Kabul: Prime Minister Manmohan Singh on Thursday flew into Afghanistan for a two-day visit and assured the Afghan leadership that India would stand by the war-torn nation through ‘thick and thin.’

Shortly after he landed in the Afghan capital amid tight security cover, Singh was warmly received by Afghan President Hamid Karzai who said, "Welcome to your second home" at a ceremonial reception by the Afghan Police, the Army and the Air Force in the grand Presidential Palace 'The Arg'.

Singh, who last visited Afghanistan in 2005, is to hold talks with Karzai on terrorism, Indian aid to the war-ravaged country and fallout of the killing of al-Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden in Pakistan in the region.

He was earlier received at Kabul airport by Afghan Foreign Minister Zalmay Rasoul, Defence Minister Abdul Rahim Wardak and other senior officials.

"This is a tremendous honour for the Afghan people to welcome His Excellency Dr Manmohan Singh, Prime Minister of India, to second home Afghanistan," said Karzai, welcoming Singh.

The Prime Minister, in turn, described India and Afghanistan as ‘partners in progress,’ and said, “India and Afghanistan are partners in progress and we will stand by you through thick and thin, and we reaffirm our solidarity with the people and government of Afghanistan," he told the Afghan president at the reception at the palace.

The presidential palace houses the president's office, his residence, and the office of the Afghan National Security Adviser.

The presidential complex also houses the home of Afghanistan's last King Zahir Shah, where Prime Minister Singh is staying.

Singh is the first foreign head of government for whom the late king Zahir Shah's home has been thrown open.

National Security Advisor Shivshankar Menon, Foreign Secretary Nirupama Rao and Prime Minister's special envoy to Afghanistan Satinder Lambah and other senior officials are accompanying Singh.

Ahead of his visit, the Prime Minister had emphasised that his discussions with President Karzai will cover regional developments and the fight against terrorism.

The visit will also deliver ‘tangible’ results with India to discuss ways to advance its developmental partnership with Afghanistan to a new level in the coming years.

Indian government sources said that during the meeting with the Afghan leadership, India would also like to know the views of the government there on the situation after the killing of Laden during a covert US operation on May One.

PM first to stay at Shah Palace

In an unprecedented gesture, the residence of Afghanistan's last king Zahir Shah was opened up for the stay of visiting Prime Minister Manmohan Singh.

This is for the first time the home of Zahir Shah -- known as the Haramsarai -- has been thrown open for a visiting head of government.

The presidential palace, known as the ‘The Arg’, houses the president's office, his residence, and the office of the Afghan National Security Adviser.

The same complex also houses the home of Afghanistan's last king Zahir Shah, where Prime Minister Singh is staying.
Sources said it is an unprecedented gesture as so far no visiting head of government has stayed at the palace where Shah lived and died in 2007.

Some family members of the late Shah still stay in the palace and they said they were happy to host the Prime Minister during his two-day visit.

The Arg, Turkish word for citadel, was built in 1883 by Afghanistan's Amir Andur Rahman. The palace buildings were further expanded by Zahir Shah.

A hawk-eye vigil for PM security

A thick security cover was thrown in and around the Afghan capital on Thursday for Prime Minister Manmohan Singh's visit with hundreds of security officials keeping a hawk-eye vigil at the airport as well as the hill tops surrounding it.

Over 1,200 Afghan security personnel guarded the Kabul International airport when the Prime Minister flew in here to begin his two-day visit to Afghanistan.

Scores of gun toting personnel also kept a watch at the airport from their positions at the adjacent hill top areas.

Sources said the hill tops were manned by Afghan forces and International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) while the air cover was provided by US forces when the Prime Minister's special flight landed.

Singh was taken by a chopper to the Presidential Palace for the ceremonial reception ahead of the bilateral talks with Afghan President Hamid Karzai.

Singh's personal security is being taken care of by the Special Protection Group (SPG), which has sent a huge team to the Afghan capital.

(JPN/ Agencies)