India-Afghanistan are partners in progress: PM
He assured Afghan President that India will stand by the war-torn nation through "thick and thin".
Kabul: Prime Minister Manmohan Singh on Thursday flew into Afghanistan for a two-day visit and assured the Afghan leadership that India will stand by the war-torn nation through "thick and thin", noting the two countries were "partners in progress."
Shortly after he landed in the Afghan capital amid tight security cover, Singh was warmly received by Afghan President Hamid Karzai who told the Prime Minister "Welcome to your second home" at a ceremonial reception by the Afghan Police, the Army and the Air Force in the grand Presidential Palace 'The Arg'.
Singh, who last visited Afghanistan in 2005, is due to hold talks with Karzai on terrorism, Indian aid to the war-ravaged country and fallout of the killing of al-Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden in Pakistan in the region.
He was earlier received at Kabul airport by Afghan Foreign Minister Zalmay Rasoul, Defence Minister Abdul Rahim Wardak and other senior officials.
"This is a tremendous honour for the Afghan people to welcome His Excellency Dr Manmohan Singh, Prime Minister of India, to second home Afghanistan," said Karzai, welcoming Singh.
The Prime Minister, in turn, described India and Afghanistan as "partners in progress".
"It is always a great honour and privilege to visit you. That you have invited me to visit is an honour to entire people of India. India and Afghanistan are partners in progress and we will stand by you through thick and thin, and we reaffirm our solidarity with the people and government of Afghanistan," he told the Afghan president at the reception at the palace.
The presidential palace houses the president's office, his residence, and the office of the Afghan National Security Adviser.
The presidential complex also houses the home of Afghanistan's last King Zahir Shah, where Prime Minister Singh is staying.
Singh is the first foreign head of government for whom the late king Zahir Shah's home has been thrown open.
National Security Advisor Shivshankar Menon, Foreign Secretary Nirupama Rao and Prime Minister's special envoy to Afghanistan Satinder Lambah and other senior officials are accompanying Singh.
Ahead of his visit, the Prime Minister had emphasised that his discussions with President Karzai will cover regional developments and the fight against terrorism.
The visit will also deliver "tangible" results with India to discuss ways to advance its developmental partnership with Afghanistan to a new level in the coming years.
There are indications that India will step-up its assistance for various developmental projects which already cover almost two-third of the provinces in Afghanistan.
Indian government sources said that during the meeting with the Afghan leadership, India would also like to know the views of the government there on the situation after the killing of bin Laden during a covert US operation on May 1.
"Obviously, the situation post-killing of Osama is something of concern to all of us and we would also like to hear what President Karzai has to say about it," Indian government sources said, while maintaining that India's concerns over reconciliation with Taliban have not "gone away" with bin Laden's death.
The Afghan President's office said the consequences of bin Laden's death would be a key topic discussed by Singh and Karzai.
"Since it is a new issue, it is on the agenda," spokesman Siamak Herawi said.
While India is carrying out various developmental projects in Afghanistan, security still remains a big concern for Indian interests and other establishments.
Indian government sources pointed out that several Indian private companies have shown interest in iron ore mining and said Afghanistan has also conveyed that it welcomes their participation and assured it that they will do their best to provide security.
A thick security cover was thrown in and around the Afghan capital for Prime Minister Singh's visit with hundreds of security officials keeping a hawk-eye vigil at the airport as well as the hill tops surrounding it.
Over 1,200 Afghan security personnel guarded the Kabul International airport when Singh flew in Kabul to begin his two-day visit to Afghanistan. Scores of gun toting personnel also kept a watch at the airport from their positions at the adjacent hill top areas.
Sources said the hill tops were manned by Afghan forces and International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) while the air cover was provided by US forces when the Prime Minister's special flight landed.
Singh was taken by a chopper to the Presidential Palace for the ceremonial reception ahead of the bilateral talks with Afghan President Hamid Karzai.
Singh's personal security is being taken care of by the Special Protection Group(SPG), which has sent a huge team to the Afghan capital.
Ahead of the visit, the government kept details of the Prime Minister's schedule restricted due to security concerns heightened due to the killing of al-Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden during a covert US operation inside Pakistan on May 1.
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