Afghan premier seeks help from Afghans living in Russia

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Fresh from securing pledges of aid from Russian officials, Afghanistan's interim Prime Minister Hamid Karzai turned his attention today to the large Afghan diaspora living in Russia to request their help in rebuilding their war­shattered homeland.

Karzai conferred with representatives of the thousands­strong Afghan community – many of whom have been in Russia since Soviet times and have the kind of specialist training that Afghanistan desperately needs to recover from a generation of war.

Karzai's three­day trip to Russia, which began on Monday night, has already earned him much­needed support from Moscow and assurances that the Kremlin is seeking a peaceful and prosperous future for its southern neighbor.

Before ending his visit, Karzai was also scheduled to meet with the speakers of Russia's upper and lower houses of parliament, Sergei Mironov and Gennady Seleznyov. On Tuesday, Karzai met with Russian President Vladimir Putin and Foreign Minister Igor Ivanov.

Russian and Afghan delegations signed 17 agreements on deliveries of Russian industrial equipment and assistance in rebuilding some of the 140 Soviet­built industrial and infrastructure facilities in Afghanistan. Moscow has also said it would help Afghanistan develop its armed forces and provide training and aid in mine­clearing.

"Russia will continue free humanitarian assistance to Afghanistan," Deputy Foreign Minister Alexander Losyukov was quoted as telling ITAR­Tass news agency.

But he said that Russia, which has struggled economically itself since the collapse of the Soviet Union, could not give any other free economic assistance. "In general, we will put our relations with Afghanistan on a market basis," Losyukov said.

Russia, which has supported the US­led anti­terror operation, has been eager to develop close ties with the new Afghan government. Numerous Afghan officials have visited Moscow in recent weeks.

Karzai said on Tuesday that Russia's help was symbolically important to Afghanistan, which never fully recovered since the 1979 Soviet invasion.