Kandahar: With Afghanistan set for presidential elections ahead of the US troop drawdown, India on Saturday extended its full support for a reconciliation process involving people of the war-torn country.
India will continue to assist the Afghan National Security Forces (ANSF), which will play an important role in "this year of political and security transition", External Affairs Minister Salman Khurshid said here.
He was speaking after jointly inaugurating with President Hamid Karzai Afghanistan`s first national agriculture university here that was built with Indian aid. India has pledged to invest up to USD 8 million in the Afghan National Agricultural Sciences and Technology University (ANASTU), portions of which are ready while others are being built.
Amid a standoff between the US and the embattled Afghan President, Khurshid praised Karzai`s "extraordinary and brave" leadership in nurturing democracy and peace.
"We support your efforts to establish a genuine Afghan- owned, Afghan-led and Afghan-controlled reconciliation process in Afghanistan," said Khurshid, who was on a day-long visit to the erstwhile stronghold of the Afghan Taliban.
The international community, he said, must fulfill its pledges to rebuild the Afghan National Army and Afghan National Police.
"India will continue to assist the ANSF in whatever manner is possible within our capacities. We have always said that a peaceful, prosperous and sovereign Afghanistan that is capable of defending itself is in India`s strategic interest," he said.
Khurshid, who arrived here earlier in the day, said the Afghan presidential elections slated for April 5 were a testament to the fact that democracy had taken firm roots in the country.
"It is also a testament to your (Karzai`s) extraordinary and brave leadership over the last 12 years, and the manner in which you have nurtured the plant of democracy in this country," he said.
He hailed the Afghan government`s offer to allow members of armed opposition groups, willing to give up terror and abide by the Constitution, to participate as equal citizens in national life.
"It is only the brave and the strong who can offer peace to adversaries. We support your brave efforts," he said.
Referring to the country`s complex politics, Khurshid said, "Like in India, today no one can predict the eventual election result in Afghanistan.
"Many of the presidential tickets that will fight elections represent political and democratic alliances between groups that one could never imagine will one day become allies in an electoral battle."
Khurshid`s visit took place amid a rift between Karzai and the US, jeopardising their proposed Bilateral Security Agreement that is vital for the limited presence of American forces in Afghanistan after the drawdown later this year.
During the visit to Kandahar, Afghanistan`s second largest city, he also called on Karzai.
The agricultural university, a major capacity-building project backed by India, has been set up in the erstwhile headquarters of the Taliban. Khurshid said it was a project that Prime Minister Manmohan Singh had promised to support in May 2011.
India`s development assistance programme for Afghanistan currently stands at USD 2 billion, making it the leading donor nation among regional countries.
Khurshid compared the societies of India and Afghanistan and said the strength of the two countries was their heterogeneous character.
"We have always differed from the many armchair `international experts` on Afghanistan, who say that that the main challenge for Afghanistan`s future is its heterogeneous character, its ancient tribal society, and it`s many different ethnicities," he said.
"India is also ancient, and is also heterogeneous, and these have always been our strengths."
The main threat to Afghanistan`s security and internal stability, he said, is terrorism and extremism. India has faced the same threat for many years and understands the importance of "friends and strategic partners forging the closest of cooperation to defeat this evil scourge", he said.
"I wish to salute the brave men and women of the ANSF who despite the lack of equipment and the shortage of resources continue to win the battle of terrorism," he told the function also attended by Afghan Foreign Minister Zarar Ahmad Osmani and Kandahar Governor Toryalai Wesa.
He said for India, a strong and economically independent Afghanistan was a strategic priority and a key element of the bilateral Strategic Partnership Agreement.
"We therefore see our participation in this agriculture university project as an important activity of the India- Afghanistan strategic partnership. We will prioritise our assistance programmes to favour agriculture and agricultural development activities," he said.
Khurshid also referred to 614 agricultural scholarships for Afghan students being trained in Indian institutes. "For developing countries like ours, where the vast majority still remain dependent on land for subsistence and their livelihoods, the agriculture sector has to play the role of a driver of economic growth and development," he said.