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Karzai favours trilateral cooperation with Pak

Afghan President came out strongly in favour of trilateral cooperation among India, Pakistan and Afghanistan.

india Updated: Apr 11, 2006 15:06 IST

Afghan President Hamid Karzai on Tuesday came out strongly in favour of trilateral cooperation among India, Pakistan and Afghanistan and said his country had joined SAARC to be part of a region that would see major growth in the future.

At a breakfast meeting with editors a day after he met Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, Karzai avoided making any adverse remarks about Pervez Musharraf, saying he would talk to the Pakistani president to encourage him to take "practical steps" towards trilateral cooperation in areas ranging from joint fight against terrorism to a transit treaty.

Pakistan selectively allows Afghan goods to reach India but does not allow Indian goods access to Afghanistan.

He said cooperation between the three countries was "a very laudable vision" and should not be linked to any political issue but only as a means of "releasing the economic energies of the region".

In reply to a question on Pakistan linking Kashmir to economic cooperation with India, Karzai said both countries should look beyond the disputed state and "address other issues that benefit their people" even if problems like Kashmir do not get resolved immediately.

Karzai, who studied in Simla and has been visiting this country frequently since he became president nearly five years ago, appeared -- despite all his political travails -- a confident man who declared that "this president is doing a lot of things without consulting advisers".

He did not gloss over the threat from the fundamentalist Taliban, whose attacks have increased in recent months, and was not too enamoured of a multi-party political system as a panacea for his country.

He instead insisted, quoting American surveys, that popular opinion in his country was overwhelmingly in favour of the presence of American troops and other international forces -- an indication that he was in no hurry to ask foreign forces to leave.

He was very appreciative of India's aid, now amounting to about $650 million, and said it was being used in all areas of Afghanistan -- infrastructure, education, power generation, reconstruction, hospitals and even to build the new parliament building.

"I believe it (assistance) has gone to all areas of need," he said, and cited the announcement by Manmohan Singh of an extra one million dollars to the Afghan Reconstruction Trust Fund.

The president said Afghanistan's decision to join SAARC, strongly supported by India, was a "futuristic thought" whose benefits may not be visible immediately.

"SAARC is a vehicle that can take us to our destination," said Karzai, emphasising that the seven-nation grouping should seriously pursue intra-regional cooperation "so that future generations can benefit".

Karzai, who left for Hyderabad after inaugurating an Afghan cultural festival, also talked candidly about some of his problems, including the fight against illegal cultivation of poppy that accounted for a third of his country's GDP.

"Poppy (cultivation) is born of years of desperation and lack of hope about tomorrow," he explained of a situation where families replaced growing pomegranates with poppies in order to earn quick money.

He said it was a "tough fight" against this underground economy and said it was so entrenched was it that it would take at least a decade to counter the global narcotic trade that it spawned.