NEW DEHLI: Afghanistan’s president will visit India next week to strengthen the “strategic partnership” between the two countries, the Indian foreign ministry said Saturday.
President Hamid Karzai will arrive Monday for the two-day trip at the invitation of Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, the ministry said in a statement. “The visit provides an opportunity for both sides to discuss bilateral, regional and global issues of mutual interest,” the ministry said. The trip comes two months after nine Indians were killed in February in one of the deadliest Taliban suicide attacks on foreigners in the Afghan capital, Kabul, that claimed a total of 16 lives and left 20 people critically injured. After the attacks, Singh asked Karzai to ensure full protection for Indians working in the conflict- racked nation.
Analysts say India and Pakistan are locked in a struggle for influence in Afghanistan, which could bring new instability to the country as US-led international troops eye their exit after mid-2011. Singh is expected to reiterate New Delhi’s concern about militants targeting Indians in Afghanistan to Karzai, who is en route to Bhutan for a meeting of South Asian regional leaders, Indian media reported. Karzai’s visit will be an “opportunity for India to express its firm commitment and support to the government and people of Afghanistan,” the Indian foreign ministry added. Since a US-led invasion ended the Taliban’s 1996-2001 regime, India has committed at least 1.2 billion dollars to Afghanistan, mainly aid for social services including health and education, making it one of the biggest regional donors.
The two countries are historically close and many urban Afghans learned Hindi and Urdu watching Bollywood movies. Some 4,000 Indians are building roads, sanitation projects and power lines. India is also building the new Afghan parliament. Last Wednesday, the government said 17 Indians had been killed in Afghanistan since 2008 but added it had no plans to scale down its operations there. AFP