The Telegraph
Since 1st March, 1999
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Consulate boost to Kabul ties

New Delhi, Dec. 16: In a snub to both Pakistan and America, India today opened two more consulates at Kandahar and Jalalabad in Afghanistan, making it clear that Delhi was in no mood to go slow in what till recently was considered to be Islamabad’s backyard.

The growing Indian presence in Afghanistan in the aftermath of the US-initiated armed action dislodging the Taliban regime has been a major source of concern for the Pakistani leadership. It became serious enough for the Bush administration to raise the issue during a discussion with Indian officials last month.

But South Block officials not only told the Americans that it had no intentions of going slow on its activities in Afghanistan — a country with which they claimed India had traditional links — but also matched words with action by opening two more consulates there.

However, India will only be an observer at the forthcoming meeting of the six foreign ministers of Afghanistan’s neighbours to be held in Kabul on December 22 — the first anniversary of the Hamid Karzai regime. Pakistan, China, Iran, Turkmenistan, Tajikistan and Uzbekistan — the six countries that have a border with Afghanistan — will sign a pact on non-interference in the internal affairs of Afghanistan.

Delhi, which will observe the signing of the pact from the sidelines, along with the Group of Eight countries, has decided to ask its ambassador in Kabul, Vivek Katju, to be present there during the ceremony.

India, which was forced to close down its embassy in Kabul in 1996 when the Taliban marched into the Afghan capital, opened a liaison office on November 21 last year. A month later, when then Indian foreign minister Jaswant Singh visited Kabul, it was converted into an embassy.

In August this year, when present foreign minister Yashwant Sinha visited the country, India opened two of its consulates at Herat and Mazar-e-Sharif. With the opening of two more consulates at Kandahar and Jalalabad, it now has four consulates and an embassy in Afghanistan.

“The two consulates have started functioning from today,” foreign ministry spokesman Navtej Sarna said. The two consulates would have a normal pattern of staffing with a consul general as their head, he added.

Asked whether Indians were facing security-related problems, Sarna made it clear that they would have to adjust to the political and economic situation in Afghanistan.

For India, Afghanistan is important and its renewed activities there, including the opening of the consulates, is an indication that Delhi does not want to be caught in a situation in this important neighbouring country where it has no leverage over Pakistan.

During the Taliban rule in Kabul that ran for over five years, India’s presence in Afghanistan was not only marginalised but under the student-militia, it became the biggest breeding ground for fundamentalist forces — many of whom were sent to carry out terrorist activities in Kashmir and elsewhere in the country.

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