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India gives 4th helicopter to Afghanistan before key meet

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NEW DELHI (PTI): Days ahead of a key conference it hosts on Afghanistan, India has given the last of the four military helicopters to the war-ravaged country which has been trying to strengthen its air power after significant cut in presence of NATO forces.

India will host the sixth conference of 'Heart of Asia -- Istanbul Process', an annual gathering of major Asian and some other countries, which is aimed at encouraging security, political and economic cooperation among Afghanistan and its neighbours. The challenge of terrorism, particularly emanating from Pakistan is likely to figure in the conference.

The Mi-24 attack helicopter was handed over to Afghan authorities on Saturday, diplomatic sources said.

Afghanistan has also been seeking India's assistance in making functional Soviet-era helicopters and transport aircraft which were not in flying condition.

The country has been struggling to get spare parts for the aircraft and helicopters due to Western sanctions against Moscow.

Earlier, there were reports that there was an issue with the spares of the fourth helicopter. India had delivered three helicopters to Afghanistan ahead of Prime Minister Narendra Modi's visit to Kabul in December last year, giving Afghan Air Force the much-needed lethal teeth against various militant groups like the Taliban.

Afghan President Ashraf Ghani is set to attend the two-day Heart of Asia conference in Amritsar from December 3 and is likely to hold a bilateral meeting with Modi on the sidelines of the meet during which issues relating to defence and security cooperation are expected to figure prominently.

The Heart of Asia conference is also likely to review the security situation in the region, besides deliberating on ways to combat threat of terrorism.

"India and Afghanistan as well as other members of HoA share a common concern about insecurity that emanates from safe sanctuaries in our neighbourhood.

"Unless we work together and with others through a robust mechanism of regional security cooperation, we will be unable to realise our shared economic interests and address our common challenges," Afghan Envoy Shaida Abdali said.

The Heart of Asia-Istanbul Process was launched in 2011 and include Pakistan, Afghanistan, Azerbaijan, China, India, Iran, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Russia, Saudi Arabia, Tajikistan, Turkey, Turkmenistan and the United Arab Emirates.

A number of key issues relating to trade and connectivity are likely to figure in the conference which is also being attended by Sartaj Aziz, Foreign Affairs Advisor to Pakistan Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif.


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