin Laden Death

by
Jackson
Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh flew into Afghanistan on Thursday for a two-day visit set to include talks on the regional impact of Osama bin Laden's death and future aid projects.

Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh (L) arrives for a Congress Working Committee (CWC) meeting in New Delhi on May 5, 2011. A meeting of the Congress Working Committee (CWC) was held to condole the death of Arunachal Pradesh Chief Minister Dorjee Khandu.

Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh flew into Afghanistan on Thursday for a two-day visit set to include talks on the regional impact of Osama bin Laden's death and future aid projects.

Singh, on his first visit to Kabul in six years, was to meet President Hamid Karzai as calls grow for a quicker withdrawal of US troops from Afghanistan following the killing of the Al-Qaeda chief.

Any rapid reduction of US presence in Afghanistan would cause India concern, as it fears the country could become dominated by a Taliban-influenced government friendly towards its arch-rival Pakistan.

Singh said that he and Karzai would "exchange views on developments in the region and our common fight against the scourge of terrorism".

"The quest of the Afghan people for peace, stability and reconciliation needs the full support of all countries in the region and the international community," he said in a statement before leaving New Delhi.

After more than two decades without sway in Kabul, India swiftly established diplomatic ties with the new government after the 2001 US-led invasion deposed the extremist Taliban.

India has since committed 1.3 billion dollars to Afghanistan for projects ranging from new roads and electricity lines to constructing a new parliament.

Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh (L) arrives for a Congress Working Committee (CWC) meeting in New Delhi on May 5, 2011. A meeting of the Congress Working Committee (CWC) was held to condole the death of Arunachal Pradesh Chief Minister Dorjee Khandu.But the relationship has raised hackles in Islamabad, where the government and military establishment has long considered Afghanistan its own strategic asset to offset the perceived threat from India in the east.

Analysts say India's tussle with Pakistan for influence in Afghanistan could sharpen as the United States begins cutting troop numbers from July with the aim of all foreign forces exiting the country by the end of 2014.

Both India and Afghanistan have troubled relationships with Pakistan, accusing it of supporting and sheltering militant leaders who orchestrate attacks in the region.

Pakistan has been deeply embarrassed by the May 2 killing of bin Laden by US Special Forces in the garrison city of Abbottabad, just two hours' drive from Islamabad, forced to deny allegations of incompetence and complicity.

Karzai's office said the consequences of bin Laden's death would be a key topic discussed by the leaders on Thursday.

"Since it is a new issue, it is on the agenda," spokesman Siamak Herawi said. "They will hold talks, then a press conference before the president hosts an official banquet this evening."

An Indian government source told AFP that Singh wanted "to hear what President Karzai has to say about" the death of bin Laden.

"Al-Qaeda is obviously of concern to all of us. We hope it (the death of bin Laden) will affect the operations of Al-Qaeda in Afghanistan," he said.

US Major General John Campbell, who commands NATO-led forces in the east, told reporters this week that the death could encourage Afghan insurgents to lay down their weapons and spur a possible peace settlement to end the war.

Karzai has visited India 10 times since 2002, and was educated for a time in the Indian hill station of Shimla. Singh last visited Afghanistan in 2005.

AFP