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Security sleepless in Kabul

Kabul, Aug. 26: In the Kabul locality called the Argh that houses the palaces of King Zahir Shah and President Hamid Karzai, Indian security personnel from the Special Protection Group confer with American army and Nato soldiers. Prime Minister Manmohan Singh will stay the night here on Sunday in Palace No. 2.

His companion Rahul Gandhi, too, may be here unless a last-minute change of plan sees him berthed in the Intercontinental Hotel where the rest of the delegation from Delhi will be put up.

Singh’s decision to accept Karzai’s request and prolong his visit to Afghanistan to include an overnight stay has meant that security forces from across the globe have to coordinate. Singh will be staying in a palace ringed by American troops, a multinational contingent of Nato’s International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) and, finally, India’s own VIP security personnel from the SPG.

His decision to stay the night in Kabul is a statement of Indian commitment. The Prime Minister’s schedule is packed with engagements that will emphasise India’s contribution to Afghanistan’s reconstruction effort.

“This (visit) is all about goodwill, all about friendship, all about bonding,” Afghanistan’s ambassador to India, Masood Khalili, says. It is also all about a great diplomatic game.

Delhi’s access to Kabul has two objectives: cut down Pakistan’s strategic space and pave a road to Central Asia.

Indian Air Force transport aircraft have flown three sorties from Delhi to Kabul this week carrying personnel and equipment for the Prime Minister’s security. The Indian embassy here has issued mobile telephones to at least 70 guards from Delhi. The Afghan government has said it will provide Singh’s entourage with seven bullet-proof vehicles.

Kabul’s airspace will be closed to all traffic for hours before and after Singh’s aircraft lands on Sunday and takes off on Monday morning.

Since US-led forces moved into Kabul in 2001, scores of world leaders have paid a visit but few, if any, have stayed the night here.

Pakistan Prime Minister Shaukat Aziz, who visited last month, returned the same day. So did General Pervez Musharraf, who came last year and before him the former US secretary of state, Colin Powell.

Afghanistan is headed for its first parliamentary polls and despite a Taliban statement that it will not disrupt the elections, violence in the countryside is escalating.

More US troops have been killed this year than at any time since the war. The toll is higher for Afghanistan’s fledgling national army that provides the footsoldiers for the US “war on terrorism”. The security of Kabul city is the responsibility of the ISAF that is operating under a UN peace enforcement mandate. It has troops from 37 countries.

Indian and international forces are today securing each spot Singh will visit.

 

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