Karzai wins Russian backing on milestone visit
Russian President Dmitry Medvedev accepted on Friday an invitation to visit Afghanistan during a milestone summit with Hamid Karzai that aimed to revive bilateral trade ties.
The embattled Afghan leader paid his first state visit to Russia amid political mayhem at home that saw a delay in the seating of a new parliament and renewed questions about his ability to lead the war-ravaged state.
But Karzai found warm support in Moscow during a visit that will also see him hold private talks in the country residence of Russia's de-facto leader, Prime Minister Vladimir Putin.
"I told the president that we expect to see Afghanistan provide for its own security and state independence -- and that the Russian government was ready to extend Afghanistan thorough support," Medvedev said.
"I would like to see all the international forces present in Afghanistan ... to be able to withdraw from Afghanistan with honour and respect."
A joint statement said "Medvedev has gratefully accepted Hamid Karzai's invitation to visit Afghanistan," although no date for the trip was given.
Karzai has waged a war of words with Washington over the timing of the international forces' withdrawal and his ability to prepare a force that can take over security duties once the NATO-led presence winds down by 2014.
He said that Russia was likely to play a much broader role in preparing Afghan soldiers -- a role that has been largely handled by Washington -- and repairing the country's heavily damaged dams and bridges.
"We hope that Russia will be able to help transfer responsibility for security to the Afghan government and forces by the end of 2014 so that Afghanistan can determine its own fate in the future," said Karzai.
His visit came amid Russian efforts to resurrect its economic and political presence in a country that has haunted Moscow since the dying days of the Soviet state.
The Soviet Union invaded Afghanistan in 1979 to stamp out the US-backed mujahedeen resistance but its troops were forced to beat a retreat 10 years later.
Russia has since stressed that it will never again commit troops to Afghanistan and avoided direct participation in an international presence scheduled to wind down within three years.
But Moscow has allowed NATO to conduct non-military transports across its territory and further sought to boost the number of lucrative trade deals it signs with Kabul in exchange for Russia's technological know-how.
"We want to see Russia build up its presence in Afghanistan in various ways," said Medvedev.
The blooming relationship has been periodically clouded by Russian misgivings over Karzai's inability to curb the flow of opium and other drugs to former Soviet lands in Central Asia and Russia.
Karzai has lashed out at a joint US-Russia drugs raid on a laboratory in eastern Afghanistan in October and pointedly refused to be drawn on the issue when asked about it during his joint appearance with Medvedev.
"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 Russia Today television on the eve of his talks.
The meeting concluded with the signature of an economic cooperation agreement and a broader commitment from the two heads of state to foster closer diplomatic relations.
A Kremlin communique said the agreements concerned Russia's construction of hydroelectric power plants and grain storage facilities around Afghanistan.
The state-run ITAR-TASS news agency said the two sides also discussed Russia's supply of communication equipment to Afghanistan as well as fuel and spare parts.
Russia has sent more than 80 transport helicopters to Afghanistan under a 2009 agreement with the United States.
© 2011 AFP