* Indian PM Singh makes veiled swipe at Pakistan
* India vying for influence in Afghan affairs
By Akram Walizada and Amie Ferris-Rotman
KABUL, May 13 Indian Prime Minister Manmohan
Singh, backing Kabul's peace plan to reconcile with Taliban-led
insurgents, urged Afghanistan on Friday to shake off outside
"coercion", while at the same time seeking to boost India's
Singh's strong words to a session of the Afghan parliament
come at the end of a two-day visit to Kabul aimed at renewing
Indian ties with Afghanistan, where New Delhi has been jockeying
for influence to counter historical rival Pakistan.
"It is up to you, as the peoples' representatives, to make
decisions about your country's future without outside
interference or coercion," Singh told the session, attended by
Afghan President Hamid Karzai.
Pakistan, which has gone to war with India three times since
1947, has been vying for a central role in a negotiated
settlement in its neighbour Afghanistan's affairs.
Kabul and Islamabad last month agreed to give Pakistan's
security establishment a formal role in any peace talks.
In moves likely to irritate Pakistan, Singh earlier pledged
$500 million for development projects in Afghanistan, taking
what he said was the total amount of Indian aid over the next
two years to $2 billion.
India is Afghanistan's largest regional donor.
He also tempered India's opposition to a plan by Karzai to
reintegrate Taliban fighters and reconcile with some of their
leaders. Fighting has dragged on for nearly 10 years in
Afghanistan, with violence last year reaching its worst level
since the Taliban were toppled by U.S.-backed Afghan forces in
"Afghanistan has embarked upon a process of national
reconciliation. We wish you well in this enterprise," Singh
said. He reiterated New Delhi's first public backing of an
Afghan peace plan a day earlier.
India, fearing that reaching out to insurgents could cede
more power to Pakistan in the peace process once Western forces
leave, was rattled when the United States and NATO agreed to the
plan at a summit in Lisbon late last year.
As part of that plan, NATO-led forces will begin a gradual
drawdown from July under a transition programme to Afghan
responsibility that will end with the departure of all foreign
combat troops by the end of 2014.
At home, some pointed out that Singh's mission in
Afghanistan carried little weight in the face of Pakistani
dominance. It was Singh's first trip since 2005, and came barely
more than a week after al Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden was
killed by U.S. special forces in Pakistan.
"At the heart of this state of affairs is that India has
little or no hard-nosed influence on events in Afghanistan. This
reflects geographical reality, the greater stakes of players
like Pakistan," wrote India's Hindustan Times paper on Friday.
Singh also said India was ready to "widen our cooperation"
in the area of security once NATO completes its planned handover
of security responsibilities to the Afghans by the end of 2014.
He did not go into detail.
(Writing by Amie Ferris-Rotman; Editing by Paul Tait and Alex