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Pakistan dogs PM on Kabul trip

Kabul, Aug. 28: Prime Minister Manmohan Singh and President Hamid Karzai today made common cause in the fight against terrorism, but Afghanistan’s ruler brought Pakistan into the frame for a happy South Asian family picture.

So assertive was Karzai on the importance of engaging Pakistan that at one point, discussing Afghanistan’s proposed entry into Saarc, he said: “Improvement of relations between India and Pakistan is such a necessity because it overtakes every other issue.”

Singh was given a grand welcome to Karzai’s Palace and profusely thanked for all the assistance given by India in Afghanistan’s reconstruction. He reciprocated the gesture and assured Karzai that Delhi will pull out all the stops in Afghanistan’s aid, but the biggest stop was Pakistan that was, as one diplomat put it, refusing even to allow transit to distribute high-protein biscuits to Afghan children.

Karzai’s response was quick. He said he was engaged with Pakistan and General Pervez Musharraf was responding positively to requests for transit rights for Indian and Afghan goods and was also involved in the war on terrorists.

Karzai and Singh, on day one round one of the first state visit by an Indian Prime Minister in 29 years, were talking at different levels. If Delhi says two’s great company, Kabul says it takes three to tango.

Pakistan’s shadow has loomed so large that Singh and Karzai were candid about it. They had a one-to-one session minus diplomats and Rahul Gandhi, who was debonair in diplomatic formals.

At a news conference after a joint statement, Singh and Karzai laid as much emphasis on the war on terrorism as on Indian assistance and Pakistan’s importance.

Karzai: With the help of the international community and the desire of the Afghan people we have defeated terrorism in Afghanistan and thrown it out. But we still see the activity'we are very sad about it. No nation would like to see its sons and daughters murdered. Our relations with Pakistan are thriving very well. We are in talks with our brothers in Pakistan. We need to root out terrorism in our three countries ' Afghanistan, India and Pakistan.

Singh: I have much hope that all countries of this region will have the vision and the will for common prosperity and peace to eradicate poverty, ignorance and terrorism. As far as India is concerned, I pledge myself wholeheartedly to work with President Karzai and for that matter with President Musharraf and other like-minded leaders.

The joint statement said India was fully supportive of the goal of a sovereign, stable, democratic and prosperous Afghanistan. “Both leaders agreed that such an Afghanistan is also necessary for peace, security and stability in the region.

The two leaders condemned global terrorism as a threat to democracy and declared that there can be no compromise with those who resort to terrorism,” the statement said.

Even as Singh was being escorted about Kabul, a candidate in Afghanistan’s first post-Taliban parliamentary election was killed, south of the Afghan capital.

Singh announced that India has pledged an additional $50 million of assistance to Afghanistan. This takes the quantum of Indian financial assistance to Afghanistan to $550 million.

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