New Delhi, April 26 (IANS) India on Tuesday called for improving regional connectivity to help Afghanistan harness its trade and transit potential while putting forward its suggestions to enhance cooperation in the area.
“Connectivity in the region has to be the centrepiece of all our efforts to enhance trade, commerce and investment among regional countries,” Minister of State for External Affairs, Gen. V.K. Singh (retd.) said in his inaugural address at the senior officials’ meeting of the Heart of Asia Istanbul Process, aimed at bringing peace and stability in Afghanistan.
“Better connectivity can enable more investment and private sector participation. It can help fully harness Afghanistan’s trade and transit potential,” he said at the meeting, co-chaired by India and Afghanistan.
The meeting was originally scheduled to be addressed by External Affairs Minister Sushma Swaraj. However, Singh stepped in after she was admitted to the All India Institute of Medical Sciences (AIIMS) here on Monday night with fever and chest congestion. Her condition is now reported to be stable.
Apart from Afghanistan and India, the Heart of Asia initiative involves 12 other countries – Azerbaijan, China, Iran, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyz Republic, Pakistan, Russia, Saudi Arabia, Tajikistan, Turkey, Turkmenistan and the United Arab Emirates.
Of the six confidence building measures (CBMs) in the initiative, India leads the one on trade, commerce and investment opportunities (TCI).
In his address, Singh said that connectivity would also also serve to tap Afghanistan’s vast natural and human resources and it can “emerge as a hub of regional trade and energy arteries”.
“Afghanistan, Iran and India are waiting to develop trilateral transit through Chahbahar in Iran. India is also willing to avail of other regional and trans-regional connectivity initiatives such as the North-South Transport Corridor and the Ashgabat Agreement,” he said.
On the TCI CBM, he said: “The objective is to create conducive conditions for Afghanistan to thrive on trade and not depend on aid.
“Creating more employment opportunities is also important to wean youth lured to narcotics, extremism, terrorism and other criminal activities. More jobs and economic avenues in Afghanistan would create the conducive conditions for Afghans to stay and contribute to its development.”
He held that the situation in Afghanistan, owing to its location, has enormous bearing on regional peace, security and economic growth.
“For our stable and prosperous region, a strong, peaceful, prosperous and democratic Afghanistan is an imperative,” he said, adding such an Afghanistan “will be a bridge of connectivity between east and west, and central and south Asia”.
He noted that to achieve progress and prosperity together, all countries in the region needed to address challenges together which would not be “only in Afghanistan’s interest, but in the interest of the whole of the Heart of Asia region”.
After the meeting, external affairs ministry spokesman Vikas Swarup said that it was a consultative meeting to discuss priorities and agenda in 2016 leading up to the ministerial meeting to be hosted by India in December this year, and Indian had given some suggestions to enhance regional cooperation to enhance stability, security and prosperity in Afghanistan and in the region.
“There was consensus on condemning the terrorist attack in Kabul on April 19 that killed and maimed over 400,” he said, adding that over 40 participating and supporting countries and organisations agreed to continue contributing to the ongoing political, security and economic transformation in Afghanistan.
The meeting was also attended by Pakistan Foreign Secretary Aizaz Ahmed Chaudhry and Afghan Deputy Foreign Minister Hekmat Karzai.