Kerry looks to ease Indian concerns on Afghanistan

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NEW DELHI: Secretary of State John Kerry will on Monday try to ease India’s concerns about the impending withdrawal of US troops from war-torn Afghanistan as he embraces a greater role for the regional power. Kerry meets Prime Minister Manmohan Singh and other Indian leaders just days after the United States started a cautious but immediately troubled bid to hold peace talks with Taliban insurgents. In a speech after he arrived Sunday for the three-day visit, Kerry said that the United States was “very realistic” about the difficulties in Afghanistan and acknowledged that a final settlement “may be long in coming”.

“Afghanistan cannot again become a safe haven for international terrorism,” Kerry said.

The United States and its partners are preparing to pull out 100,000 troops next year to end the unpopular war. Washington has moved towards dialogue with the Taliban, who last week opened an office in Qatar.

But Kerry, who spoke to Qatari leaders before flying to India, said he may even seek to close the Taliban office in the Gulf Arab monarchy after the rebels provocatively used symbols of their former government.

Kerry embraced India’s role in Afghanistan, saying that the world’s largest democracy should assist the country in 2014 elections which will choose Karzai’s successor just ahead of the departure of foreign troops.

“India is a global partner in our effort to build stronger democracies throughout South Asia, as well as rules of the road across South-Central and East Asia, and a more peaceful and prosperous continent from the Caucasus to the coast of Japan,” Kerry said.

But Kerry — who postponed a visit to Islamabad to focus on the crisis in Syria — also threw his support behind reconciliation between India and Pakistan.

He welcomed calls by Pakistan’s newly elected Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif to ramp up the growing but still miniscule trade between the South Asian nations.