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    Singh given ceremonial reception

    KABUL(PAN): Indian Prime Minister Dr Manmohan Singh, who on Thursday arrived in Kabul on a two-day visit, was given a ceremonial reception at the Presidential Palace in Kabul.

    Singh is expected to discuss terrorism, regional development and ways to step up India's assistance to Afghanistan on his second visit to the country since 2005.

    Singh was received by foreign minister Zalmay Rassoul and defence minister Abdul Rahim Wardak and other senior officials at the Kabul International Airport.

    National Security Advisor Shivshankar Menon, foreign secretary Nirupama Rao and Prime Minister's special envoy to Afghanistan Satinder Lamba and other senior officials are accompanying the Indian leader.

    Afghan police, the army and the Air Force awarded a warn reception to Singh in the grand presidential palace.

    "Welcome to your second home," President Hamid Karzai said while receiving Manmohan Singh, who responded by assuring Karzai that India will stand with the country in ''thick and thin''.

    "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'.

    "It is always a great honour and privilege to visit you. That you have invited me to visit is an honour to entire people of India.

    "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.

    Karzai also hosted a banquet in honour of the Prime Minister.

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

    Singh will hold bilateral talks with Karzai and will also discuss terrorism, regional development and ways to step up India's assistance to the war-torn country.

    Ahead of his visit, Singh 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.

    Indiais Afghanistan's biggest regional aid donor and sixth largest overall. It has pledged $1.3 billion of projects, from building a parliament to a highway to Iran to establish what officials in New Delhi like to term "soft power".

    Pakistanderides those attempts to secure influence in what it considers its neighbourhood, but Islamabad has been concerned by a succession of governments in Kabul that it sees as too cosy with New Delhi

    There are indications that India will step-up its assistance for various developmental projects which already cover almost two-third of the provinces in Afghanistan. While India is carrying out various developmental projects in Afghanistan, security still remains a big concern for Indian interests and other establishments.

    Washington has said the killing of bin Laden will not affect its mission in Afghanistan, India is worried it may lead to speedier pullout of US troops, leaving it exposed to an unfriendly, Pakistan-dominated neighbourhood and unfettered militancy in its backyard.

    The Taliban, who once sheltered bin laden inside Afghanistan, have rejected any peace talks with the Afghan government until all foreign troops have left the country.

    India's embassy in Kabul was hit by two bomb attacks in 2008 and 2009, killing 75 people and wounding hundreds.

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