New Delhi: Giving incremental fillip to their cooperation in strategic areas including trade and security, India and Afghanistan on Tuesday inked a partnership pact amid assertions that the agreement was not "directed against any other State or group of States".
     

Afghan President Hamid Karzai and Prime Minister Manmohan Singh held "detailed and frank discussions" including on the issue of terrorism, after which Singh said the people
of Afghanistan "deserve to live in peace and decide their future themselves without outside interference, coercion and intimidation."
   
Apart from security cooperation, the two leaders agreed that Afghanistan’s economic integration with the Indian economy and South Asia as a whole was in the national interest
of the people of Afghanistan and one of the ways to achieve this is to promote closer trade, investment and transit links.

"Based on intensive consultations and deliberations, we have finalized an Agreement on a Strategic Partnership....The Agreement creates an institutional framework for our future
cooperation in the fields of political and security cooperation, trade and economic cooperation, capacity building and education, and social, cultural, civil society and
people-to-people relations," Singh said.

They also inked two MoUs-- one in the field of mineral exploration and the other for the development of hydrocarbons.
   
The visit of Karzai, who arrived earlier in the day, comes just days after the assassination of Burhanuddin Rabbani who was heading the peace talks with Taliban.

Disillusioned by Pakistan's attitude and its hobnobbing with the Haqqani terror network, Karzai is also believed to have talked about a renewed strategy for the faltering peace
talks.

The agreement, based on mutual understanding and long-term trust between the two sides, envisages the elevation of the multifaceted ties between the two countries to higher
levels, both in bilateral field and in international arena, the strategic partnership document said.

The Strategic Partnership between the Sides is based upon the principles of sovereignty, equality and territorial integrity of States, non-interference in their internal affairs, mutual respect and mutual benefit, it said, adding it is "not directed against any other State or group of States."

Appreciating India as the "steadfast friend" of Afghanistan, Karzai said New Delhi does not see his country as "terrorism and violence" but as a country trying to live in peace with its neighbours.

Noting that his discussions with Karzai have once again underlined the importance of a strong and broad-based partnership between India and Afghanistan, Singh said "our
cooperation with Afghanistan is an open book. We have civilizational links and we are both here to stay. We have to live and work together in times both good and bad."

Reiterating that India stands by Afghan people in their journey towards capacity-building, reconstruction, development and peace, Singh said "we will do all that is within our means
to help Afghanistan. India will stand by the people of Afghanistan as they prepare to assume the responsibility for their governance and security after the withdrawal of international forces in 2014."

Noting that the greatest need today was for Afghan people to have peace and stability and all countries of the region must work to facilitate this, Singh said India will participate in the forthcoming conferences in Istanbul and Bonn to contribute to international and regional initiatives to support Afghanistan’s efforts at nation building.

(Agencies)