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'Indian efforts in Afghanistan irking Pakistan'

By Lalit K Jha in Washington
August 19, 2009 10:01 IST
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The developmental efforts undertaken by India to help rebuild a war-ravaged Afghanistan have stirred concerns in neighbouring Pakistan, a media report said on Wednesday.

Post-Taliban, New Delhi has pledged $ 1.2billion in aid to Afghanistan, making India the fifth largest donor nation to the country after the United States, Britain, Japan and Canada.

Pakistan does not rank in the top 10, The Wall Street Journal wrote on Wednesday in a piece titled "India Befriends Afghanistan, Irking Pakistan".

After shunning Afghanistan during the Taliban regime, India has become a major donor and a new friend to the democratic government -- even if its growing presence here riles arch rival Pakistan, it said.

From wells and toilets to power plants and satellite transmitters, India is seeding Afghanistan with a vast array of projects, the daily said.

The $ 1.2 billion in pledged assistance includes projects both vital to Afghanistan's economy, such as a completed road link to Iran's border, and symbolic of its democratic aspirations, such as the construction of a new parliament building in Kabul.

The Indian government is also paying to bring scores of bureaucrats to India, as it cultivates a new generation of Afghan officialdom, it said.

"We are here for the same reason the US and others are here -- to see a stable, democratic, multi-ethnic Afghanistan," Indian Ambassador to Afghanistan Jayant Prasad was quoted as saying by The Wall Street Journal.

Pakistan has however said it was not worried about Indian assistance to Afghanistan, but wants adherence to a policy of non-interference.

"We recognise that Afghanistan needs development assistance from every possible source to address the daunting challenges it is facing. We have no issue with that," says Pakistani foreign-ministry spokesman Abdul Basit.

"What Pakistan is looking for is strict adherence to the principle of noninterference," he told the daily.

The newspaper said for years, Pakistan refused to allow overland shipment of fortified wheat biscuits from India to feed two million Afghan schoolchildren. India instead had to ship the biscuits through Iran, driving up costs for the program.

The World Food Program, which administers the shipments, said the Pakistan government gave its approval for overland shipment in 2008 -- six years after the first delivery.

"Why did it take six years ... is something that WFP cannot answer," a spokesman for the aid organisation said, adding,  "However, we are indeed thankful to the government of Pakistan for allowing transit for the fortified biscuits".

Basit, the foreign-ministry spokesman, did not respond to a question about the Indian food assistance, wrote The Wall Street Journal.

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Lalit K Jha in Washington
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