Kabul: Prime Minister Manmohan Singh hopes to ease India’s concerns that Osama bin Laden’s death may hasten a US withdrawal from Afghanistan during a visit to Kabul that began on Thursday.
While Washington has said the killing of bin Laden will not affect its mission in Afghanistan, India is worried it may lead to speedier pullout of US troops, leaving it exposed to an unfriendly, Pakistan-dominated neighbourhood and unfettered militancy in its backyard.
The trip is Singh’s first visit to Afghanistan since 2005 and comes just over a week after bin Laden was killed by US special forces in Pakistan.
Nuclear-armed rivals India and Pakistan, which have gone to war three times since 1947, have for decades sought to secure leverage in Afghanistan, which gained urgency following the announcement of a gradual US withdrawal.
Violence in Afghanistan is at its worst since the Taliban were overthrown in late 2001 despite the presence of 150,000 foreign troops, including 100,000 Americans with record casualties on all sides.
“If our region has to prosper and move ahead, Afghanistan must succeed in rebuilding itself,” Singh said in a statement released by India’s foreign ministry on Wednesday.
“We will exchange views on developments in the region and our common fight against the scourge of terrorism. The quest of the Afghan people for peace, stability and reconciliation needs the full support of all countries in the region and the international community.”
A senior Indian government official said India was interested in hearing Karzai’s views on the killing of bin Laden. “Obviously, the situation post the killing of bin Laden is of concern to all of us, and we would like to hear what Mr Karzai has to say,” the official told reporters.
“The Taliban groups which have sanctuary in Pakistan, I don’t believe they stand diminished (by bin Laden’s death). The groups seem as strong and virulent as ever. The threat has not gone away.”
The Taliban were slow to react to the killing of bin Laden, which some analysts say is a sign the militant group wants to distance itself from al Qaeda. Renouncing al Qaeda is one of the main conditions set by Kabul and Washington for any political settlement to be reached with Taliban-led insurgents.
The Taliban, who once sheltered bin laden inside Afghanistan, have rejected any peace talks with the Afghan government until all foreign troops have left the country.
India is Afghanistan’s biggest regional aid donor and sixth largest overall. It has pledged $1.3 billion of projects, from building a parliament to a highway to Iran to establish what officials in New Delhi like to term “soft power”.
Pakistan derides those attempts to secure influence in what it considers its neighbourhood, but Islamabad has been concerned by a succession of governments in Kabul that it sees as too cosy with New Delhi.
India’s embassy in Kabul was hit by two bomb attacks in 2008 and 2009, killing 75 people and wounding hundreds.
The Taliban claimed responsibility for the blasts, but India has blamed Pakistan’s military spy agency, the ISI, for attacks on Indians in Afghanistan to undermine New Delhi’s influence.