India committed to Afghanistan in its quest for peaceful, prosperous nation

New Delhi, Aug.24 (ANI): India on Tuesday said that it remains committed to assist the people and Government of Afghanistan in their quest for a peaceful, pluralistic, democratic, and prosperous nation.

Ministry of External Affairs spokesman Vishnu Prakash during a briefing on the visit of Afghanistan Foreign Minister Zalmay Rassuol today informed that since the Bonn Conference in 2001, in accordance with the wishes, preferences and priorities of the Government and people of Afghanistan, India has been extending unstinted support for the reconstruction and development of Afghanistan.

Rassuol arrived this morning in New Delhi for the first standalone official visit at the invitation of his counterpart External Affairs Minister S.M. Krishna.

Briefing journalists about the Afghan Foreign Minister's visit, Vishnu Prakash said that the Foreign Minister Rassoul, had visited India as the National Security Advisor earlier, he had been to India and thus is no stranger to India. This is his first visit as the Foreign Minister except that in April 2010 he did transit through New Delhi on his way to Thimphu for the SAARC Summit.

Krishna and Foreign Minister Rassoul have met several times including on July 20 when the Indian External Affairs Minister had visited Kabul for the Kabul Conference.

Talking about the visiting minister's schedule, the MEA spokesman said that the visiting Minister would be meeting National Security Advisor, and later call on Prime Minister Dr. Manmohan Singh.

"Also, the Afghan Foreign Minister is scheduled to hold delegation-level talks with the External Affairs Minister S.M.Krishna besides he has a number of other engagements during this stay in India. He will leave for Kabul on Thursday, August 26," he added.

Rassoul would be assisted by Ambassador Tarzi of Afghanistan, DG Foreign Affairs Farman, and other officials during his visit.

"S M Krishna would be assisted by the Foreign Secretary, our Ambassador in Kabul, Joint Secretary (PAI) Yash Sinha, and other officials," said Vishnu Prakash.

Mentioning about the Government of India's commitment to assist people of Afghan and their Government, he said: "Despite the heinous attacks by forces inimical to India-Afghanistan friendship on our Embassy in Kabul in July 2008 and again in October 2009 and on Indian interests in February 2010, India remains committed to assisting the people and Government of Afghanistan, in their quest for a peaceful, pluralistic, democratic, and prosperous Afghanistan."

"This approach of India, this assistance of India that is being provided in Afghanistan, is positively reflected in a number of opinion polls conducted by independent agencies where the people of Afghanistan have spoken in very warm terms about what India has been doing," the spokesman added.

Prakash further said both India and Afghanistan share very close and historical relationship, which has been nurtured by the two sides over the centuries.

"People in both countries have strong bonds of affinity and friendship which have remained unaffected by political vicissitudes. India and Afghanistan are committed to deepen and strengthen our strategic partnership and the multifaceted ties which are not only of mutual interest but have been a factor for peace, stability and progress in the region," he said.

The MEA Spokesperson said Afghanistan became a member of SAARC during the SAARC Summit in New Delhi in 2007.

"It has also been a practice for both sides to have regular consultations at high levels to review and give our ties greater momentum," he added.

The spokesman informed that President Karzai after his re-election was on an official visit to New Delhi on the April 26, 2010.

He said the visiting Afghan Foreign Minister has been to India several times.

Vishn Prakash said that the visiting Zalmay Rassuol and Prime Minister Dr. Manmohan Singh have also been meeting on the sidelines of international conferences.

"Similarly our Foreign Ministers, our National Security Advisors, our Foreign Secretaries, other leaders, officials have been engaging each other regularly," he added.

"We are already the sixth largest donor. Our bilateral assistance is close to 1.3 billion dollars. Our projects, which I think an important feature, reach out to the common man in all parts of Afghanistan," said Prakash.

Broadly classifying the Indian assistance into four segments, he said: "One is humanitarian, in which I would include medical assistance and food assistance. You are aware that the Indian Medical Missions have been doing very well in Afghanistan. Last year, in 2009, they treated more than 310,000 people, mostly women and children, free of cost."

"We have been contributing to development of infrastructure including the 218 kilometre Zaranj-Delaram Road that was jointly inaugurated by President Karzai and the External Affairs Minister in January, 2009," said Vishnu Prakash.

"Another unique feature of our assistance has been the small development projects which we have been undertaking. These are quick-gestation, social projects which are identified and executed by local officials across Afghanistan. Some 50 of them have already been undertaken. A similar number are in the pipeline," he added.

The spokesman said India is playing an important role in capacity-building. "Presently, 1350 scholarships, 675 each by ICCR and under the ITEC programme, are being made available annually in different disciplines to Afghanistan for capacity-building."

He said the year 2010 has seen a number of fast-paced developments aimed at bringing about peace, stability and development in Afghanistan, including the London Conference in January, the Peace Jirga held in Kabul in June, and the Kabul Conference for which the External Affairs Minister had gone in July.

Rassoul will fly back to Kabul on August 26. (ANI)

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