Karzai seeks trade deals on milestone Russia visit

21st January 2011, Comments 0 comments

Afghan President Hamid Karzai Friday was to meet Russian leaders in a quest for closer economic ties, on the first official visit by an Afghan head of state since the war with against Soviet forces.

Karzai was due to meet both his Russian counterpart Dmitry Medvedev and Prime Minister Vladimir Putin. While Karzai has visited Moscow for summit meetings this is his first state visit to Moscow since taking office in 2004.

The embattled Afghan leader told Russian television on the eve of his talks that he was looking to develop lagging trade relations between the two countries and not just seeking more international aid.

"There is a need for Russia and Afghanistan to engage with one another, not only in a manner of Russia helping Afghanistan rebuild itself and redevelop its institutional capacity, but also by way of trade, by way of investment," he told Russia Today television.

He also defended himself against accusations that his government has done little to halt the supply of opium and other drugs to Russia and further on to Europe.

Karzai has voiced displeasure with a joint US-Russia drugs raid on a laboratory in eastern Afghanistan in October. But he conceded in the interview that his government was too weak to interrupt the flow of drugs.

"Had we had the capability to prevent (drug) supplies from Afghanistan to other countries, of course we would have done it and we would have not been in such a sorry state as we are today," he told the channel.

The Soviet Union invaded Afghanistan in 1979 to stamp out the US-backed Mujahedin resistance that managed to beat back the Soviet force following a bloody decade-long war.

But relations between Kabul and Moscow have developed since the US-led invasion of Afghanistan in 2001 and the subsequent installation of the Western-backed Karzai as president.

Moscow and NATO struck a deal in November to boost the flow of Western military supply shipments through Russia to Afghanistan.

There are about 140,000 NATO-led troops in Afghanistan -- around two-thirds of which are from the United States -- fighting a Taliban insurgency.

© 2011 AFP

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