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Ahead of Afghan conference, India shares 'concerns'

world Updated: Jan 27, 2010 20:51 IST

Indian External Affairs Minister S.M. Krishna "shared concerns" with his British counterpart and Europe's foreign policy chief Wednesday ahead of a major international conference aimed at resolving the crisis in Afghanistan.

British Foreign Secretary David Miliband said the discussions took in the "comprehensive range of our shared concerns" and the "full range of our bilateral shared agenda."

The discussions, he said, were being held in the backdrop of "the remarkable advertisement for the contribution of the British Indian community to Britain and for the relationship between the UK and India yesterday at the 60th anniversary of the Indian Constitution."

Krishna followed up with a separate meeting with Baroness Ashton, the European Union's foreign policy and security head.

The meetings came ahead of a major Afghanistan conference in London Thursday, to be attended by 70 leaders, including foreign ministers from 43 countries involved in NATO's International Stability Assistance Force (ISAF), Afghanistan's immediate neighbours and major regional players.

Afghan President Hamid Karzai, British Prime Minister Gordon Brown and UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon are expected to address the opening session of the one-day conference that could see attempts to persuade Indian to take on a high-profile role in Afghanistan.

A leaked early draft of the conference communique says the Afghani government and the international community will carry out a security handover to Afghans "as rapidly as possible."

It says process of transition to the "Afghan security primacy" will begin will begin this year with a number of provinces expected to be handed over to Afghan security by early 2011.

While ISAF will move to a supporting role within the provinces, analysts say India could be asked to play a role in the handover process by helping train Afghan police and military.

"India is already involved in some sort of training but Pakistan will oppose a greater, institutional role," said Rahul Roy-Chaudhury, a leading London-based expert in South Asia.

"There is no doubt that India has a very strong bilateral relationship with Afghanistan. The question is whether India is ready to move from a bilateral to a multilateral relationship with Afghanistan," said Roy-Chaudhury, Senior Fellow for South Asia at the International Institute for Strategic Studies.

The leaked draft communique also mentions the prickly issue of 'reintegration' - diplomatic jargon for attempts to win back, through financial inducements, Taliban militants who currently oppose the government led by Karzai.

But Roy-Chaudhury said New Delhi will want to completely satisfied that "a list of preconditions are met" before agreeing to the terms of reintegration.

"India's view is that there is no such thing as a good or bad Taliban. It will want to be satisfied that the militants are prepared to give up arms and follow the Afghan Constitution.

"Some members of the Taliban have UN sanctions against them", he said.

Western interest in India's role has grown in tandem with New Delhi's rising involvement in Afghanistan's development, particularly its physical and human infrastructure.

A recent poll conducted for western broadcasters ABC News, BBC and the German ARD by the Afghan Centre for Socio-Economic and Opinion Research showed that ordinary Afghans view India more positively than any other country.

In spite of its low profile role, as many as 29 percent of Afghans had a "very favourable opinion" of India, compared to only two percent for Pakistan, seven percent for Britain, eight percent for the US, 17 percent for Germany, and 18 percent for Iran.