Menon meets Karzai, discusses security of Indians

Kabul/New Delhi/Washington, March 5 (IANS) India Friday said that the Feb 26 terror attack in Kabul will not deter it from helping rebuild Afghanistan as National Security Adviser Shivshankar Menon met Afghan President Hamid Karzai in Kabul to review the security of around 4,000 Indians working in that country.

Menon, who arrived here Friday morning on a two-day visit, discussed with Karzai some proposals to bolster security of Indians engaged in a wide array of reconstruction activities, ranging from building roads, bridges and power stations to social sector projects.

The Indian government is contemplating a slew of steps to secure Indians in Afghanistan, including setting up protected venues where the Indians working on various reconstruction projects will be based. Deploying dedicated security personnel at places where Indians work is also being considered.

Menon also met his Afghan counterpart Rangin Dadfar Spanta and enquired about the progress in the probe into the Kabul attack in which seven Indians, including three major-rank officers of the Army, were killed.

Karzai had telephoned Prime Minister Manmohan Singh last week and assured him that all steps would be taken to ensure the security of Indians there.

Menon also met Indian Ambassador Jayant Prasad and discussed expanded security cover for Indians in that country.

Menon is the first top Indian official to visit Kabul since the Feb 26 attack, an important trip that underlines India’s unwavering resolve to continue reconstruction work in the violence-ravaged country for which it has already pledged $1.3 billion.

Menon’s visit comes amid findings of the Afghan intelligence that Pakistan-based Lashkar-e-Taiba, also suspected to be the prime mover behind the 26/11 Mumbai carnage, masterminded the Kabul attack.

In New Delhi, Prime Minister Manmohan Singh underlined that the Kabul attack will not bend the will of Indian people to help Afghanistan and vowed to assist that country in shaping its destiny without ‘outside interference.’

‘We condemn this cowardly act,’ Manmohan Singh told parliament, adding that ‘the entire nation was outraged by the most recent brutal attack in Kabul’.

‘I wish to assure this house that such attacks will not bend the will of the people of India,’ the prime minister said, adding that Indian assistance in the reconstruction has received widespread support among the people of Afghanistan.

‘We are closely monitoring the developments with regard to Afghanistan and we will assist the people of Afghanistan in securing their legitimate right to determine their destiny in the manner they chose without outside interference,’ he said.

Suicide bombers struck at a hotel and a guest house Feb 26 in central Kabul, killing seven Indians in a ’26/11-like operation’.

Afghan investigators have concluded that the Lashkar-e-Taiba was involved in the attack based on evidence that the strike was carried out by a team of suicide bombers who spoke Urdu and who were searching for Indian targets, the Washington Post said in a report from Kabul, citing Afghan intelligence spokesman Sayed Ansari.

In the face of such media reports and an upset New Delhi protesting, US Special Envoy for Pakistan and Afghanistan Richard Holbrooke Friday regretted his initial comment that the Indians were not the target of terrorists during the strike in Kabul. Holbrooke lauded India’s humanitarian and reconstruction assistance to Afghanistan.

‘I did not say Indians were not targeted, but that initially it looked like the target was not an official Indian facility,’ Holbrooke said in Washington. ‘Early reports on events like this are often unreliable, and I try not to jump to conclusions,’ he explained.

‘We all know that Indian citizens have and continue to be targeted by terrorists, including inside Afghanistan,’ Holbrooke said. ‘My heart goes out to the families of all of the victims,’ he added.

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