Sushma Swaraj arrives in Afghanistan to improve strategic ties

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Kabul, Sep 10: Seeking to enhance strategic cooperation and help Afghanistan deal with key challenges of security and stability, External Affairs Minister Sushma Swaraj arrived here today on a crucial visit as the trouble- torn country approaches the first democratic transition of power after fall of the Taliban in 2001.

Swaraj's visit also assumes significance as it comes amid rising fears of the reemergence of the Taliban and other al-Qaeda linked elements in the country following withdrwal of NATO forces by end of the year. Afghanistan also awaits eagerly the result of the disputed second round of the presidential election held on June 14. An audit of votes of the election has already been completed and results may be announced in the next few days.

Former Foreign Minister Abdullah Abdullah and former Finance Minister Ashraf Ghani were in a tight race in the polls and the winner will succeed incumbent President Hamid Karzai who has been in power for nearly 13 years.

In her first visit to the country as External Affairs Minister, Swaraj will hold talks with Karzai on a number of crucial bilateral and regional issues including further enhancing defence and security assistance from India. Afghanistan has been pressing India for supplying military hardware to strengthen its security set up in view of drawdown of NATO forces.

Karzai has already given a "wish-list" to India. After a visit to New Delhi in December last year, Karzai had expressed satisfaction over India's response to his demand for stepping up military aid and said the "facts" on such supplies were much better than "what is known".

Asked whether NDA government will review policy towards Afghanistan, Swaraj said there was no question of any change in it and asserted that India will continue to help the country in its reconstruction. India has invested USD two billion in aid and reconstruction and trained scores of Afghan officers but has been careful in supply of arms and military hardware for fear of provoking Pakistan as well as armed groups in Afghanistan. 

PTI

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