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New Delhi: Law minister Salman Khurshid will lead an Indian delegation to a one-day Heart of Asia Ministerial Conference to be held in Kabul on Thursday to discuss the future of Afghanistan as war-weary US-led international troops look to exit the country.

Khurshid was named the leader of the delegation after finance minister Pranab Mukherjee pulled out of the visit earlier this week amid media speculation that the cancellation had to do with the upcoming presidential election, in which Mukherjee is seen as the front-runner.

India, which considers Afghanistan as part of its extended neighbourhood, has pledged $2 billion for reconstruction and rehabilitation since 2001 when the hardline militant Taliban were ousted from Kabul.

The Kabul conference follows another held in Istanbul in November. It is one of a series of meetings to discuss ways to stabilize Afghanistan and chart its future ahead of the withdrawal of international troops from the country as early as next year.

The name of the conference stems from the recognition that Afghanistan is situated at the intersection of Asia’s regions—South?Asia,?Central?Asia and West Asia—and that its stability is key to the development of its neighbours in Asia.

Countries expected to attend the conference include China, Iran, Pakistan, Russia, Saudi Arabia and Turkey, besides other nations in Afghanistan’s near and extended neighbourhood, according to information posted on the conference website. Contributors to the US-led international forces present in Afghanistan are also expected to attend. UN secretary general Ban Ki-moon will likely address the conference, along with Afghanistan president Hamid Karzai.

On 20 May, the US hosted a North Atlantic Treaty Organization (Nato) countries meet in Chicago. The summit’s communique ratified plans for the Nato-led army to hand over command of all combat missions to Afghan forces by the middle of 2013.

India will host a conference of those interested in investing in Afghanistan on 28 June and Tokyo will host a conference of donor countries on 10 July.

elizabeth.r@livemint.com

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