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India hails U.S. Afghan plan, says ready for a role

NEW DELHI (Reuters) - India said on Monday it was ready to play a role in a new U.S. war strategy for Afghanistan, welcoming what it said was a comprehensive plan to stamp out extremism that had roots in Pakistan.

Foreign Secretary Shivshankar Menon speaks during a commemoration ceremony for the Indian victims of suicide attack on the Indian embassy in Kabul in this July 13, 2008 file photo. REUTERS/Omar Sobhani

“We welcome the very clear expression of will to carry through this struggle against extremism in Afghanistan and its roots in Pakistan, which is contained in the new comprehensive U.S. strategy,” Foreign Secretary Shivshankar Menon said.

“India has a direct interest in the success of this international effort and India is ready to play a constructive role as a responsible power in defeating extremism of all kinds.”

U.S. President Barack Obama unveiled the new war strategy last week, its key goal being to crush al Qaeda militants in Afghanistan and in Pakistan who he said were plotting new attacks on the United States.

The new plan aims to adopt a more regional approach to the conflict by involving neighbours such as Iran, as well as India, China and Russia.

India and Afghanistan share close ties and New Delhi is involved in reconstruction projects worth hundreds of millions of dollars there.

Pakistan, the Taliban’s main backer until Islamabad sided with Washington after the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks, has been uneasy about increased Indian influence in Afghanistan since then and is accused of lending covert support to Islamist forces.

Menon said the new U.S. strategy would come up for discussion between Obama and Prime Minister Manmohan Singh when the two meet on the sidelines of a G20 meeting in London this week.

“I think the situation in the region including what happens in Afghanistan, what’s happening in Pakistan, will certainly come up during discussions,” he said.

Washington also plans to send 4,000 more troops to train the Afghan army, along with hundreds of civilians to improve the delivery of basic services. This is in addition to 17,000 combat troops being added to Afghanistan before August elections there.