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Karzai seeks Indian aid

NEW DELHI, India -- Humanitarian aid and security in Afghanistan are expected to dominate the agenda during a two-day visit to India by Afghan interim leader Hamid Karzai.

Heading a 20-member delegation, Karzai arrived in New Delhi on Tuesday and is scheduled to meet with Indian external affairs minister Jaswant Singh before talks with business and industry leaders later in the day.

Meetings with Indian Prime Minister Atal Behari Vajpayee, President Kocheril Narayanan, Vice President Krishan Kant and leader of the main opposition Congress party Sonia Gandhi are planned for Wednesday.

India has pledged substantial humanitarian aid to Afghanistan in the wake of the collapse of the Taliban.

New Delhi said it also would reopen its embassy in Kabul and send in emergency food aid.

The creation of a local police force, law courts, prisons and an integrated army are areas in which Afghanistan is seeking Indian assistance, Kabul's ambassador to India, Masood Khalili, said in the Associated Press report.

Indian business people and entrepreneurs are also eyeing off construction, transport and information technology contracts.

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New Delhi has been closely aligned with the Northern Alliance during the Taliban's five-year rule in Afghanistan and has been keen to forge links with the new administration.

Already, the interim foreign, interior and defense ministers -- all former Northern Alliance officials have made the trip to India and view the South Asian nation as a friend.

But Karzai, who has already visited the United States and Pakistan since he was sworn in as interim leader in December, will be the highest-level Afghan official to meet Indian leaders.

His arrival, seen as a goodwill gesture, also signals a keenness of New Delhi to be involved in the reconstruction process in Afghanistan, the Times of India reported.

Citing sources in the ministry of external affairs (foreign ministry), the Times said New Delhi was eager to play a role in security in Afghanistan, seen as crucial to India's strategic regional interests and a way to curb Pakistan's influence there.

Some observers say that despite the presence of an international peacekeeping force, security in Afghanistan is deteriorating following the murder of the Afghan civil aviation minister earlier this month and several recent clashes between local warlords.

Karzai arrives in India after a two-day visit to Iran where he called on Tehran for cooperation in creating peace and stability in the region.

Iran has been a long-time supporter of Afghan forces fighting against the Taliban.


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