Opposing external meddling in the affairs of Afghanistan, India on Monday cautioned Afghan President Hamid Karzai against any power sharing deal with the Taliban and vowed to jointly combat terrorism that threatens the entire region.
Prime Minister Manmohan Singh met Karzai at his 7, Race Course Road residence and discussed a host of issues impinging directly on peace and stability in Afghanistan. During the meeting, India underlined its unwavering commitment to reconstruction of Afghanistan.
Backing "an Afghan-led and Afghan-owned" rebuilding of Afghanistan, Manmohan Singh stressed that repeated targeting of Indians - the most recent being the Feb 26 attacks that killed seven Indians - would not affect India's commitment to carry on with the reconstruction of that country.
"I conveyed to the president that India is ready to augment its assistance for capacity building and for skills and human resources development to help strengthen public institutions in Afghanistan," Manmohan Singh said after talks with Karzai, who arrived in India on Monday morning en route to the South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation (SAARC) summit in Thimphu.
India has pledged $1.3 billion for a slew of reconstruction and infrastructure projects in Afghanistan.
Underlining "our common struggle against terrorism and extremism", Karzai briefed Manmohan Singh on the peace jirga, an assembly of tribal elders, he plans to convene next month and the ongoing efforts to integrate those elements of the Taliban which have no links with Al Qaeda or any terrorist network.
"We discussed the upcoming Afghanistan Peace Consultations which should comprise the people of Afghanistan, those from all walks of life, to advise on how to move forward for reintegration and reconciliation of those elements of Taliban and others who have accepted the constitution or not part of the Al Qaeda or any terrorist network," Karzai said.
Karzai also requested Manmohan Singh to send representatives to the follow-up to the Western-backed London conference in Kabul later this year and invited him to visit Afghanistan. "The prime minister accepted the invitation. Mutually convenient dates will be worked out through diplomatic channels," said a joint statement.
Praising Karzai for "his courageous leadership in difficult times," Manmohan Singh, however, conveyed India's concerns over a plan, backed at the Jan 28 London conference, to reintegrate a section of the Taliban in the Afghan political mainstream.
India, which has always opposed any motivated distinction between the so-called good Taliban and bad Taliban, fears such a move, pushed by the international coalition engaged in Kabul, could lead to an increased influence of Pakistan in the affairs of Afghanistan and jeopardise regional stability.
In his talks with US President Barack Obama in Washington a fortnight ago, Manmohan Singh had expressed India's unease over any reconciliation or power-sharing with the Taliban in Afghanistan.
In a veiled reference to Pakistan's bid to retain clout in the violence-torn country through its proxies, the two leaders opposed interference by any external power in Afghanistan.
"The two leaders reiterated their conviction that the national rebuilding process in Afghanistan should be led by the people of Afghanistan in keeping with the principles of national sovereignty, independence and non-interference in internal affairs," a joint statement said.
Jointly combating terrorism and extremism in the region dominated the talks. The two leaders "expressed their determination to work with the international community to combat the forces of terrorism which pose a particular threat to the region", the statement said.
The two leaders agreed that the Feb 26, 2010 suicide attack in Kabul "were the handiwork of those who do not wish to see the emergence of a strong, independent and pluralistic Afghanistan". Karzai assured that his government was taking all steps to ensure the security of over 3,500 Indians in that country.
Both India and Afghanistan suspect the hand of the Pakistan-based Lashkar-e-Taiba and a section of the Taliban was involved in the attack.