NEW DELHI–Afghan president Ashraf Ghani on Tuesday sought to reassure Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi that Kabul was committed to its close relationship with New Delhi despite warming ties with Pakistan.
Afghanistan’s president called on Tuesday for regional cooperation to defeat militants, saying he wants to “make Afghanistan a graveyard of terror” but needs help from India, Pakistan and other neighbours. He made these comments after meeting Narendra Modi.
Ghani arrived in India late Monday on a three-day state visit designed to patch up relations with its neighbour, which have frayed since Ghani assumed office in September.
“India and Afghanistan have [a] million ties,” Ghani told reporters at a joint media briefing in the Indian capital following talks with Modi.
“We are the battlefield. We are fighting on behalf of our friends from India to Russia,” Ghani said in a speech to the Indian Council of World Affairs (ICWA), a government think-tank.
Ghani reached out to Pakistan and China within months of his election as president, embarking on state visits to both countries before visiting India, causing concern in New Delhi.
“Afghanistan was a roundabout where ideas and goods flowed to Central and South Asia and our vision today is based on that potential,” he said after arriving in India.
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Afghanistan’s recent military and strategic engagement with Pakistan in its fight against Taliban militants was also seen as a major policy shift from president Hamid Karzai’s government, which accused Islamabad of destabilising Kabul.
Ghani’s maiden visit to India as Afghan leader is also aimed at shoring up Indian investment – he will meet business organisations on Wednesday in a bid to attract private sector investment into his war-ravaged country.
India has invested over $2 billion in infrastructure projects and the social sector in the country in recent years but has stayed away from engaging militarily in the 13-year-long war.
New Delhi recently rejected a request to supply some military equipment but did deliver three unarmed helicopters this month.
“We share Afghanistan’s pain over persisting terrorism and extremist violence that destroy lives and derail progress,” Modi said in remarks distributed by his office, adding that India would continue to help build the Afghan military and had delivered three Cheetal helicopters.
Modi said Tuesday that his country would also continue to provide capacity-building support for Afghan security forces.
Modi said his government would continue to engage with Afghanistan, as the countries shared “a timeless link of human hearts”.
India has been trying to gain its foothold in the strategically important Afghanistan since United States-led forces ousted the Taliban in 2001, mainly to access trade and gas routes from Iran and grab a share of its post-war development.
New Delhi plans to invest in Iran’s southern Chabahar port, a potential rival to the China-funded Gwadar port in Pakistan, and needs a tripartite agreement on a transit route to connect Iran via Afghanistan.
Modi said India should join an existing Afghan-Pakistan Trade and Transit agreement to allow goods to flow by land from Afghanistan to eastern India and back.
He said developing a deep-water port in the Iranian city of Chabahar would give land-locked Afghanistan a route to the sea other than through Pakistan, India’s regional arch-rival.
“We believe that Afghanistan’s direct surface link to India and the rest of South Asia, and increased connectivity to sea, could turn Afghanistan into a hub that connects Asia’s diverse regions and beyond,” Modi said.
Modi said he had “reaffirmed” his commitment to the project.
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