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President Karzai Travels to Sri Lanka and India

On August 2-3, 2008 President Hamid Karzai attended the Fifteenth Annual Summit of the South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation (SAARC) in Colombo, Sri Lanka. He joined other leaders from the region to to discuss key issues of terrorism, energy, environment, water resources, poverty alleviation, transportion, science and technology, and education.

Other leaders that participated in the summit included Dr. Fakhruddin Ahmed, Chief Adviser of Bangladesh, Prime Minister Lyonchhen Jigmi Y. Thinley of Bhutan, Prime Minister Manmohan Singh of India, President Marumoon Abdul Gayoon of the Maldives, Prime Minister Girija Prasad Koirala of Nepal, Prime Minister Syed Yousuf Raza Gilani of Pakistan and President Mahinda Rajapaksa of Sri Lanka.

In remarks delivered during the summit, President Karzai focused on the issue of terrorism, indicating that it represented a major threat and challenge for the entire region. "In a region prone to many challenges, terrorism may well prove to be the most destabilizing. Terrorism in our region feeds on a residual tradition of narrow-minded politics, and of pursuing outmoded geopolitical interests," he said.

President Karzai added that terrorism received institutional support and in order for it to be effectively defeated, a collective regional effort was needed to address its root causes. He also vehemently denounced the recent attacks at the Indian Embassy in Kabul, the attack on civilians in Colombo earlier this year and the bombings in the Indian cities of Bangalore and Ahmedabad. He also called for increased economic integration between members of the region. (Click here to see a full version of President Karzai's speech.)

At the end of the summit, all participating leaders endorsed the Colombo Declaration. The declaration called for collective regional efforts by the members to accelerate economic growth, social progress and cultural development that would promote the welfare of the peoples of South Asia and improve their quality of life, contribute to peace, stability, friendship and progress in the region.

After participating in the summit, President Karzai traveled to India on from August 3-5 at the invitation of Dr. Manmohan Singh, Prime Minister of the Republic of India. During the visit – President Karzai’s sixth since 2002 – the two leaders held talks on a range of bilateral, regional and international issues. They discussed the ongoing reconstruction effort in Afghanistan, terrorism as well as India’s renewed commitment to development efforts in Afghanistan. (Click here to see a Joint Statement issued by President Karzai and Prime Minister Singh.)

During his visit, President Karzai also met with Indian President Pratibha Devisingh Patil, as well as India's Vice President Hamid Ansari, External Affairs Minister Pranab Mukherjee, leader of opposition party L.K. Advani and Chief of India's ruling Congress Party Sonia Gandhi. President Karzai also participated in a banquet hosted by President Patil in his honor. Undaunted by a recent terrorist attack on their Embassy in Kabul, India announced that it will increase aid to Afghanistan this year by $450 million, in addition to the $750 million they have provided for Afghanistan thus far.

Calling the bombing "an attack on the friendship between India and Afghanistan," Prime Minister Singh promised that India and Afghanistan would fight terrorism together and with "full determination." The joint announcement came after days of meetings between Indian and Afghan officials and just one month after the bombing at the Indian embassy in Kabul that killed two Indian diplomats and fifty-eight other people. "As India has suffered immensely from this menace, Afghanistan has too. Therefore, it is a moral responsibility for us as human beings…to protect the lives of our women and children," said President Karzai.

In addition to the financial contributions, the two parties also agreed that the Joint Coordination and Monitoring Bureau will be hosted by India in 2009. While in India, President Karzai also interviewed with the Times of India and NDTV, where he further discussed his participation at the SAARC summit, the root causes of terrorism in Afghanistan and the region as well as details of the recent terrorist attack on the Indian Embassy in Kabul.

As follow up to President Karzai's visit to India, there are reports that the Government of India is deciding to send troops and military resources to Afghanistan in order to protect Indian nationals in the aftermath of the attack on their embassy in Kabul.

President Karzai was accompanied by Foreign Minister Dr. Rangin Dadfar Spanta and National Security Advisor Dr. Zalmai Rassoul.

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