* First time India has publicly backed Afghan peace plan
* India to donate further $500 million for development
* Singh says India wants "friendly" relations with Pakistan
(Adds quotes, details)
By Jonathon Burch and Amie Ferris-Rotman
KABUL, May 12 Indian Prime Minister Manmohan
Singh, on a visit to Afghanistan on Thursday, said India
strongly supported a plan by Kabul to reconcile with Taliban-led
insurgents, New Delhi's first public backing of the plan.
India was rattled when the United States and NATO agreed
earlier this year to a plan by Afghan President Hamid Karzai to
reintegrate Taliban fighters and reconcile with their leaders
after nearly 10 years of fighting.
New Delhi has feared attempts to reach out to the insurgents
would give rival Pakistan, which holds influence over the
militants, a greater say in the Afghan peace process and might
ultimately lead to a Taliban takeover when Western forces leave.
Successfully balancing the competing interests of India and
Pakistan, who have been jockeying for influence in Afghanistan
for years, has been a challenge for the United States.
"We wish to see a peaceful, stable, democratic, pluralistic
Afghanistan. We strongly support Afghan people's quest at peace
and reconciliation," Singh told Karzai at his palace in Kabul.
"India supports firmly the unity, integrity and prosperity
Violence in Afghanistan is at its worst since the Taliban
were overthrown in late 2001 despite the presence of 150,000
foreign troops, including 100,000 Americans, with record
casualties on all sides.
Washington recognises that fighting alone will not end a war
which has dragged on for almost ten years and has cautiously
backed a political settlement as long as conditions are met.
One of the main conditions is that insurgents renounce al
Qaeda. The Taliban, who once sheltered Osama bin Laden inside
Afghanistan, have rejected any peace talks with the Afghan
government until all foreign troops have left the country.
The trip is Singh's first visit to Afghanistan since 2005
and comes just over a week after bin Laden was killed by U.S.
special forces in Pakistan.
Analysts say the Taliban have been trying to distance
themselves from al Qaeda over the past few years, and have never
professed any ambitions outside Afghanistan. [ID:nL3E7G32VJ]
India is nervous about Washington's plans to start
withdrawing troops from July and give security responsibility to
Afghans in parts of the country. The death of bin Laden has
added to India's fears of swift U.S. disengagement.
While Washington has said the killing of bin Laden will not
affect its mission in Afghanistan, India is worried a speedier
U.S. pullout might leave it exposed to an unfriendly,
Pakistan-dominated neighbourhood. [ID:nL3E7G32YR]
A senior Indian government official said on Wednesday Singh
would discuss with Karzai the regional implications of bin
Laden's death which were a concern for India. On Thursday, Singh
said there should be an investigation into how bin Laden was
able to hide in Pakistan for so long.
Nuclear-armed rivals India and Pakistan, which have gone to
war three times since 1947, have for decades sought to secure
leverage in Afghanistan. India is 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".
Pakistan derides those attempts to secure influence in what
it considers its neighbourhood. Islamabad has been concerned by
governments in Kabul that it sees as too cosy with New Delhi.
In a move that could further anger Pakistan, Singh announced
on Thursday India would donate a further $500 million to be
spent on development projects in Afghanistan.
India has blamed Pakistan's military spy agency, the ISI,
for attacks on Indians in Afghanistan to undermine New Delhi's
influence. India's embassy in Kabul was hit by two bomb attacks
in 2008 and 2009, killing 75 people and wounding hundreds. The
Taliban claimed responsibility.
For its part, Pakistan accuses India of backing separatists
in Baluchistan, an area which spills into Afghanistan. India
denies the charge.
"We would like to develop friendly relations with all
countries of this region, and that includes Afghanistan, that
includes Pakistan as well," Singh told a news conference.
(Writing by Jonathon Burch)