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India, US to initiate joint projects in Afghanistan
Ashok Tuteja
Tribune News Service

New Delhi, October 16
India and the United States are considering joint projects aimed at capacity-building in Afghanistan so that people of the embattled nation could stand on their own feet once the US-led NATO forces withdraw from there by the end of 2014.

As South-east Asian leaders made a beeline to New Delhi this week, one significant visit by a US official went virtually unnoticed in the media.

Days after India inked a strategic partnership pact with Afghanistan, US Special Representative on Af-Pak Marc Grossman paid a low-key visit to India as part of his mission to ascertain the views of regional countries on the evolving situation in the embattled nation.

Apart from meeting Foreign Secretary Ranjan Mathai and Indiaís Special Envoy on Afghanistan SK Lambah, Grossman held an important meeting with Commerce Secretary Rahul Khullar.

Sources said the two countries have been in touch on several joint projects in Afghanistan. Washington has been encouraging New Delhi to expand and diversify its involvement in Afghanistan, notwithstanding Pakistanís opposition. They said the areas in which the two countries could work have already been identified.

There are proposals for undertaking projects, particularly in agriculture, education and womenís empowerment, in addition to capacity-building schemes for both government employees and common people in the conflict-ravaged country.

India is the sixth largest contributor in reconstruction of Afghanistan, with bilateral assistance programmes worth about two billion dollars.

During meetings with Indian interlocutors, Grossman reiterated that the Obama administration wanted to see how fast the international community could find a way to support and secure a stable and prosperous Afghanistan inside a secure, stable and prosperous region.

A recurring theme at the meetings was stepping up the Indian private sector investment in Afghanistan. India is in the race for Hajigak iron ore project, said to have the regionís largest untapped deposits of iron ore. India has also signed a trilateral MoU with Iran and Afghanistan in utilising a route to reach Pashtun-dominated areas in addition to the existing networks through Pakistan.

Grossman also dwelt on the recent US enthusiasm for reviving the Silk Road, parts of which are converging in Uzbekistan and are currently ensuring transfer of western supplies into Afghanistan.

Grossmanís visit came ahead of a November conference in Istanbul and a December meeting in Bonn on Afghanistan in which all leading stake-holders on Afghanistan are expected to participate. India too will take part in both these conferences.

The visit coincided with rapid deterioration in ties between Washington and Islamabad after the US blamed the Pakistani intelligence for the attack on the US Embassy in Kabul last month.

Afghan investigators too have pointed an accusing finger at the Pakistani intelligence for the assassination of Burhanuddin Rabbani, who was leading the Afghan High Peace Council, that was negotiating with the Taliban for its integration in the Afghan society.

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