Manmohan agrees on the need for deepening economic engagement

India has moved forward in its quest for sourcing mineral resources from its neighbourhood with Afghan President Hamid Karzai asking Prime Minister Manmohan Singh to encourage a more aggressive approach, such as the one employed by the consortium led by the Steel Authority of India Limited (SAIL), which is about to finalise the contract for four out of five blocks in Asia’s biggest untapped iron ore deposits.

During his meeting with Mr. Karzai here on Monday, Dr. Singh said he agreed on the need for deepening economic engagement in areas ranging from agriculture and small businesses to mining and infrastructure.

The two leaders were meeting days after India, the United States and Japan agreed to join hands in promoting economic development in Afghanistan.

More importantly, it will be followed by an India-U.S.-Afghanistan trilateral, unusually close on the heels of the first one held in September in New York.

The two sides also discussed security and regional issues. Officials said training of Afghan soldiers, being undertaken on a “modest” scale by Indian military institutions, figured in the conversation.

Official sources wanted the economic aspect of the visit to be viewed in the larger context too. After having been made to wait on the sidelines earlier, India is now involved in efforts to bring investors to Afghanistan, they pointed out.

On Sunday, addressing businesspersons in Mumbai, the Afghan President had said his country was more or less safe and drew their attention to the large presence of entrepreneurs in Kabul from several countries, including China.

“We would like to welcome you on a red carpet and others on a grey carpet. But you need to arrive on the red carpet. If you don’t arrive on the red carpet, it will get dusty. Therefore, do hurry up and take advantage of the opportunities in Afghanistan,” he had said.

In all, the two sides signed four pacts, including one on cooperation in development of coal and mineral resources and Indian aid for implementation of small development projects. India’s development assistance commitment to Afghanistan currently stands at about $2 billion and with the signing of an MoU, India will launch the third phase of small development projects to address the socio-economic needs of people throughout Afghanistan.

“Generous partner”

Mr. Karzai thanked India for being “a very generous frontline partner and supporter to Afghanistan’s reconstruction and development. India has strived with us for the hard-earned income of its people and the difficult walk that we had for development and reconstruction.”

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