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India will always stand firmly beside Afghanistan: President Pranab

Asserting that the cooperation between New Delhi and Kabul has neither an expiry date nor a timeline, President Pranab Mukherjee has said that India will always stand firmly beside Afghanistan as a friend and neighbour.

New Delhi: Asserting that the cooperation between New Delhi and Kabul has neither an expiry date nor a timeline, President Pranab Mukherjee has said that India will always stand firmly beside Afghanistan as a friend and neighbour.

President Mukherjee, who yesterday welcomed Afghan President Mohammad Ashraf Ghani on his first state visit to India, said India supports an Afghan led and Afghan owned national reconciliation process within the framework of the Afghan Constitution.

" India-Afghanistan co-operation has neither an expiry date nor a timeline. As a friend and neighbour, India will always stand firmly beside Afghanistan. India considers it a privilege to share its capabilities and experience in nation-building and inclusive development with people of Afghanistan," he added.

President Mukherjee, who also hosted a banquet in his honour, said India was proud of its close relations with Afghanistan.

"It was Afghanistan's first strategic partner. India shares the Afghan President's goal of building a strong, prosperous and independent Afghanistan. It appreciates the work he is doing and the formation of a national unity government which adds a new dimension to the process of democratic evolution in Afghanistan," President Mukherjee said.

President Mukherjee also conveyed his condolences over the tragic death of 52 persons in a land slide in the Badakhshan Province.

The President said efforts should be made to expand bilateral trade which in 2013-14 stood at USD 683.10 million.

"72 Indian companies have invested around USD 17 million in Afghanistan from 2003-2013. India will encourage more companies to invest in Afghanistan. He expressed confidence that Afghan President's visit will further strengthen the two countries successful co-operation in all spheres of shared interest," he added.

Responding to President Mukherjee, the Afghan President said it was a singular honour to be invited to stay in Rashtrapati Bhavan and an important recognition granted to the people of Afghanistan.

He thanked President Mukherjee for his condolences and expressed sympathies for the people of Nepal dealing with the aftermath of the earthquake.

He conveyed appreciation for India's leadership in natural disaster management and called for a regional framework for the purpose.

President Ghani said Afghanistan hopes it will have a shared destiny and destination with India in Asia.

Later in his banquet speech, President Mukherjee said although the Afghan President has travelled India in his previous capacities on a number of occasions, this is a special visit. This time he is visiting India as leader of the National Unity Government in Afghanistan and as President of a nation with whom India has a cherished history of profound cultural, religious and civilisational bonds.

President Mukherjee said India believes that the enduring trust and mutual understanding between India and Afghanistan goes beyond political and strategic considerations.

"The two countries shared history and geography is a compelling factor in nurturing our close ties. Because of this historical reality, there has been strong and sustained support in India for its engagement with Afghanistan in its post-conflict economic reconstruction effort. India is confident that over the next few years, Afghanistan will see a significant transformation across its sectors and in all areas of its social and economic advancement.

The President said India remains deeply conscious that Afghanistan's unity, independence, security and stability are critical - not only for itself - but also for India and for peace and progress in entire neighbourhood.

The President of Afghanistan in his banquet speech said for many Afghans who grew up in the 1950s, India was not the country that was 'over there'.

"It was part and parcel of how they learned their values, sense of history, and commitment to building a free and just nation. For the children of 1950s Afghanistan, Maulana Abul Kalam Azad, Mahatma Gandhi and Jawaharlal Nehru were not just distant figures. They were inspiring writers whose texts gave a generation of Afghans their understanding of the oppressive nature of British colonialism, of India's noble quest for freedom, and the profound commitment to justice that inspired that heroic generation of leaders," he added.

President Ghani said despite difficulties, Afghanistan can be a critical partner for India for the project of building an integrated Asian powerhouse that is to come.

"Afghanistan is not just metaphorically but literally located in the heart of Asia. With commitment, investment, peace, railways, pipelines, highways, fiber-optic networks and the ideas and people that will connect Central, South and West Asia to each other and with the market centers of the world can more easily flow through Afghanistan than through any other route," he added.