April 28, 2015 / 11:59 AM / 4 years ago

Indian, Afghan leaders pledge to fight militants, build trade

NEW DELHI (Reuters) - Afghanistan’s president called on Tuesday for regional cooperation to defeat militants, saying he wants to “make Afghanistan a graveyard of terror” but needs help from India, Pakistan and other neighbors.

Afghanistan's President Ashraf Ghani (C) shakes hands with India's Prime Minister Narendra Modi (R) as his Indian counterpart Pranab Mukherjee looks on upon Ghani's arrival to attend a ceremonial reception at the forecourt of India's presidential palace Rashtrapati Bhavan, in New Delhi, India, April 28, 2015. REUTERS/Stringer

Ashraf Ghani made his comments after meeting Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi. Some Indian analysts fret that New Delhi may be losing influence in Afghanistan because of Ghani’s efforts to forge closer ties with neighbors Pakistan and China.

“We are the battlefield. We are fighting on behalf of our friends from India to Russia,” Ghani said in a speech to the Indian Council of World Affairs (ICWA), a government think-tank.

Earlier, Modi pledged continued support for Afghanistan’s fight against the Taliban and renewed his commitment to developing both land and sea trade routes with the country.

“We share Afghanistan’s pain over persisting terrorism and extremist violence that destroy lives and derail progress,” Modi said in remarks distributed by his office, adding that India would continue to help build the Afghan military and had delivered three Cheetal helicopters.

Modi also said India should join an existing Afghan-Pakistan Trade and Transit agreement to allow goods to flow by land from Afghanistan to eastern India and back.

He said developing a deep-water port in the Iranian city of Chabahar would give land-locked Afghanistan a route to the sea other than through Pakistan, India’s regional arch-rival.

“We believe that Afghanistan’s direct surface link to India and the rest of South Asia, and increased connectivity to sea, could turn Afghanistan into a hub that connects Asia’s diverse regions and beyond,” Modi said.

Ghani thanked India for $2.2 billion in aid over the past decade and outlined an ambitious vision for his nation to achieve peace and regain its centuries-old status as a crossroads for regional trade.

“Our vision today is to be guided by that potential where again the energy of Central Asia will flow to South Asia where pipelines, fiber optics, railways, and connectivity, air, ground and virtual will connect us,” Ghani said.

In his speech, Ghani said Afghanistan offered vast natural resources such as copper, iron ore and rare earth metals estimated at $1 trillion to $3 trillion that could be used for regional economic development.

He said that, since South Asia remained the world’s economically least integrated region, there was a vast scope for cooperation among the neighboring countries.

People should consider a day when they could have a “breakfast in Delhi, lunch in Peshawar and dinner in Kabul”, he said.

Writing by Kay Johnson; Editing by Douglas Busvine and Alison Williams

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