India Can Play Important Role in Afghanistan: Holbrooke

By Arun Kumar

Washington, July 14 (IANS) India can play an important role in Afghanistan, a senior US official has said ahead of an international conference to discuss funding for Afghan President Hamid Karzai's plans for re-integration by winning over Taliban fighters.

"India has a very real role in the region for historic and strategic reasons," the US special representative for Afghanistan and Pakistan said Tuesday briefing reporters on July 20-21 Kabul Conference aimed at bringing about an eventual political solution for the war-torn nation.

"And they can play an important role in resolving these issues, going down the - looking forward into the middle distance," he said.

But it was for New Delhi to decide "who will represent India and how that will be done," said Holbrooke, who met the Indian ambassador to the US, Meera Shankar, to brief her about his recent trip to the Afghanistan-Pakistan region.

US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and many other foreign ministers are attending the conference to discuss the so-called re-integration programme.

"The Kabul conference will be a very important international demonstration of support for the Government of Afghanistan and they will outline their programmes," he said. "The money is starting to come in. This will be a major focus of the conference."

Foreign contributions to finance re-integration were already at about $180 million. The US Defence Department has reserved an additional $100 million for the programme.

Asked about the upcoming meeting of Indian and Pakistani foreign ministers in Islamabad, Holbrooke said, "Anything that reduces tensions and increases confidence and understanding between Pakistan and India is something we would encourage and support.

"But we are not directly involved in those talks," he said. "I did have a very good discussion this morning with the Indian ambassador to the United States who came and at my invitation so that I could brief her on the things we're talking about here."

Karzai recently gave final approval for the integration-programme. "We talked about this a long time...(but) this is the real launch date. This is the announcement the programme its now assembled and ready to go," Holbrooke said.

All those who meet certain conditions, including renouncing violence, cutting all ties to Al Qaeda and abiding by Afghanistan's constitution, may find a place in the new Afghanistan, he said. "In every war of this sort there is always a window for people who want to come in from the cold."

The US envoy said the conference would assess Afghanistan's follow-up plans to improve security, governance and other issues seen as key to paving the way for the US to begin removing some of its 100,000 troops by July 2011.


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