Amid strong indications that Barack Obama will discuss joint projects in developing Afghanistan, the US president Sunday lauded India's role in rebuilding the violence-torn country and asked Pakistan to be a partner in the reconstruction.
"India's investment in the development of Afghanistan is appreciated," Obama said in a reply to a question by a student at St Xavier's College in Mumbai.
Underlining that that "a stable Afghanistan is achievable," Obama held India's activities in Afghanistan and sub-Saharan Africa as an example to emulate. "I do think that there are lessons that India has to show, not just countries like Afghanistan but countries in sub-Saharan Africa," he said.
Allaying fears of Pakistan about India's alleged interference in Afghanistan, Obama said: "Pakistan has to be a partner in this process (of reconstruction). In fact all countries of the region need to be partners in this process and the US welcomes them. We don't think that we can do this alone."
Issues relating to India's developmental role in Afghanistan and Pakistan's continuing links to elements of the Taliban are expected to figure in discussions between Prime Minister Manmohan Singh and Obama in New Delhi.
The two sides are likely to flesh out joint projects aimed in developmental areas during their talks Monday, well-placed sources said.
Obama indicated agriculture to be a possible area where the two sides can work together.
He said for a prosperous Afghanistan, agricultural development was a key. "I promise you, if we can increase farmers' yield in Afghanistan by 20% or 25% and they can then get their crops to the market and they are cutting out middlemen and they are seeing a better standard of life for themselves, that goes a long way in encouraging them to affiliate with a modern world."
India has invested $1.3 billion in a wide variety of activities in Afghanistan, ranging from building roads and power stations to a slew of grassroot projects, causing enormous resentment in Pakistan, which sees New Delhi's growing profile in the war-ravaged country as a threat to its security.
Amid concerns in India about the proposed power-sharing Taliban integration plan, Obama said the US backed Afghan President Hamid Karzai's move to talk to Taliban members who want to "disassociate themselves with Al Qaeda".
"Without violence as a means of achieving political aims and if they are willing to respect the Afghan constitution, for example women are treated with all the rights that men enjoy, then absolutely we support the idea of a political resolution to some of these differences," he said.
India, too, has laid out the red lines for the Taliban reconciliation which means opening talks with only those elements which have abjured violence and accept the Afghan constitution.
Obama, however, said the elements affiliated with Al Qaeda or other extremist groups were "irreconcilable".
"They will be there. We will need a military response to those who perpetrate the kind of violence that we saw here in Mumbai (26/11), the kind that we (saw) on 9/11 in New York city," the US president said.
He said the US troops will start leaving Afghanistan by middle of the next year but some of them will stay back in that country.
"I had said that starting in the summer of next year, July 2011 we would begin drawing down our troop levels but we will not be removing all our troops."
He firmly defended troop surge policy in Afghanistan, saying it only accelerated bringing stability there.