New Delhi, May 1 (IANS) A fortnight after multiple terror strikes, Afghanistan Tuesday sought India's assistance in equipping its security forces, indicating increased security cooperation between the two countries in the run-up to the withdrawal of international forces from the violence-torn country.
Underlining its "unwavering commitment" to the reconstruction of Afghanistan, India, on its part, conveyed that it was open to such ideas and would ensure that the country does not become "a target for extremist forces".
Against the backdrop of the continuing volatility in Afghanistan and Pakistan's efforts to control the reconciliation process, External Affairs Minister S.M. Krishna held wide-ranging talks with his Afghan counterpart Zalmai Rassoul.
The two foreign ministers held the maiden meeting of the India-Afghanistan Partnership Council, which was set up under the landmark strategic partnership agreement sealed in October last year during the visit of Afghan President Hamid Karzai here. This was the first bilateral strategic pact Afghanistan has signed with any other country.
With the Taliban upping the ante, expanding security and counter-terror cooperation figured prominently in the talks. Issues relating to the safety of nearly 4,000 Indians living in that country and the security of Indian missions and facilities figured in the discussions.
India also announced that it would hold a meeting of regional investors ahead of the Tokyo conference in July.
"With India, we are not only willing to discuss the training of our officers, but also equipping of security forces," Rassoul said at a joint press conference with Krishna after the talks.
He was responding to a question on whether Afghanistan was seeking military equipment from India for its armed forces.
Rassoul, however, did not reveal the precise nature of assistance Afghanistan was seeking from India. "Security organisations of the two countries are in discussion," was all he would say.
Admitting that India has been involved in training of some sections of the Afghan National Army, Krishna said India will continue to do so. "We have always reacted positively to any suggestions from Afghanistan," he said when asked whether India would be supplying equipment to Afghan armed forces.
As the clock ticks away for the withdrawal of the international coalition force in Afghanistan, the international community is focusing on bolstering the capacity of the Afghan forces.
Rassoul asserted that the Afghan forces will take full responsibility for the security of Afghanistan.
India, which has pledged $2 billion for an array of reconstruction activities in Afghanistan, has stakes in the security of the neighbouring country which Pakistan tends to regard it as its strategic backyard.
Alluding to the April 15 multiple terror attacks in Kabul and other parts of Afghanistan, Krishna commended the Afghan National Security Force for handling the attacks with "confidence" and hoped that they would be able to take care of the country's security after international troops leave in 2014.
"Afghanistan's defence of its own territory is of extreme importance to us. Our security is entwined with the stability and security of Afghanistan," Krishna replied when asked about the fear of the Taliban takeover after the exit of the western troops in 2014.
He also pitched for "an Afghan-led inclusive and transparent reconciliation process" that sticks to "red lines" laid down at the earlier conferences in Bonn and Kabul that envisages negotiations with only elements who accept the Afghan constitution and abjure violence.
Krishna underlined India's unwavering commitment to "assisting the people of Afghanistan in their endeavour to build a peaceful, stable, democratic and prosperous nation." "Let me assure you that while it is a time of change and transformation in the region, India's commitment to Afghanistan is neither 'transitory' nor in "transition," he said.
"We will continue to partner the Afghan government to ensure that Afghanistan is a source of regional stability and does not become a target for extremist forces," he stressed.
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