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India turns loan into gift for Kabul

New Delhi, Oct. 31: India has decided to convert $69 million of a $100-million loan it had promised Afghanistan to a one-time grant to help in the reconstruction of the war-ravaged country. Delhi has already given $31 million as loan to the Hamid Karzai regime in Kabul.

Besides financial assistance, India has also decided to give 300 vehicles — trucks, jeeps and ambulances — to help Afghanistan rebuild its military.

An announcement on this will be made after a meeting between Afghan foreign minister Abdullah Abdullah and Indian leaders over the next few days. The Afghan leader, who arrived in Delhi tonight, will hold wide-ranging discussions with foreign minister Yashwant Sinha and other senior Indian officials on Sunday.

Attempts are also being made by the two sides to arrange a meeting between Abdullah and Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee. As Vajpayee will be leaving for Cambodia on Monday for the India-Asean dialogue, he is already pre-occupied with other engagements. But a meeting between the two may still take place.

In the past one year, India has given two Airbuses to boost the strength of the Afghan national carrier, Ariana, and 100 buses to help the transport system. It has also sent teams of doctors to Afghanistan, revived hospitals in the country and helped in setting up schools.

Batches of Afghan diplomats, policemen, administrative staff and teachers are undergoing training in different institutes in India since early this year.

The international community, specially the rich western countries and Japan, have pledged nearly $1.8 billion to Afghanistan, but very little has actually been delivered.

“There is a gap between what has been promised and what has been delivered,” US President George W. Bush’s special envoy on Afghanistan Zalmay Khalilzad admitted yesterday. He added: “We want this gap to close.” He also informed that a special co-ordinator has now been set up by the US to oversee the delivery of the pledges made by various countries to Afghanistan.

India is, perhaps, the only country that has been prompt in delivering on its promises. That it has now decided to convert the remaining $69 million into a one-time grant is likely to push its political stock further up in Afghanistan.

India has always favoured a stable regime in Kabul. Delhi has been a victim of the fundamentalist Taliban regime, which ruled major parts of the country for nearly six years, till the US-led action last year drove out the student militia.

The Northern Alliance or the “Panjsheris”, who India, along with Russia and Iran, had backed during the Taliban rule are now in key positions in the Afghan government. This by itself is a major advantage that Delhi has got over many others, particularly Pakistan, which was one of the staunchest backers of the Taliban.

During their proposed meetings, the Afghan foreign minister and the Indian leaders are likely to make an assessment of on-going bilateral ties and will identify new areas where they could co-operate with each other. The current state of India-Pakistan relations and the situation in Iraq are also likely to be discussed.

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