Giving incremental fillip to their cooperation in strategic areas including trade and security, India and Afghanistan today inked a partnership pact amid assertions that the agreement was not "directed against any other State or group of States".
Afghan President Hamid Karzai and Prime Minister Manmohan Singh held "detailed and frank discussions" including on the issue of terrorism, after which Singh said the people of Afghanistan "deserve to live in peace and decide their future themselves without outside interference, coercion and intimidation."
Apart from security cooperation, the two leaders agreed that Afghanistan's economic integration with the Indian economy and South Asia as a whole was in the national interest of the people of Afghanistan and one of the ways to achieve this is to promote closer trade, investment and transit links.
"Based on intensive consultations and deliberations, we have finalized an Agreement on a Strategic Partnership....The Agreement creates an institutional framework for our future cooperation in the fields of political and security cooperation, trade and economic cooperation, capacity building and education, and social, cultural, civil society and people-to-people relations," Singh said.
They also inked two MoUs-- one in the field of mineral exploration and the other for the development of hydrocarbons.
The visit of Karzai, who arrived earlier in the day, comes just days after the assassination of Burhanuddin Rabbani who was heading the peace talks with Taliban.
Disillusioned by Pakistan's attitude and its hobnobbing with the Haqqani terror network, Karzai is also believed to have talked about a renewed strategy for the faltering peace talks.
The agreement, based on mutual understanding and long-term trust between the two sides, envisages the elevation of the multifaceted ties between the two countries to higher levels, both in bilateral field and in international arena, the strategic partnership document said.
The Strategic Partnership between the Sides is based upon the principles of sovereignty, equality and territorial integrity of States, non-interference in their internal affairs, mutual respect and mutual benefit, it said, adding it is "not directed against any other State or group of States."
Appreciating India as the "steadfast friend" of Afghanistan, Karzai said New Delhi does not see his country as "terrorism and violence" but as a country trying to live in peace with its neighbours.
Noting that his discussions with Karzai have once again underlined the importance of a strong and broad-based partnership between India and Afghanistan, Singh said "our cooperation with Afghanistan is an open book. We have civilizational links and we are both here to stay. We have to live and work together in times both good and bad."
Reiterating that India stands by Afghan people in their journey towards capacity-building, reconstruction, development and peace, Singh said "we will do all that is within our means to help Afghanistan. India will stand by the people of Afghanistan as they prepare to assume the responsibility for their governance and security after the withdrawal of international forces in 2014."
Noting that the greatest need today was for Afghan people to have peace and stability and all countries of the region must work to facilitate this, Singh said India will participate in the forthcoming conferences in Istanbul and Bonn to contribute to international and regional initiatives to support Afghanistan's efforts at nation building.
Both the leaders condoled the death of Rabbani with Prime Minister Singh asserting his "brutal assassination should serve as an occasion for all of us to strengthen our resolve to jointly confront the menace of terrorism that threatens to undermine the security and stability of our region".
Asserting that his country understood the dangers of using terrorism as an instrument of state policy, Karzai said Afghanistan "recognizes the danger this region is facing through terrorism and radicalism that (are) being used an instrument of state policy against civilians and innocents of our countries".
Karzai said through the document of strategic agreement, a first for Afghanistan with any country, the two sides have "put in words" already existing active partnership.
The Afghanistan President also mentioned 2,000 scholarships given by India for the youth of Afghanistan over the next five years and said "we hope India will add to this contribution."
Earlier external affairs minister SM Krishna called on Karzai.
The Afghanistan President's visit also comes amidst his government's assessment that it was futile to rely on Pakistan as it is hand-in-glove with the Haqqani group, an outfit that is closely allied with the Taliban, and there is a need to have deeper ties in key areas with India.
Afghan officials also maintain that they have strong evidence that the assassination of Rabbani was organised by the Taliban leadership based in Quetta, Pakistan, with the help of ISI. However, Pakistani officials have denied their involvement in Rabbani's killing.